It was June 2013. I had come from my home state to D.C., to do one job — announce a $6 million investment from the Republican Party to support candidates of color and women running at the state level.
This initiative was one of many meant to change the course of the GOP following its defeat in the 2012 presidential campaign and the subsequent release of its what-went-wrong report, known as the “Growth and Opportunity Project.”
Without a more inclusive message, better representation, less ideological rigidity, and compassionate immigration and economic policies, the report warned, Republicans would continue to lose national elections. It described a party I wanted to help build.
Over the next year, I recruited people to a party that promised diversity, dialogue and the chance to reimagine its foundation. I wanted a government that would be responsible with its power and judicious in its interventions, a leveler when our systems became unbalanced.
Instead, that party nominated a president who sends federal forces to tame American cities yet refuses to use the power of his office to coordinate an effective response to the novel coronavirus.
There are only so many ways to say, “I was wrong.” I’ve exhausted them all.
As the Republican leader in the Hawaii House, I made compromises that I regret. I spoke out when our presidential candidate said he might have supported Japanese American internment, but I couldn’t find the courage to question the implementation of voter identification laws that I should have understood weren’t designed to protect voters.
I made decisions out of political expediency, or hubris, or naivete. Republicans offered an inclusive vision of “Growth and Opportunity” for all; then we elected a man that didn’t even bother to fake it. I couldn’t make it right. I declined to endorse him and criticized his policies. Then, when he won, I continued to disagree with him in public, and my Republican colleagues said they would strip me of my leadership position unless I promised to stop speaking against him. So, I resigned from the party. A few months later, I joined the Democratic Party.
I drew my red line too late. I’ll answer for my choices publicly and privately for years to come. But admitting your mistakes is one of the best ways to keep from repeating them.
With a month to go before another round of voting begins, a few Republicans appear to be reassessing their relationship with President Trump and his Republican Party. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) won’t say whether she’ll support Trump as she defends her once-safe seat. Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) questioned the president’s handling of the coronavirus crisis and on some issues of national security. Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), amid a difficult reelection, disagreed with Trump on removing Confederate names from military bases.
Distancing yourself from a failing party is an easy hedge when your position is either completely secure or increasingly desperate. But if Republicans are serious about reckoning with their futures, they must start by asking themselves: “Where is my red line? At what point would I say, ‘This is just too much’?”
If it wasn’t seeing kids in cages or seeking bribes from a foreign government, was it the repeated suggestion that the coronavirus would take care of itself? If it wasn’t Trump’s defense of white nationalists in Charlottesville, was it when he suggested we postpone the election in a tweet?
The autopsy the Republicans will need after this election could make the 2012 postmortem seem like child’s play. If Republicans do not ask themselves these questions between now and Election Day, they will surely be asking themselves after. And, I can tell you the answers will hurt.