This has been a long time coming.
I wasn’t expecting to change my political party now. I was waiting for a good, strong moment: a few weeks before my state’s primary, perhaps. But I was updating my driver’s license, and the question flashed across the screen: Do you want to register with a political party?
I hesitated for a moment, but I knew it was time. I went with the only option that made sense.
I am officially a Democrat.
More notably, I’m no longer a Republican.
Let me be clear: I was never more than a casual member of the GOP.
I registered as a Republican in the spring of 2016, as a senior in high school. I had spent the last few months watching then-candidate Donald Trump go from an outlandish, embarrassing buffoon that no one took seriously to an outlandish, embarrassing buffoon that had neatly captured the Republican nomination.
My decision at the time was twofold. First, and less importantly, I registered Republican because I felt that they were much stronger on pro-Israel policies than the Democrats were. As a dual citizen of the US and of Israel, I felt I should stand with both of my countries.
But second, and much more importantly, I registered Republican because I felt that I had to save the party from itself.
Like everyone else, I initially ignored Trump. Sure, I was horrified by his actions, such as his call to essentially ban Muslims from entering the US to his encouragement of “Build the wall” along the US-Mexico border. But I figured that he would implode pretty quickly.
People were interested in the spectacle, but they’d laugh at him and move on. The other Republican candidates at the time — from Senator Ted Cruz to Senator Marco Rubio — seemed to agree that he was a non-contender.
But as the race went on, and as his numbers only got better, I was shocked. I could understand why people may support Trump — he’s different! He says what he thinks without fear of political correctness! He’ll shake things up in the White House! — but these were not at all my priorities.
Even if his racist, sexist and just plain rude comments were discounted, didn’t Republican primary voters care about finding someone with political experience to replace President Obama? Especially because they had mocked him for not being experienced enough eight years before?
Clearly, the GOP electorate didn’t see the situation as I did. So as Trump wrapped up his nomination, I registered Republican. I wanted to prevent another Trump from happening in the future, and I feared the Republicans repeating their mistake. I trusted that the Democrats would never nominate someone like him, so I wasn’t worried about them.
I then identified with the Never Trump movement among Republicans. I sure as hell wouldn’t be voting for a man who mocked a disabled reporter, didn’t apologize for the Access Hollywood tape, led chants of “lock her up” against his opponent and suggested that he may not concede if the election didn’t go his way. I didn’t like Clinton, but I despised him.
I voted in protest for the Libertarian ticket, hoping that I could make a dent in the two-party system. Had my state been in jeopardy of Trump winning, I would have voted for Clinton in a heartbeat, but I knew New Jersey would go solidly blue.
When Trump won, I made a post on Facebook to vent my feelings. Among my list of thoughts: “I am ashamed that my party- again, I am a Republican, give me shit for it, but that’s the way it is- chose this.” I immediately followed that thought with another: “I am proud of the many Republicans who, either publicly or privately, went with their hearts and voted for someone else.”
I assumed that these Republicans would be the new party leaders. No one proved me more incorrect than my former hero: South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham.
I first heard of Graham in 2015, when he spoke at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) annual Policy Conference. He and Democratic Senator Ben Cardin led a session together. Both Senators stressed — over and over again — the need to work together. Bipartisanship. Reaching across the aisle. I loved that message, and Graham became my idol as a result.
He ran for President the next year, and never reached one percent. But he stood loudly against Trump, more than many other Republicans in office. He even voted for a third-party candidate.
But now, the former champion of bipartisanship has left it all behind. He went from declaring “I think Donald Trump is going to places where very few people have gone and I’m not going with him” and from being a Republican who often worked with Obama to a pathetic defender of this indefensible President.
Graham’s transformation led directly to my departure. Whatever spell Trump has on those in office, I want no part of it. And my reasons for staying in the GOP have been increasingly unsatisfying for too long.
Israel policy isn’t enough to keep me in a party whose President wouldn’t denounce the Nazi side after Charlottesville. Trying to save the Republicans from themselves isn’t worth it when several states cancel Republican primaries altogether.
I no longer even say that I’m socially liberal and fiscally conservative, as I used to. The truth is that I know little about economic repercussions, though I agree with the social platforms of the Democratic candidates.
If the Republican party wants me — and the many, many young people who are smarter than I was and don’t bother to join in the first place — it’s got a long road ahead of it. But in order to reach that point, the GOP would have to atone for what it’s done wrong: accepting and supporting this dangerous leader. Based on how the impeachment trial went, I don’t expect that to happen anytime soon.
And the worst part is, the party knows it’s sinning. The leaders simply don’t care. They either bow to Trump like he’s an emperor, like my old hero Graham, or they exit the conversation, like the 18 House Republicans who announced their upcoming retirement.
Some of those who retired, like former Senator Jeff Flake, attempt to boo Trump now. But if the words and actions they take aren’t strong while they are in office, they don’t count for nearly as much.
Republicans, and specifically you, Senator Graham, please know that this isn’t that hard. No matter who is in office, if they are part of your party, the legislation you support will get passed. You could get your justices and economic proposals without being the laughingstock of the world. You don’t need Trump
And maybe — I doubt it, as my beliefs have dramatically changed, though it’s possible — you could have held on to me.
Republican leaders, you didn’t start this battle, but you could end the war. You choose not to. History will shame you, yet you can’t look past the shining glow of Trump to see it.
I’m not going to fight if there’s nothing worth fighting for. My values don’t align with the Republican party, and I increasingly believe that they never did. They have hell to pay, and I’m not going down with them.
Ariella Shua is a junior majoring in Writing Seminars from Livingston, New Jersey. She is the Opinions Editor.