Editorial: Smerconish Ponders Rejoining the GOP
I’m thinking of rejoining the Republican Party. It’s not exactly a homecoming worthy of celebration, but more like joining a run-down country club just to throw out the golf pro. I can’t stand the thought of sitting out the April 26 Pennsylvania Republican primary.
There was a time when I was proud to be a card-carrying member. After following my parents into the GOP when I turned 18, I vividly recall both my enthusiasm and difficulty deciding when casting my first presidential ballot in the spring of 1980: Ronald Reagan or George H.W. Bush? Meeting Bush at Czestochowa in Doylestown and Reagan in the Italian Market on Ninth Street only added to my quandary. Today, I doubt either could capture this party’s nomination.
The Detroit convention that nominated Reagan adopted a platform that would be anathema to the party today. From abortion (“while we recognize differing views on this question among Americans”) to ballot security (“Republicans support public policies that will promote electoral participation without compromising ballot-box security”) to language (“Neither Hispanics nor any other American citizens should be barred from education or employment opportunities because English is not their first language”) and immigration (“United States immigration and refugee policy must reflect the interests of our national security and economic well-being”), the party changed much more than I did.
Consider the platform adopted in Tampa when Mitt Romney was nominated in 2012. The party had moved rightward on abortion (“We assert the sanctity of human life and affirm that the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed”); ballot security (“We applaud legislation to require photo identification for voting and to prevent election fraud”); language (“We support English as the nation’s official language”); and immigration (“We will create humane procedures to encourage illegal aliens to return home voluntarily, while enforcing the law against those who overstay their visas”).
I left in 2010, changing my registration to “no affiliation” (Pennsylvania’s version of independent) while renewing my driver’s license. Eschewing a label suited me, but where I’d never missed an election of any kind in three decades, I knew it would be painful to sit out primaries given Pennsylvania’s archaic closed system. But never have I felt like more of an electoral bystander than now.
There were four Republicans in the household in which I was raised. Today, under my own roof, besides me there are two Republicans, two Democrats, and a 15-year-old who says that, in three years, he too will be an independent. It was our eldest son, now 20, who introduced me to strategic voting. He registered as an R even though his sentiments lean D. He did it deliberately, arguing that the R’s need more help with their selection process.
“I want to vote as often as possible,” he told me at the time. He said he thought it in the nation’s best interest to have competition and good choices in general elections, and where the R’s were fielding an increasing number of candidates he found unacceptable, he wanted to influence the GOP nominations for the better. (He said he wouldn’t hesitate to switch if he saw the D’s stray similarly off track.) When he said the goal was to limit outliers, I figured he was onto something. And that was two years ago! Before the GOP contest devolved into a battle over the height of a fence, the banning of an entire religion, and the size of the candidates’ “hands.”
Which is why Monday, March 28, looms large for me. That’s the voter registration deadline in Pennsylvania, meaning it’s the last day I can join a party. The Democratic race seems settled. But there is still time to embrace adulthood within the GOP.
That there is a lot of strategic voting this cycle is evident both in the registration figures and from the telephone calls I field daily from radio listeners across the country. In Pennsylvania, nearly 50,000 Democrats have become Republicans this year, presumably to vote in the presidential primary. In Montgomery County, 1,625 Democrats switched to Republican between November and this past Thursday. Four hundred eighty-two No Affiliates have done likewise. (Registering or changing party in Pennsylvania is easy at www.votespa.com.)
Anecdotally, I’ve heard from voters in such disparate places as Massachusetts and Ohio, who told me they joined the Republican Party to vote for or against Donald Trump. In Massachusetts, 20,000 Democrats dropped their party affiliation to join the ranks of the unaffiliated, enabling voting in the Republican or Democratic primary. Other data support the trend, such as exit polling from Michigan, where self-described Democrats represented 7 percent of the Republican primary electorate.
It’s been 76 years since Thomas Wolfe wrote that You Can’t Go Home Again. Well, maybe just for a short visit.
Michael Smerconish can be heard from 9 a.m. to noon on SiriusXM’s POTUS Channel 124 and seen hosting “Smerconish” at 9 a.m. Saturdays on CNN. This column was originally published at Philly.com.