This is an essay from Everett Wohlers, who was a staffer in the Idaho Secretary of State’s office from 1976 to 1998.
I just by chance read something in a magazine yesterday that caused me to reflect on my history with the Republican party.
I grew up in a tiny farm and ranch town in the northwest corner of Nebraska. In that area, Democrats were either non-existent or an endangered species. I was from birth a Republican. My parents were hard-core conservative Republicans, and my dad was an elected Republican officeholder. I admired the Republican icons of the 50s and 60s – such people as President Eisenhower, Everett Dirksen, Charles Mathias, Edward Brooke, Gerald Ford, Margaret Chase Smith and others.
I was appointed to the US Military Academy by Republican Senator Roman Hruska. After my active duty years and law school, I moved to Idaho and took a job as a Republican political appointee working for Idaho’s longest serving Republican elected official, whom I served for well over two decades. The party in which I grew up and spent much of my adulthood was one of decency and sound values, and I was proud to be a part of it.
When Ronald Reagan was elected, I began to have misgivings because he was so clearly unqualified and because he started the practice of scapegoating unfavored classes to gain votes. But I chalked him up as an aberration, not the rule for the party, and his succession by Papa Bush, a decent and competent man, seemed to confirm that. Then when Newt Gingrich became Speaker and took the party on a very dark turn, I had more misgivings, but I still maintained my identity as a Republican. I voted for George W. Bush in the 2000 election, but when it became apparent to me in the fall of 2002 that he and his PNAC-dominated administration were about to take us into a stupid and unlawful war in Iraq, that was the final straw.
I disclaimed the party and became an independent. The rise of the Koch-funded Tea Party confirmed to me that my decision was the right one, because the Tea Party’s values, which became those of the party, were so at odds with mine. Then with the nomination and election of Trump, the last shreds of decency, honor and competence of the party were totally extinguished.
The item that I read yesterday was about the late Republican Senator Margaret Chase Smith, who was one of those to whom I looked up in my youth. The piece was about her “Declaration of Conscience,” her statement in which she took on Joe McCarthy for his abuses of freedom of speech and expression. Following that declaration, she said the following with respect to what she feared McCarthy would bring about if he could:
“I don’t want to see the Republican Party rise to victory on the four horses of calumny: fear, ignorance, bigotry and smear.”
That really encapsulated for me the reason that I have rejected my old party. It has now fully descended to become exactly the party that Senator Chase Smith took action to prevent Joe McCarthy from making it. I think it is no mere coincidence that the man who was McCarthy’s advisor, Roy Cohn, was the same man who groomed Donald Trump to become the man he is and in whose image the party is now molded.