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After Buffalo, saving the GOP means leaving the GOP

I thought the Republican Party could be saved. I was wrong.
People embrace outside of the scene of a shooting at Tops Friendly Market
People embrace outside of the scene of the shooting at Tops Friendly Market in Buffalo, N.Y. on Sunday.Scott Olson / Getty Images

I’ve been a political conservative most of my life, having worked for two Republican presidents and for a GOP-controlled Congress. In the wake of the mass shooting in Buffalo on Saturday, it’s become glaringly obvious that my party no longer represents conservative values but in fact poses a threat to them — and to America.

That’s why I am quitting the GOP.

I was wrong in thinking it could be saved. I worked with top Republicans to stop Trump in 2016, tried to limit the fallout from within his administration after he was elected (including warnings from within about Trump’s instability) and unmasked myself to publicly oppose his re-election in 2020. He was defeated, but this effort ultimately failed. Transformed in the contemptible image of the man who remains its standard-bearer, the Republican Party’s moral implosion is complete. 

This is not the Republican Party I signed up for. Before Trump, the GOP was moving toward a bigger-tent party. Now it’s regressing into culture wars and incivility closely resembling mob rule.

The vitriolic GOP rhetoric is inspiring violent radicals, and I don’t say that lightly.

After more than a decade in counterterrorism, it’s clear to me that my party is mainstreaming conspiracy theories that are fueling a statistical spike in political intimidation, attitudes toward violence and the specter of domestic terrorism that we witnessed this weekend in New York.

This isn’t a partisan broadside. It’s a public safety warning. The Buffalo shooter was apparently radicalized by racist viewpoints that many Republicans espouse, and that danger can’t be tolerated any longer.

Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, a rock-ribbed conservative, put it bluntly this week. “The House GOP leadership has enabled white nationalism, white supremacy, and anti-semitism,” she wrote on Twitter. “History has taught us that what begins with words ends in far worse.” She asked the bare minimum of party leaders, urging them to “renounce and reject” such views.

Instead, the office of No. 3 House Republican, Elise Stefanik, who has echoed extremist sentiments in her own campaign ads, went on a tirade against the mainstream media, failing to take responsibility for the toxic discourse that has become the engine of a wayward GOP. 

Rep. Elise Stefanik
Rep. Elise Stefanik attends a news conference in Washington, D.C. on Jun. 15, 2021.Caroline Brehman / CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images file

The party of Lincoln once stood on granite-solid ground — promoting free minds, free markets and free people — but no longer.  The GOP is now a party of misinformation and false grievances, of protectionism and nativism, of election subversion and anti-democratic sentiment.

Look no further than how Republicans have pushed the conspiracy theories of QAnon, the 2020 stolen election myth and, chillingly, the “great replacement” lie that hangs over the tragic events in Buffalo.

The suspect in the Buffalo shooting allegedly wrote and posted a manifesto referencing this race-baiting theory before carrying out his massacre, eerily reflecting the ideas of major GOP figures. Fox News host Tucker Carlson, for instance, has repeatedly claimed that the Democratic Party is attempting to “replace the current electorate” of white voters with so-called “Third World” voters. 

An Associated Press poll in December found that nearly 50 percent of Republicans agree to some degree with the sentiments of the “great replacement theory” the Buffalo shooter allegedly used as justification for hunting and killing Black Americans, who comprised most of the victims of Saturday’s attack.

This is hardly the only hate-filled conspiracy circulating in some quarters of the GOP. Before the shooting, Stefanik gave a nod to QAnon fanatics by suggesting top Democrats were pedophiles. According to an Economist/YouGov survey in March, around half of Republicans now believe in core QAnon concepts, such as the assertion that a single group of people “secretly … rule the world” and that “top Democrats are involved in elite child sex-trafficking rings.” 

Meanwhile, the vast majority of Republicans (more than 70 percent in a University of Massachusetts poll released more than a year after the 2020 election) still contest the results of the last presidential vote. This has seemed to encourage dozens of GOP candidates to compete in federal primaries by campaigning on rage over a “rigged” election. 

These would otherwise be fringe beliefs, if GOP elites like Trump and Stefanik weren’t making them go viral. Alarmingly, the normalization of such conspiracy theories is helping to create a powder keg.

Violent radicalization is no longer limited to a tiny group of people or lone wolves. One in 10 Americans, liberals and independents as well as conservatives, now believe violence against the government is justified and that Trump should be forcibly reinstalled in the White House, leading to an inescapable conclusion: The Republican Party — which branded a violent insurrection in the nation’s capital as “legitimate political discourse“ — is poisoning Americans minds and supplanting respectful disagreement with loaded-gun rhetoric.

At the same time, the party is going after the foundations of democracy itself. GOP lawmakers have curtailed voting rights in nearly half of U.S. states, and a slew of Republican “election deniers” are running for positions charged with overseeing state elections. What’s more, most Republicans still favor a twice-impeached Trump for president, despite the fact that at least one former aide has said he would “absolutely” impose some form of autocracy in a second term and some of his cabinet members have warned he’s a “threat to democracy.”

This is not the Republican Party I signed up for.

Before Trump, the GOP was moving toward a bigger-tent party. Now it’s regressing into culture wars and incivility closely resembling mob rule.

Make no mistake: There are good people such as Cheney in the GOP trying to restore sanity, but I believe that change from inside the party is a lost cause. Real reform — the kind that is needed to restore the soul of our political system — can only be achieved from the outside. Accordingly, conservatives of conscience must quit the GOP and oppose the Republican Party until it is rehabilitated or a suitable alternative is created.

So today, in the tragic aftermath of Buffalo, I’m becoming something else — an independent — and my fellow conservatives should do the same.