George Will's Declaration of Independence
George Will’s decision to leave the GOP should be a wake-up call for the leaders of both Democrats and Republicans. For years now, I have been asking voters of all stripes to declare their independence from the two major political parties.
As an Independent, I’ve come to view both parties as nothing more than aggregation points for special interests. In my recently published book, “A Declaration of Independents,” I assert that the most powerful act a voter can commit is to leave the major parties. This is what it will take to send politicians the message that they can’t go to Washington and hide behind their party labels. They actually have to start solving problems.
For someone like George Will, however, the act of re-registering as an unaffiliated voter runs contrary to decades of personal investment on his part. A conservative icon, he risks losing his standing – and his audience – by encouraging mutiny within the Republican ranks. Like the kid on the playground who stands up to a bully, Will’s resolve should be applauded.
His break with the GOP appears to be primarily about the problematic temperament of the party’s presumed nominee, not Donald Trump’s malleable ideology. In that sense, he is on firm footing. I would argue that if he were leaving over an ideological divide, he should have left the party 10 years ago after Republicans led us through the most fiscally irresponsible period of time in our country’s history.
The resulting federal debt all but guaranteed that future generations of Americans would not be afforded the same opportunities as their parents and grandparents, but instead would face mountains of red ink and unfunded entitlements. To any true conservative making a purely ideological decision, this should have been a tipping point.
Millions of Americans have already taken the step that George Will recently took. In fact, 42 percent of Americans now self-identify as politically independent – more than Democrats or Republicans for the seventh year in a row. Someone of Will’s stature publically joining the ranks of political independents will hopefully lead millions more Americans to rethink their reflexive support for a political party.
Will was such a skillful advocate for the Republican Party that it was even hard for me, someone who was on the receiving end of his sharp wit, not to admire him. In 2014, when I was running as an Independent to unseat a three-term Republican senator, Will visited one of our field offices and spent just over an hour with me. While the words leading up to his conclusions were gracious and kind, he ended his subsequent column with an endorsement of my opponent. “The Senate’s intellectual voltage would be increased by Orman’s election,” Will wrote. “But improving 1 percent of the Senate is less important than taking 100 percent of Senate control from Harry Reid.” In two sentences, he encapsulated the entire Republican argument against my candidacy.
Will added his voice to the right-wing media apparatus’ support for my opponent, using a verbal jujitsu that only someone of Will’s talent could employ. He leaned into the desire of voters to improve Washington, D.C., and then turned those desires around in service to Mitch McConnell.
There is a consistency to Will’s position in 2014 and this year. In both instances, he seemed to be implying that political parties are embodied by their leaders and not their voters. His critique of Harry Reid led him to support my opponent in 2014. A distaste for Donald Trump has led to his separation from the GOP. For a political pundit to take that position is one thing. For the leaders of both parties to take the same position in quite another. Until leaders of the duopoly realize that public service is about actually serving voters and not just securing their votes, we will have more disruptive forces roiling the major parties.
This is the central lesson of the 2016 election. Voters on both sides of the aisle have been gravitating to unconventional choices because of a belief that Washington is nothing more than a rigged game. The beneficiaries of that game are people who can buy access to power and the politicians who sell that access in exchange for campaign cash and promises of future employment.
Americans are sick of politicians who profess to share their values and then go to Washington and do whatever their paymasters ask of them. Trump is an outgrowth of this environment. He is the direct result of a pampered political class that thinks elections are nothing more than a contest for power – that parties exist to serve their leaders’ hopes and aspirations and not their members’.
Having had a front-row seat to the Reagan Revolution, George Will came by his emphasis on leaders honestly. Reagan was a transformative leader who remade the Republican Party in his image. Will used Reagan’s rationale for leaving the Democratic Party in his own explanation of why he took a similar step. “I didn’t leave the Democratic Party,” Reagan liked to say. “The Democratic Party left me.”
It’s a nice line, and was in many respects true. I prefer Teddy Roosevelt’s explanation when he broke from the GOP: “Political parties exist to secure the responsible government and to execute the will of the people,” he said. “From these great tasks both of the old parties have turned aside. Instead of instruments to promote the general welfare they have become tools of corrupt interests, which use them impartially to serve their selfish purposes.”
It took courage for George Will to break with his party over Donald Trump. Trump, however, is merely a symptom. The leaders of both political parties need to take a hard look at themselves and start serving the genuine needs of the American people. They need to acknowledge that they exist to serve Americans, not the other way around – that this is about the people, not their positions of power. Otherwise, Trump will be merely the first in a long line of “messages” sent by voters.