Republicans in Washington state must once again summon the courage to rebuild our party in the aftermath of national disgrace. We must reject the extremists and their enablers who supported President Donald Trump’s attack on the Constitution, or forfeit our ability to lead and to help our people through COVID-19 and the tough times ahead.
More than a half-century ago, newly elected Washington Gov. Daniel J. Evans asked Republicans to reject extremist groups peddling vast conspiracy theories in support of Barry Goldwater’s unsuccessful campaign for president. Evans told the 1965 state convention: “The Republican Party did not achieve greatness nor will it regain greatness by being the party of radicalism or of the lunatic fringe.”
Republicans did end their dalliance with the political fringes and embraced the pragmatic center of politics. This is where campaigns are won, especially in the suburbs of King, Pierce and Snohomish counties, where Republicans have lost ground, in part, because of Trump’s divisive politics.
History shows Republican success allowed its leaders to work across the aisle with Democrats and helped guide the state through the “Boeing bust” of the early 1970s, an economic crisis that perhaps rivals COVID-19.
Trump has long cultivated ties to fringe groups. QAnon and others have created a cult of personality around the president, some claiming he is a messiah sent to save the country from a vast conspiracy. These conspiracy theories, unfortunately, have roots in our state and have outsized influence on conservative social media.
After his election defeat, Trump lit the match for their accumulated rage with false claims that he won the election, and by attacking Republican legislators, governors and secretaries of state — even his own vice president. Sadly, Trump’s playbook has been used by some of his followers in our state to attack Republican legislative leaders, Secretary of State Kim Wyman and local officials in last year’s election.
On Wednesday, 10 Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives voted with a majority of Democrats to impeach Trump — again — saying he “threatened the integrity of the democratic system” and “interfered with the peaceful transition of power.”
Explaining her vote to impeach, Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, a Republican from Battle Ground, said of the attack on the Capitol: “Is this the America we want to give to our children? A country of lawlessness and mob rule?” And Rep. Dan Newhouse, a Republican from Sunnyside, said he voted yes because “our nation — and the system of government it was founded upon — may well be in jeopardy if we do not rise to this occasion.” They were joined by all the Democrats in Washington state’s delegation.
Trump should resign, and if he won’t his impeachment should be confirmed by the Senate and then he should be prevented from ever again using political office to attack our democracy.
Many Republicans are ready to move on from Trumpism. Others are reluctant, still angry at Trump’s defeat as they continue to believe his lies about the election — even though they have been debunked and refuted by many Republicans, including Trump’s former Attorney General William Barr.
Let’s remember that Republicans support the Constitution. If they haven’t already, most will come to reject fringe groups and conspiracy theories as we learn more about how they threaten our democracy.
Republicans believe in the rule of law. We were united in condemning the violence against law enforcement and others last summer in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. We must remain united in opposing violence for any political cause on the left or the right.
Republicans must reject the lure of personality. No man or woman is bigger than our democracy and the Constitution. We must reject any leader who says he is above the law.
Courage has long been an important Northwest Republican value. The courageous votes by Reps. Herrera Beutler and Newhouse to impeach Trump follow in the footsteps of their mentor, U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton, who — when he was our state’s Attorney General — was one of few Republicans who called for President Nixon’s resignation during Watergate.
Last year, led by Rep. J.T. Wilcox, the state Republican House Caucus also showed courage when it suspended Spokane area legislator Matt Shea and stripped him of his committee assignments after independent investigators commissioned by the House of Representatives accused him of having supported “domestic terrorism” against the nation.
It’s time for all Republicans to be courageous and condemn the fringe groups that are attacking our democracy under the guise of supporting Trump. For those who want to see Trump’s policies continue, the patriotic and American way is to engage in our political system, not to use or threaten to use force.
And perhaps most important, we must insist our leaders have the courage to tell the truth. As Rep. Herrera Beutler said in explaining her vote to impeach Trump, “I’m not choosing a side. I’m choosing the truth.”
My father believed this was the key to protecting democracy. He had a unique perspective as his family’s farm was seized by the Communists in Josef Stalin’s Soviet Union, and he was taken from his family as a young boy to serve as farm labor in Adolph Hitler’s Nazi empire.
Autocrats, dictators and demagogues like Stalin and Hitler thrive in the shadows of half-truths and deceit, inciting political mobs and cults of personality. “The truth is everything,” my dad would say.
As the son of a refugee and the first in my family to go to college, I owe my American dream to the opportunities created by Washington state leaders during the Boeing bust. My family relied on local food banks for a time when my father had a stroke. I understand the hardship many in our state are now facing, hardship that should serve to focus our political priorities.
I’m proud that Republicans are the party of opportunity. Republicans must summon the courage and make the choices needed to rebuild our party so we can fight to ensure our state remains a land of opportunity.
First and foremost, we must address growing inequities resulting from state policies and COVID-19. We must also be a party that is responsive and responsible to the needs of the people, giving hope to the homeless with affordable housing, effective mental health and addiction treatment; keeping our communities safe; making higher education more accessible; protecting our great outdoors; and bringing fiscal responsibility and accountability back to state government.
As Gov. Evans concluded in his 1965 speech: “Extremists of neither the right nor the left contribute to the strength of America or her political institutions. Both feed on fear, frustration, hate and hopelessness. Both have lost faith in themselves and in the American dream. …”
By rejecting political extremists and conspiracy theories, and by pursuing policies that create opportunity for all, Republicans will once again earn the honor of leading our state and helping its people in their time of great need.