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Opinion: I felt my party left me. Now the GOP faces a watershed moment

Longtime communications, public policy and campaign strategist Ally Isom is running for Sen. Mike Lee’s Senate seat in 2022.
Longtime communications, public policy and campaign strategist Ally Isom is running for Sen. Mike Lee’s Senate seat in 2022.
AllyforUtah.com

Since the time I could vote, I have identified as a classic, conservative Republican. In fall 2016, after more than 25 years as a Republican, feeling abandoned by the GOP I knew and loved, I unaffiliated from the Republican Party and gained insight that, I believe, can help our nation heal today.

Remember autumn 2016? The GOP presidential nominee made headlines callously, crudely referring to women, denigrating ethnically different people, and mocking religious beliefs.

The Deseret News broke an 80-year precedent and called for Donald Trump “to step down from his pursuit of the American presidency.” At that time, then-Gov. Gary Herbert, Sen. Mike Lee, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, Rep. Chris Stewart and Rep. Mia Love all said publicly they could not support Trump’s presidential bid.

For more than two decades — often pregnant and/or with kids in tow—I worked as a GOP grassroots organizer and leader, on numerous campaigns and for two Republican governors. I was co-president of the Professional Republican Women, was elected a national alternate delegate, and even chaired a Utah GOP organizing convention. Our family was so ingrained in Republican politics, our children told the other carpool parents how to vote.

Even when unaffiliated, I identified as Republican — in my head and heart. My convictions are deeply grounded in conservative principles — fiscal restraint and responsibility, individual freedom and accountability, free enterprise, limited government, environmental stewardship and states as independent incubators of innovation.

So what did I learn?

People are prone to polarize. Others wanted to put me in a box. If I wasn’t Republican, I must be a Democrat, they asserted. They incorrectly assumed my values had changed. As humans, we try to understand the world by naming things, categorizing things that seem similar. We are uncomfortable with paradox. Yet I was living in the thick of paradox—believing, but not belonging.

Real friends don’t take it personally. A few people said I was ruining my career. Some said I should stay silent. Others turned a cold shoulder. Those who knew my heart supported me. They listened, even if they disagreed, and made time to talk. They never let politics change our relationship.

A bit of space provides a lot of perspective. From a new vantage point, I saw many things more objectively — news media slants, blind tribalism, ad hominem attacks, and gross over-generalizations. I reviewed platforms of Utah’s Democratic Party and Republican Party, a useful exercise. And, yes, I still identified as Republican.

True patriots reject an us vs. them paradigm. It’s human to jump to conclusions. Especially in political circles, critics over-generalize to demonize. Yet I also found so many truly good-hearted people across the political spectrum who agree we are all in this together and are willing to explore meaningful, durable solutions.

Words matter. People weaponize words to dehumanize and divide. Words inspire or enrage. Words heal or marginalize. Words can build or destroy—it’s our choice. And our collective responsibility.

It is time for a Republican renaissance, a time of reconciliation and re-centering on core principles.

We are weary and wounded from division in our families and neighborhoods. We are bone-tired of tone-deaf leaders who fail to recall they are stewards, not a special class. There is no litmus test to be a “good Republican.” We must stop labeling and marginalizing others. Polarization is poisoning our party and our nation. This is a watershed moment for both.

I believed Ronald Reagan, the president of my formative teens, when he said our nation was “the shining city upon a hill. … a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, windswept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace...” I believe the Republican Party is the party of big ideas—ideas like compassionate conservatism, free market innovation and fiscal discipline. I am convinced that when we overlay those bedrock principles with grace and kindness, they provide what our nation needs now, more than ever.

Ally Isom is a candidate for U.S. Senate, challenging incumbent Utah Sen. Mike Lee.