I grew up in a working-class, predominantly Irish Catholic neighborhood in Boston. It was a close-knit community and overwhelmingly Democrat. During my sophomore year of high school, my family relocated to Northern Virginia which is where I met my first Republican. Following college, I returned to Massachusetts for the next ten years and supported Democratic politics and candidates.
After law school, I accepted an appointment as a U.S. Coast Guard JAG Officer and moved to the Tidewater area of Virginia. I also registered as a Republican and cast my first vote for a GOP President: Ronald Reagan. My family in Boston was dismayed by my departure from its generations of loyalty to the Democrat Party.
What prompted me to become a Republican was a belief that Ronald Reagan’s vision for America was far more in line with my own than that articulated by then-President Carter and the Democrats. Several years later, while still on active duty, I was selected for an assignment on President Reagan’s White House staff. To this day, it was one of the greatest privileges of my life.
While remaining in the Reserves, I left active duty to accept the first of two Presidential appointments in the Bush 41 administration which led to my spending the rest of my career as a Washington lawyer. Throughout this period, I remained a faithful Republican and even worked on John McCain’s presidential campaign. With few exceptions, Republican policies of fiscal conservatism and strong national defense squared well with my own.
The Republican Party’s nomination of Donald Trump in 2016 disturbed me deeply. Although I did not vote for Trump, I remained loyal to the party as a whole – clinging to the vision of the GOP I held dear during my time in politics. Since then, I left the GOP in January of 2017 following Trump’s disgraceful display before the Memorial Wall at CIA Headquarters. For me, after months of Trumps’ belittling the men and women of the intelligence community, his use of that sacred space to complain about the media coverage of his inaugural crowd size was the final straw.
During the past four years, we have all witnessed countless examples of Trump’s ruthlessness, depravity, dishonesty, incompetence, pettiness, and self-dealing. Every affront to our democracy, large and small, was facilitated by a coterie of cowardly enablers. Anyone displaying the slightest degree of disapproval was crushed like a bug.
The events of January 6th, however, introduced a level of presidential misconduct unseen in our nearly 250-year history. After months of futile efforts to overturn a fair and legal election, Trump, like a caged beast, struck out with the only weapon available to him – the rage of followers to whom he had repeatedly lied. Their assault on our Capitol will forever live as a sickening memory in our collective conscience.
The impeachment process, our nation’s principal means of addressing Trump’s crimes, had truly disappointing results. However, there is room for some optimism amidst the gloom. Like many, I have been despondent over what has happened to the GOP and over how quickly it has converted itself from the “Party of Lincoln” to the “Cult of Trump.” Like many, I believe that a viable two-party system is vital to the long-term health of our democracy. We no longer have that. I also believe that if there is any chance for the GOP to return to anything closely resembling viability, it needs to hit rock bottom first.
Throughout the past four years, I have repeatedly believed that, following each of Trump’s many dreadful misdeeds, that the party could not possibly sink any lower. Every time, I was proven wrong. For nearly every instance, the party quickly got in line and blindly supported the President. They always managed to find a new bottom.
Notwithstanding the unsatisfying outcome of the Senate impeachment trial, some good did come of it. Thanks to the brilliant advocacy of the House Managers, the depravity of the insurgents, and the role of Trump as the catalytic core were laid bare for all to see. Senate Republicans were left with a single, crumbling, fig leaf to cover their shame – the specious argument that the body lacked jurisdiction. Although a handful of Republicans demonstrated some courage, the vast majority cast their lot with Trump and his followers. Senate Minority Leader McConnell’s attempt to have it both ways by condemning Trump while justifying his feeble vote to acquit on constitutional grounds was, perhaps, one of the greatest moments of shame for the party.
We can take some small comfort in the following: the impeachment vote marked the moment when Trump’s destruction of the Republican party became complete; Trump’s impeachment will be a stain that he can never wash off; to potential donors, Trump is green kryptonite; and finally, we can point to the precise moment when the GOP hit rock bottom. Whether it can ever recover is anyone’s guess.