When he became one of the first Republican candidates for U.S. Senate in the nation to formally denounce Donald Trump, Vance wasn’t expecting praise. But, man, he also didn’t expect the backlash.
Chris Vance is getting a crash course in how tribal American politics has become.
Last week, when he became one of the first Republican candidates for U.S. Senate in the nation to formally denounce Donald Trump, he wasn’t expecting praise or to be hailed as some sort of truth-telling maverick.
But, man, he also didn’t expect this.
Since announcing he can’t vote for Trump, Vance has been called a traitor, a defector, a quisling by scores of folks in his own party. Some Republican donors to his campaign, such as Electroimpact CEO Peter Zieve of Mukilteo, have demanded their money back.
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Meanwhile, Democrats in this state, who you’d think might be pleased that someone in the other party is standing up to Trump, instead attacked Vance for what they called a “desperate and failed attempt to distance himself from the Trump Republican agenda.”
I caught up with Vance and asked him if he’d gotten a single “thanks” from anyone.
“Yes, from some Republicans,” he said. “But I have frankly been shocked by the number of people who say they will support Trump out of sheer party loyalty. These are people who can’t bear him, but are doing it just because he’s now one of the team.”
How about Democrats — heard from any of them?
“Not a single one,” Vance said. “There were a few liberals defending me on social media, but they were former students of mine (Vance is a part-time professor at the Evans School of Public Policy and Governance at University of Washington.)”
I first met Vance in the early 1990s when he was a newly elected state legislator from Kent and Auburn. It was obvious he was a political animal. He once told me the election of Ronald Reagan, when he was 18, was the transformative moment in his life.
But it was just as clear he was obsessed with policy, because it’s supposed to be the end product of all this campaigning and political fighting.
It was no surprise to me then that Vance spoke out against Trump, or that he went about it with a detailed policy critique. Trump ought to be unacceptable to anyone who cares about good government policy.
One example: Vance pointed to Trump’s tax plan, which would add an enormous $11.2 trillion to the national debt. Nobody talks about this. Remember when Republicans, and the tea party movement, pretended to care so much about debt?
“How can we call ourselves conservatives if we endorse a disastrous fiscal policy like that?” Vance said, adding that Hillary Clinton’s economic plans were far more responsible than Trump’s.
The other day, KVI radio’s John Carlson, a longtime Republican, asked Vance about his disavowal of Trump. Why couldn’t Vance say he won’t vote for Trump but also say that Trump is “hands-down better than Hillary?”
Because he isn’t, Vance said.
“OK, that’s all we need to know,” Carlson said, closing the interview.
Is it? Is politics that rudimentary now — you’re on one team or the other, no brain required?
Democrats are in this same clan mentality. Staffers for Patty Murray and state Democrats have been gleefully mocking Vance for the conservative blowback he’s getting, even though it’s due to him taking a stand they agree with against his own party. Couldn’t bring yourselves to be magnanimous to the enemy, just this once, Democrats — not even with the stakes this high?
We saw this same phenomenon four years ago, when a few Republicans, such as Attorney General candidate Reagan Dunn, came out in favor of gay marriage. Dunn got shunned by his own party, but also got no credit from the Left. The take-home message for politicians is: Why stick your neck out?
“Is this going to kill my campaign?” Vance wondered. “I don’t know. I guess it very well could. Maybe there’s no room for moderates in the Republican Party in the Pacific Northwest. Maybe there’s no room for independent thought in politics, period. I don’t know — we’re in uncharted waters.”
Yes we are. But the threat Trump poses to the nation is real. So I’ll say it then, because this time it matters more than these political dramas usually do: Thanks, Chris Vance, for being on the right side of history regarding Donald Trump.