“Start acting like a [expletive] Republican.”
These words came at me fast and loud on the House floor last week. They came out of the mouth of a fellow Republican who has concerns that I’m not truly Republican because my tone or stature is not oppositional enough. He’s not alone in his concern, either.
Beginning back in 2012, my first year as an elected official, accusations that I’m not a “real Republican” have buzzed around me. Accusations based not on practical policy initiatives, or even my record of votes, but on assumed definitions of the accepted style with which a Republican behaves. Unfortunately, I have only seen those definitions narrow with time.
In our current environment, my Republican credentials are judged by how often and how publicly I criticize Democrats — regardless of whether or not their ideas are good. Pragmatism and practicality give way to reactionary radicalism. To be a “real Republican,” I’m required to swear that taxes are inherently evil and that guns are always good. I’m asked to distrust every Muslim and reject all Hispanic immigrants. I’m encouraged to perform political martyrdom on a weekly basis just to gain attention, and compromise is always considered a betrayal.
Not all Republicans use this rubric. Not even the majority do, but the loudest ones — those with a lot of influence over primaries — often judge Republican candidates solely on this criteria. And, that is how we find ourselves in our current political environment.
Less than a year ago, Ted Cruz appeared the most radical candidate entering the presidential race. His statements on “carpet bombing” and regular threats to shut down the government should have made him the ideal frontrunner for this version of the Republican Party. Yet, even Cruz — a candidate with an actual plan — finds himself trailing behind the disingenuous cacophony of Donald Trump.
Trump offers everything Cruz does. He’s willing to take on the establishment. He’s blunt and loud. He embodies extreme ideals. Trump doesn’t have the policies to go along with those ideals, but it doesn’t matter. His language and demeanor better harness the anger and fear that’s germinating in the Republican base.
The electorate is angry, frustrated, and scared. These emotions leave room for the hate-filled rhetoric of our leading Presidential nominee that could bring Republicans big losses with my demographic — women, minorities, and Millennials.
So, it’s time to counter the message. The Republican Party that I joined has a long history of fighting fear, anger, and injustice with hope in seemingly hopeless situations. It’s the party of Abraham Lincoln, who battled the objectification of human beings in slavery under the threat of disunion. It’s the party of Teddy Roosevelt, who believed in the value of the individual and their inherent potential over the power of monopolies and big business. It’s the party of Ronald Reagan, who exemplified diplomacy and non-violent victory in efforts to pursue peaceful coexistence on a global scale.
Today’s Republican Party is not that party. But, it could be. A political party founded on the idea that every individual regardless of their background deserves an equal opportunity to achieve their greatest potential without excessive interference from oversized institutions is relevant to everyone. That party is worth saving.
Because even though prejudice and fear might win elections, governing requires compromise, inclusion, and collaboration. Americans will not trust Republicans to lead if anger and intransigence define us. Our party’s founding values — the right to self-determination, tolerance of differences, financially and socially responsible government, and protection for the vulnerable members of our society — should be the only criteria for who is a “real Republican.”
Elected in 2012, Beth Fukumoto Chang is a Republican state representative in Hawaii and is the current minority leader of the Hawaii House of Representatives.