Shortly after Ted Cruz suspended his campaign, a cascade of notable conservatives announced, on Twitter and elsewhere, that they refused to back Donald Trump for president. Several of them went on to say that they no longer considered themselves Republicans, so appalled were they by Trump’s rise and the cravenness of the many Republicans who’ve enabled him. To state the obvious, these are two different sentiments. Opposing Trump’s bid for the presidency was the right thing to do during the primaries, and it is the right thing to do now that he is the presumptive nominee. If his not-so-coded appeals to racial and ethnic resentment weren’t enough to disqualify him, his extreme credulousness—for example, his claim that Rafael Cruz, the father of Ted, was somehow involved in the plot to assassinate John F. Kennedy, based entirely on a story that appeared in the National Enquirer—tells us that he is a man in desperate need of help. That a plurality of Republican primary voters have nevertheless backed Trump is dismaying in the extreme. But is it a reason to abandon the GOP? I say no.
My case for sticking with the Republican Party is not a sentimental one. The rise of Trump has convinced many of my conservative comrades that the GOP is a cesspool. I have to ask: Did you believe that the GOP was the home of heroes and legends before he came on the scene? I’ve been in and around the conservative movement for my entire adult life, and I’ve seen more than my fair share of self-described conservative true believers doing the bidding of hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, Hollywood conglomerates, and unsavory foreign governments. I’ve also seen people of great integrity work tirelessly for little pay and even less recognition to make this country a freer, fairer, and more decent place. The Republican Party may well be a party of charlatans and cranks. But it is also the party of millions of middle-class Americans who believe that the role of government is to empower people, not to render them powerless and dependent.