If, as Sesame Street’s most famous resident, Kermit the Frog, once lamented, “it’s not easy being green,” he should hop a mile in a Republican’s shoes. They, no doubt, would tell Kermie that being green is a piece of cake. Try being red--- Republican red.
That is the reality facing the Grand Old Party these days. In poll after poll, the party is finding itself in a difficult and challenging position as it tries to remain relevant to millennials and Gen X demographics. Put another way, as the Daily Kos recently did, “All the cool kids are leaving the Republican Party.” Worse? Many are turning blue, going independent or, worse, affiliating and identifying as Democrat.
But it’s not just younger demographics that the party is losing. Over the last few years it has also watched helplessly as some of the dignified, old bull elephants of the party have not just dropped out but made a public pronouncement that they’re no longer Republicans. Some have committed the unthinkable; not simply leaving but encouraging other disgruntled old guard members to do the same and prodding everyone within earshot to commit heresy and vote Democrat.
Once red-blooded, right-leaning stalwarts like columnist George Will, Max Boot, former Congressman now host of MSNBC’S eponymous “Morning Joe,” Joe Scarborough, Republican strategist Steve Schmidt and Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin are all now loud and proud ex-GOP’ers.
The party of low tax, small government and free trade, they say, has disappeared. Fiscal responsibility has been replaced with out of control spending, including a mind-bending $23 billion and growing deficit. Former Republicans also take issue with the growing power that the evangelical wing of the party now holds and wields with great vigor. This disenchantment, however, is a veritable stew of resentment. A Pew Research poll said that the party is also hemorrhaging women voters.
“I’m no longer a Republican,” said Ellen Roberts, once the number two ranking member of the Colorado Senate. For ten years Roberts represented an eight-county district in Southwest Colorado in both the House and Senate. She held the position of President Pro Tempore of the Senate in her last term.
“I was considered a centrist,” she recently said as she drove to a Saturday morning meeting. “I felt like I was right where I was supposed to be. I felt like I was expected to and wanted to consider each issue on its own merit.” Roberts former district, which includes Durango, has a mixture of conservatives and liberals, pro-business and environmentalists, gun control and gun rights voters, young and old, singles and families.
Her decision to leave the party was neither sudden nor easy. “I guess there wasn’t a single incident,” said the former legislator. As a centrist, Roberts found herself uncomfortable with the ‘either or’ choices party leaders gave her. This vein of independence, she recalled, was “not always appreciated by those in state party leadership.” And then came Trump.
“I think he was emblematic on how I was in a different place,” said the Durango-based attorney. In this regard, Roberts is certainly not alone. A Pew Research poll showed that 63 percent of women believe that President Trump “is not doing his job.”
For women, the wrong side of the Trump ledger is long and dubious. It includes the ‘Access Hollywood’ tape in which he bragged about sexual impropriety, the numerous accusations and law suits involving sexual misconduct, hush money payments for sexual indiscretions and personal and degrading insults made about high ranking women for their looks. There are also other issues that are separating Roberts and other potentially former Republican women from old guard party leaders.
“I don’t want abortion to be illegal,” she said. “Women need to make that decision.” Her views on immigration also differ from party leadership. “We’re a country of immigrants. I have a difficult time saying we should close the borders,” but also believes “in following the law.” U.S. immigration, added Roberts, “has not been sound for a very long time.” On issues involving the LBGQT community, Roberts said “it’s not any of the government’s business.”
With so many important voting blocs frustrated with the party, its ability to win back the disgruntled is a major challenge. “I honestly have no idea,” about its future, said Roberts. “I don’t think it’s a long term, sustainable path
Roberts decision to leave the party she grew up in doesn’t automatically mean bolting to the blue side of the ballot. “For our system of government to work we have to have strong, vibrant parties, not one party in control.” If a local Republican can see the challenges the party faces, said Roberts, “those at the top should recognize it.”
For now, Roberts said she will remain involved in the issues that pushed her into public office. “I was never loyal to party,” she said. Her loyalty was to her constituents and core principles.