You are a Republican.
You believe President Barack Obama has been a disappointment if not a failure. You think Hillary Clinton is wrong on most issues, and you worry about her judgment.
You are agonizing about what to do this year, and I understand why. Donald Trump is clearly distasteful. Yet he at least seems likely to appoint conservative judges and sign Republican bills. So what are you supposed to do?
Allow me to tell you about my grandparents.
They grew up as middle-class children of the Depression in Philadelphia. My grandmother was a star athlete who went on to raise a tightly knit family filled with laughter. My outgoing grandfather first sold pens door to door and later sold ads for The Saturday Evening Post and Business Week.
My grandparents believed in American business, and they were small-c conservative. They voted Republican, year after year.
That year, Barry Goldwater won the nomination from the far right. Most alarming to many people, he mused about using nuclear weapons in the Cold War.
Befitting their generation’s reserve, my grandparents didn’t talk much politics. They simply said they had considered Goldwater beyond the pale. But years ago, I stumbled on a four-minute television ad that Lyndon Johnson’s campaign had run against Goldwater, and I felt as if I were listening to my grandparents.
Called “Confessions of a Republican,” the ad shows a man wearing a suit and glasses (who eventually lights a cigarette) in a chair. He is a Republican, he says, like his father and grandfather. “But when we come to Senator Goldwater, now it seems to me we’re up against a very different kind of a man,” says the actor, himself an anti-Goldwater Republican. “This man scares me.”
For Republicans today, Trump is scarier than Goldwater. He is scarier because he resembles a double agent dreamed up by liberal screenwriters. He embodies almost every left-wing caricature of Republicans that Republicans despise.
He is a racist and a sexist – having refused to rent apartments to African-Americans, re-tweeted neo-Nazis, besmirched Muslims and Latinos and boastfully molested women. For years, Republicans have been frustrated by liberal sensitivity on race and gender. Comes now Trump, spewing bigotry.
He is also an unrepentant denier of reality. Do you remember that Al Franken wrote a jeremiad against conservatives called “Lies: And the Lying Liars Who Tell Them”? I imagine the book’s title offends you. Yet it now feels like a preview of a candidate who almost every day makes immediately disprovable claims.
Trump likewise plays into the liberal narrative that the radical right verges on being anti-American. He has suggested our democracy is illegitimate and advocated jail for his opponent.
Trump is so distinct that he has made this election unavoidably about him. If you vote for him, you can’t pass it off as voting for Supreme Court nominees. You will be voting for Donald Trump. You will be embracing those parodies of conservatism.
You do not need to do that. It’s true that you have no great options, which is why polls still show many undecided voters.
The best path is the hardest one. Only an unambiguous rejection of Trump will banish Trumpism for 2020 and beyond. Only a lopsided loss, with millions of Republicans so repelled by him that they vote for someone they never imagined they would, sends the message that bigotry, lying and authoritarianism violate Republican values – your values.
I don’t take lightly how hard it is for you to consider a vote for Hillary Clinton. I’m sure that George H.W. Bush, who’s signaled he is voting for her, will do so out of duty, not joy.
That same year, my grandparents endured rare arguments with some close friends. Their friends viewed it as a betrayal to vote for a Democrat. My grandparents viewed it as a betrayal to take lightly a man unfit for the Oval Office. And they never again voted for a Democrat for president. They were Republicans.
This year, the most important statement that any Republican can make is clear: I am not Trump.
New York Times News Service