Only a year and a half before President Donald Trump was elected, I was in the Capitol interning for Sen. Mike Lee and steeping in Washington Republicanism — taking notes at interfaith forums, slipping over to the Heritage Foundation for Sen. Marco Rubio’s speech and a free lunch, and trying to defend an unregulated internet to my girlfriend-now-wife.
Now after four years of Trump’s presidency, I’m politically homeless.
And if that wasn’t enough, Jan. 6 jettisoned the vestiges of my political loyalty into the abyss. In less than 24 hours, members of my party ripped their ranks apart by objecting to the Electoral College certification vote, lost two Senate races in Georgia that were theirs to win and stormed the temple of democracy in our nation’s capital.
It was something more spectacular than embarrassment. It was, as The Bulwark’s Brent Orrell put it, the “Trump supernova”: a degenerate political party imploding in magnificent fashion. With it, though, comes a tinge of hope, the kind that foreruns the promise of new beginnings: If ever there was a chance for my species to claw back some clout in country’s affairs, this would be it.
And it sure would be nice to have a roof over my head again.
I wasn’t on Team Trump in 2016, but I was in good company then — a lot of people were rejecting the uncouth businessman.
Then his teammates started showing up to the House of Republicanism. In domestic terms, they blared music at 2 a.m., drank my milk without asking and left their dishes in the sink. Who let these guys in?
It wasn’t long before I decided to let myself out and live on the streets. I didn’t belong there anymore.
It’s a choice I’ve dealt with the past four years as I’ve watched my ilk go from anti-Trump to anti-anti-Trump to warmheartedly embracing his governing. I’ve cheered from the sidelines at some of the accomplishments — Justices Neil Gorsuch and Amy Coney Barrett come to mind — but mostly I waded through stretches of gloom, alternating between feelings of irrelevancy and shame for my party.
I was and still am a young conservative who believes the free market excels, religion’s decline is scary and the family is the bedrock of society.
But I also believe the national debt is a threat to democracy; climate change demands attention; and, above all, morality, civility and virtue are values in need of conserving, not flouting.
What I can’t work out is how I feel so solitary knowing I’m in the company of millions of others: They’re family members and friends with whom I talk each day. They’re national voices whom I read each week. They’re employed at think tanks, toiling away on policies that would make conservatives proud if they ever saw the light of day in Congress. When faced with 2020’s choice, some of us chose Biden, some of us chose Trump, but no one really loved their vote.
Yes, there are plenty of people just like me.
But Trump’s remarkable achievement has been to isolate millions of conservative Americans from one another and tempt them with a false choice: Get on board with his brand or get out. He’s not interested in building coalitions, only in taking his followers and turning on the jets. His is the governance of an obstinate CEO, not of a strategic transformationist.
Letting go of that attitude is the first step in welcoming back the politically homeless. Unity isn’t a product of coercion but of fused diversity, and the GOP — or whatever it becomes — needs all the voices it can get.
It will also need leadership — the real kind, where leaders bridge factions and establish a vision for the future.
None of that will happen overnight, and it’s made harder knowing Trump won’t go away. As Orrell reminds, supernovae tend to leave black holes in their wake, and Trump is threatening to suck down a party that needs to escape.
But the explosions also birth new life to the universe, and I can only hope conservatives have the fortitude to seize the moment and build afresh.