Viewpoint

What Republicans can learn from my grandparents’ 1964 vote

Many Republicans are unsure of whether they should vote for Donald Trump in the presidential election.
Many Republicans are unsure of whether they should vote for Donald Trump in the presidential election. AP

You are a Republican.

You believe President Barack Obama has been a disappointment if not a failure. You think Hillary Clinton is wrong on most issues and worry about her judgment.

You are agonizing about what to do this year, and I understand why. Donald Trump is clearly distasteful. Yet he at least seems likely to appoint conservative judges and sign Republican bills. So what are you to do?

Allow me to tell you about my grandparents.

They grew up as middle-class children of the Depression in Philadelphia. My grandparents believed in American business, and they were small-c conservative. They voted Republican, year after year.

Until 1964.

That year, Barry Goldwater won the nomination from the far right. Most alarming to many people, he mused about using nuclear weapons in the Cold War.

For Republicans today, Trump is scarier than Goldwater. He embodies almost every left-wing caricature of Republicans that Republicans despise.

He is a racist and a sexist. For years, Republicans have been frustrated by liberal sensitivity on race and gender. Comes now Trump, spewing bigotry.

He is also an unrepentant denier of reality. Do you remember Al Franken wrote a jeremiad against conservatives called “Lies: And the Lying Liars Who Tell Them”? I imagine the book’s title offends you. Yet it now feels like a preview of a candidate who almost daily makes false claims.

Trump likewise plays into the liberal narrative that the radical right verges on being anti-American. He has suggested our democracy is illegitimate and advocated jail for his opponent.

Finally, Trump displays a proud meanspiritedness about others’ struggles – a meanspiritedness Democrats have long tried to link to Republican economic policy. He mocks parents who have lost a child, people with disabilities and prisoners of war. He relishes firing people.

Trump is so distinct he has made this election all about him. If you vote for him, you can’t pass it off as voting for Supreme Court nominees. You will be voting for Donald Trump. You will be embracing those conservative parodies.

You do not need to do that.

It’s true that you have no great options, which is why polls still show many undecided voters. Gary Johnson, initially intriguing, has proved unqualified. You could stay home or write in a vote, but those protests often feel weak.

The best path is the hardest one. Only an unambiguous rejection of Trump will banish Trumpism for 2020 and beyond. Only a lopsided loss, with millions of Republicans so repelled by him that they vote for someone they never imagined they would, sends the message that bigotry, lying and authoritarianism violate Republican values – your values.

I don’t take lightly how hard it is for you to consider a vote for Hillary Clinton. I’m sure George H.W. Bush, who’s signaled he is voting for her, will do so out of duty, not joy. That applies to many Republican military figures and conservative newspapers. Any other choice, as the former Reagan aide Ken Adelman says, is at least “a half vote for Trump.”

That same year, my grandparents endured rare arguments with some close friends. Their friends viewed it as a betrayal to vote for a Democrat. My grandparents viewed it as a betrayal to take lightly a man unfit for the Oval Office. And they never again voted for a Democrat for president. They were Republicans.

This year, the most important statement that any Republican can make is clear: I am not Trump.

Twitter: @DLeonhardt.

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