Something disturbing happened last week at the GOP Convention for Republicans who care about their party and their country. No, it was not the nomination of Donald Trump. After all, political parties have the right to nominate whomever they want, and Trump’s selection was the result of a legitimate democratic process. The shame at the convention arose from attempts to stifle debate and suppress dialogue. This was done in the name of unifying the party, but unity will never be achieved through purity purges.
Many Republicans are thrilled about their party’s brash, unconventional nominee. Some will reconcile their concerns and support the nominee to beat the opposition. Others are dismayed. So be it. Surely there can be room for disagreement within a vibrant political party. Is it really such a novel concept that not every Republican has to revere his or her party’s nominee? This isn’t communism, after all. And it’s not as if your political affiliation equates to your religion, with policy platforms accepted as divine revelation. The GOP can survive a divisive presidential candidate, but it cannot survive a culture in which self-reflection and constructive criticism are not welcome.
So, what are Republicans struggling to support their presidential nominee to do? First, remember the value in diversity of thought. Following the example of George Will by leaving your party is a mistake because terminating the dialogue through cessation is just as bad as suppression. Consider where our country would be if the Founding Fathers at the Constitutional Convention had taken their marbles and gone home when differences of opinion arose. That would have been one hot and empty room in Philadelphia.
Second, remember that sticking with your principles and voting your conscience is not only doable, it is laudable. Traditional conservative principles of free markets, individual liberty and personal responsibility are time-tested and battle-worn and will win the day. Judeo-Christian values upon which the country was built will rise above vanity and authoritarianism.
Third, don’t allow yourself to be driven from the GOP by party bosses and establishment types who advocate a self-defeating “fall in or get out” mentality. After all, the argument that refusing to support Trump will give the White House to Clinton is no more or less true than the argument that nominating Trump in the first place will result in a Clinton presidency. Beware the hypocrisy that lies at the intersection of populism and elitism, where the party establishment demands support for its anti-establishment nominee.
Most important, remember the human brain is not built on binary computer code, so it’s OK to have nuanced and even seemingly competing opinions. For example, it is OK to believe in the fundamental responsibility of the U.S. to secure its borders while at the same time opposing proposals to round up and deport millions of undocumented immigrants. Likewise, it is OK to support the GOP presidential nominee but strongly disagree with his stance on free markets and free trade.
Last, if at the end of the day you cannot reconcile your personal views with the GOP presidential nominee, remember the adage that all politics is local and consider the effective, conservative candidates for Congress, statewide offices and your local community. After all, the local level is where the real work gets done anyway.
While the GOP may have suffered some self-inflicted wounds, the wounds are not mortal. The party is bigger and better than any one single person. It is not too late, and not too early, to start building and strengthening your party by getting involved and making your voice heard, by choosing optimism over cynicism, freedom over fear, and respect over disdain.
Derek B. Miller is the president & CEO of the World Trade Center Utah. Previously he was chief of staff to Gov. Gary Herbert (R-UT) and managing director of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development.