Nostalgia for the GOP of old

Nostalgia for the GOP of old
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I cut my teeth in Democratic Party politics, engaging in robust, near-daily policy debates with my Republican counterparts. My work in media and communications has put me at the center of public debates between Democrats and Republicans in every presidential administration since Ronald Reagan’s.

Those debates on the best policies to implement have disappeared — largely because the Republican Party is dead. Or, at the very least, it is and will remain dormant for the foreseeable future. 

Some would say Democrats should be jubilant that Republicans have morphed into something unrecognizable and that their party is no more. But as an American, I find this to be regrettable. I believe a hearty debate between the two major political parties about how to move the country forward is necessary for a fully functioning democracy. Sadly, now it is missing.

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Legitimate debate has been replaced with gaslighting by those who have pledged their loyalty not to their country, or even to their party, but to Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpGOP senators balk at lengthy impeachment trial Warren goes local in race to build 2020 movement 2020 Democrats make play for veterans' votes MORE

In my decades of party activism, I have never seen the kind of brazen lies, debunked conspiracy theories and downright vulgar fabrications that are regularly heard today from once-respected Republican leaders. 

What’s worse, all of the lies are told in the service of a political cult leader who has demonstrated that he is unfit and unqualified to be president. Yet he seems to have put his followers under a dizzying spell that makes them believe everything he does is in the service of the United States.

There is a reason that a slew of lifelong, traditional, committed Republican leaders became known as “Never Trumpers.” They saw what Trump was doing to their beloved party, its traditions, its principles and beliefs. Trump was bastardizing the GOP, and these principled leaders would not go along. 

Since then, we’ve seen more Republicans, and even former high-profile Trump supporters, make a 180-degree shift to be 100 percent against the reelection of the man they tried so hard to put in the White House.  

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From the moment he started campaigning, Trump began pushing policies and values – isolationism, anti-immigrant bigotry, deficit-exploding budgets, anti-trade tactics – that clashed with traditional Republicanism.

Even in just the last few weeks, we have seen how much Trump has changed the party.

Last week, for example, a group of Republican lawmakers stormed the Capitol’s Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF) in an effort to thwart impeachment proceedings and the testimony of a witness. Those Republicans didn’t just do serious harm to their already damaged reputations by acting like frat-boy bullies; they also proved just how intellectually bankrupt their arguments were.

Here was a party of lawmakers who, in the past, would have had unbending respect for classified information that, if compromised, could put our national security at risk. (Remember Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham Clinton2020 Democrats make play for veterans' votes The Memo: Democrats confront prospect of long primary Manafort sought to hurt Clinton 2016 campaign efforts in key states: NYT MORE’s email server uproar?) Yet to appease Trump, who had just blasted them for not being tough enough on the impeachment issue, they betrayed their party principles and forced their way into the SCIF with unsecure cell phones. 

In recent days, egged on by Trump, we’ve seen Trump supporters – including a former member of Congress – question the patriotism of a decorated Army veteran who was a witness in the impeachment proceedings. Some even accused Col. Alexander Vindman, a Purple Heart recipient, of being a spy. 

At least some high-profile GOP members of Congress, such as Rep. Liz CheneyElizabeth (Liz) Lynn CheneyLawmakers call for extra security for anti-Erdoğan protesters  Live updates on impeachment: Schiff fires warning at GOP over whistleblower Overnight Defense: Protests at Trump's NYC Veterans Day speech | House Dems release Pentagon official's deposition transcript | Lawmakers ask Trump to rescind Erdogan invite MORE (R-Wyo.), came to Vindman’s defense. But her unequivocal support for Trump’s rhetoric and policies in the past likely only emboldened his behavior.

The best example of the GOP having left its principles at the door of the Oval Office is its defense of a president who has egregiously abused his power not only with regard to Ukraine but also regarding Russia – a longtime adversary that attacked our democracy in 2016 and is likely doing so again in 2020. Republicans of the past would not have stood for such a thing.

I’m nostalgic for the days when I could have dynamic, policy-based debates with my Republican colleagues. We respectfully discussed the merits of what we each supported in the belief that ours was the best way forward for the good of the country. Our country and our democracy are left weaker without a strong Republican Party that supports its traditional values and defends them without bigotry, hate or division.  

But those days are gone — at least until Trump is gone from the White House. 

Maria Cardona is a principal at the Dewey Square Group, a Democratic strategist and a CNN/CNN Español political commentator. Follow her on Twitter @MariaTCardona.