Last weekend I was invited to a birthday party with a 1980s theme in which guests were supposed to dress accordingly. Well, I don’t have any mustard-colored sports coats of the sort President Reagan sometimes wore.
So, as the guest of honor was a Democrat, I wore political buttons honoring that party’s three great losers of that decade – Jimmy Carter, Walter Mondale, and Michael Dukakis.
Fortunately, she didn’t make me sit in the garage. When it came to the White House, the eighties were an absolutely horrible decade for Democrats. The score after those three presidential elections was Republicans 133 states, Democrats, 17.
But after their third straight shellacking, moderates, including Michigan Gov. James Blanchard, began a movement designed to move the party more to the center. Four years later, they nominated a little-known governor named Bill Clinton, and the rest is history.
Today, it’s the Republicans who are in trouble. They’ve lost the popular vote in five of the last six elections, and seem once more headed for defeat. Record numbers of elected leaders are refusing to support the party’s presidential nominee.
Yesterday, in an effort to stanch the bleeding, Ronna Romney McDaniel, the chair of the Michigan Republican Party, fired Wendy Day, one of the first Tea Party activists, from her post as grassroots vice chair.
Day’s crime was that she said on television that she couldn’t vote for Donald Trump for president. To be fair, she said she couldn’t vote for Hillary Clinton either.
No party official in GOP history has ever been purged for their views before, but as Wendy Day herself said, “It’s not a normal year.” By the way, nobody suspects Day of creeping liberalism. She was a leader of Senator Ted Cruz’s Michigan campaign. She evidently opposes Trump because “character and morality matter.”
Well, the Republican Party bylaws allow McDaniel to oust her, and so she did. But here’s the amazing irony behind that. McDaniel’s uncle is Mitt Romney, the last Republican presidential nominee. He isn’t supporting Trump. Neither is Governor Rick Snyder.
Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley unendorsed Trump after the famous videotape. Romney McDaniel isn’t demanding that they all leave the party.
And bizarrely, after firing Day, she said she knew “that she will continue to be a strong leader in the Republican Party.” A rational person might ask, “so why did she expel her?”
The answer seems to be that McDaniel was pressured to do so. Republicans aren’t like Democrats, who are a party of various squabbling factions.
Republicans are more like an ethnically homogeneous family, and heretics need to be expelled. Actually, from a tactical standpoint, expelling Day was probably stupid.
As Day told the party chair “we need to be honest about the number of people who are staying home on November 8th and we need to work to reach out to them without being bullies,” to get them to show up and vote for other Republicans.
Half a century ago, there was another top GOP official who felt much as Day does. His party had a bad nominee for president that year, and he too told voters he couldn’t support him, but that he would work hard for other Republicans.
I imagine Ronna Romney McDaniel has heard of him. His name was George Romney. And he was her grandfather.
Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.