Five minutes after Senator Marco Rubio began his “dropout speech” on the night of the Florida primary, I received a message from one of my aunts.
“I could see myself voting for him,” she messaged. It was just another dagger. My aunt, a Bernie Sanders voter in Ohio, was exactly the type of voter a Republican would need to demolish Hillary Clinton in November. She would eventually vote for Clinton.
I’m not going to go much into what I did working for the Rubio campaign, because we had an internal mentality — always make it about Marco. What I will say is, the end of that sort of journey is always hard. I’ve worked for a number of losing candidates, for Congress, for Delegate, for local office. This one hurt the most.
Two days after Marco exited the race, I went back into the office in jeans and a baseball jersey. It was a surreal experience. I didn’t have much wrap-up to do, so I packed up my things, said my goodbyes to teammates and couldn’t stop thinking about the eventuality of the Trump nomination. In my haste to move on I forgot a mini fridge I had brought in for the campaign. Oh well.
The Distracted Months
Within a couple weeks I had a few freelance projects. I did some graphic design for candidates, helped administer some advertising campaigns, and brought in a few checks. It wasn’t a lot, and I’ll be honest, I wasn’t very eager to move forward.
Some of my former colleagues moved on to big things — Senate races, new media jobs, even elections in other countries. I attached myself to my television, jumping into Destiny and then DC Universe Online. When the mobile hit Pokemon Go came out, I spent a month and a half prowling the streets of Manassas, Occoquan, and Washington, D.C. searching for imaginary creatures. It was cathartic, but inevitably a deep form of denial.
I stopped commenting on politics. I stopped attending meetings of the Prince William County Republican Party, even though I had always been an activist. Political contacts moved on, mobilized, and kept the drumbeat going. I swiped at my cell phone screen at 2 A.M. while the drunks wandered out of an Old Town Manassas bar.
For the longest time, I thought it was a case of “sore loserdom.” I didn’t want to be that guy, but it happens. Your candidate loses, you struggle with all that time you put in yielding a defeat, and you lose focus.
Never Means Sometimes
When I did comment about the state of the race on social media, it was often short and sarcastic. I’d post about something stupid candidate Trump said that day, and add on the #NeverMeansNever hashtag. My friends who had positioned themselves in the #NeverTrump column would like the post, or comment. Every week the number of likes would dwindle.
I watched as some of my former diehards announced they would vote for Trump. It felt like dominoes falling, and as each did, I withdrew a little more. I’d watch the video of Mark Levin making the case for Trump over Hillary. I’d pick up my phone, a mobile battery pack, and car keys. The world was better at night, playing a game.
As the summer waned, I started feeling like I was on an island. Folks I knew to be committed conservatives were defending an assault on free trade. Folks I knew to be morally upstanding were engaging in grotesque defenses of sexual assault.
At one point, my desktop computer sat offline for 3 1/2 days. The only time that had happened in the past few years was when I was going out of town. I just couldn’t handle the constant sense of betrayal.
It All Built To This
When I was 15 years old, I started writing about politics on an old desktop computer at my home in Northeast Ohio. I trolled message boards, chat rooms, and the infant-staged blogs at the time looking for information and people who shared my worldview. The events of my youth, from 9/11 to the 2004 election to the Iraq War, put me into a place where I figured out I was a conservative.
At 18, I went to college, joined the Ohio State University College Republicans, and volunteered for the McCain campaign. I supported Mitt Romney (and to a lesser extent, former Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson) in that primary. It didn’t matter. I was a loyal soldier and Senator John McCain was significantly more conservative than Barack Obama.
At 19, I started doing technical work and a little writing for a conservative think tank. I was elected to the Franklin County Republican Central Committee. I moved on to a right-leaning public relations firm. I knocked doors for a quixotic City Council candidate in Columbus. Being a conservative and a Republican began defining who I was, to my fellow students, to my co-workers, to my friends.
I helped elect a co-worker to a suburban City Council race. I helped another co-worker with his website when he ran for County Commissioner. I sparred with my county party chairman over the committee favoring moderate candidates. I organized a massive Tea Party rally and I even served as a backroom ambassador between those same Tea Party activists and a congressional candidate that I thought was more conservative than they viewed him to be.
In 2011, I moved to Virginia to be with my now-wife. We spent our first month together living and breathing a State Senate campaign that she was working on. I moved 300.4 miles and carried with me the same identity — I was a conservative and a Republican.
A congressional campaign, a couple General Assembly races, and some freelance consulting later, I found myself working for a man with a real shot at becoming President of the United States. It all built to that, and I didn’t know where to go from there.
Election night 2016 was always built to be a bad one for me. I had spent much of the last 10 years railing against the potential disasters of another Clinton presidency. I had spent much of the last 10 months railing against a Trump presidency. It was a no-win situation.
Still, I felt pretty confident that the end result would leave me hopeful. After all, if Hillary Clinton won over Donald Trump, we would have a Republican House (at minimum) to keep her in check as they did for the latter 6 years of the Obama tenure. The populist Trump experiment would go down as a failure, and we could have another contest of conservative superstars in 2020 — the contest our party deserved in 2016.
Then I started looking at the numbers in Pennsylvania. Clinton wasn’t pulling the margins she needed near Pittsburgh. Philadelphia wasn’t going to do it for her. Trump was going to win. In Michigan, Clinton didn’t rack up enough votes in the suburbs of Detroit, or Detroit itself. Despite losing by over 2.8 million votes nationally, Trump had done it.
Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin were often fool’s gold for Republican candidates, but thanks to Clinton’s complacency and a message designed to poach union Democrats, Trump pulled it off. I felt like I was going to puke.
Gone was the potential of a 2020 conservative revival. Worse, everything I thought I knew about my own party was invalidated. Could we really just throw away everything we thought we believed in because this guy was on “our team” all of a sudden? I closed my browser and turned on Eve Online, a computer game with spaceships and lasers. Back to the denial strategy.
A Post-Trump World
The post-election denial couldn’t last long. A job opportunity I thought I had coming fell apart, just as another materialized. It wouldn’t last long (it wasn’t a good fit), but it pulled me straight out of a place of denial and complacency into the chaotic quasi-political world again. I had to swallow Trump’s victory and start messaging to people again.
When I moved on from that job, I started writing again. I had to, right? I couldn’t just get baptized by fire back into the political world and again retreat into video games and self-deprecation. Virginia, after all, has an interesting couple of races this year. Would a traditional conservative voice even matter anymore?
As depressing as the months post-primary were for me, this year has been worse. I’ve watched the party that I spent 10 years helping build lose its very identity.
Republicans, who had been increasingly embracing free trade, suddenly became dynamically opposed to NAFTA. Only 22% of my party now supports a trade deal that’s a cornerstone of a new American economy.
Speaking of 22%, that’s the number of Republicans who would support an Obama-launched strike on Syria in 2013 if Assad used chemical weapons. That number swelled to 86% in 2017, for the exact same rationale, but with “our guy” as president. Do you know how much it pains me to point out such rank hypocrisy?
So here I am, trying to contribute to the dialogue, wondering whether to even consider myself a member of a party that I can’t even recognize anymore.
I don’t know if I’ve written it on these pages, but I didn’t vote for President Trump. I cast my vote for libertarian Gary Johnson, a form of protest in a state I knew Hillary Clinton would carry anyway. In fact, I didn’t even vote for Republican Rob Wittman for Congress. I was so perplexed by his awkward embrace of Trump during the campaign that I thought he deserved one less vote in his victory margin.
This creates an unusual situation for writing about Republican politics. My disdain for what our party is becoming could easily be used as a disqualifier. It won’t matter to some people that I supported Trump’s pick for the Supreme Court, or a majority of his cabinet appointments. It won’t matter that I find the Obamacare status quo appalling. I’m disloyal. I am not to be trusted.
This worry, that my views are now somehow invalid to people who were standing beside me just months ago, has caused me to doubt. I haven’t filled the pages of this site with meaningful, insightful content as I aimed to do. It’s been a crisis of conviction.
But I’m going to write anyway, because I’m a conservative damnit. At the end of the Trump experiment, our ideology will still need a home, and I believe the Republican Party can still be that place. For now, it’s being torn apart by the conflicting forces of populism and crony capitalism. It doesn’t have to be this way. It will, however, stay this way if people like me shut up, and retreat.
I’m a Republican damnit, and this party is still mine.