October 31, 2020

Confessions of a Former Republican

by Hal Gershowitz

Comments Below

So, I am now officially registered as an unaffiliated voter.

This unaffiliated status follows fifty-five years as a registered Republican. The first President I voted for was Democrat John F. Kennedy. I was twenty-two. The last Democrat I voted for before becoming a Republican in 1965 was Lyndon Johnson. I was twenty-seven.

I am a product of Washington, DC, where I grew up and spent the early years of my career. After graduating from the University of Maryland, my first job was in marketing research as a project director for a small, well-respected marketing research firm in Washington, Walter Gerson, and Associates. One of my clients, a trade journal, accorded me press credentials, which turned me into a lifelong political junkie. I was present, front and center, at the Capitol’s east portico for John F. Kennedy’s Ask Not What Your Country Can Do for You, Ask What You Can do for Your Country inaugural address. I attended every Administration press conference I could whether it pertained to my client’s business or not. I loved being in the city, if not the room, where it happened.

After that, I became Vice President for Marketing Research for a Washington-New York advertising agency, The Manchester Organizations. I thoroughly enjoyed doing opinion research for a diverse clientele during those early years, including broadcast networks, food chains, national publications, consumer product companies, and a politician here and there.

In 1964, the late Larry Hogan (the father of the current Governor of Maryland) and I became partners in a public relations, advertising, and Washington association-management firm. I was twenty-six. Larry Hogan and I liked the idea that we, as partners in the business, were in different parties. After all, some prospective clients might be Democrats, and some might be Republicans.

But I left the Democratic Party and became a Republican in 1965 when I realized the extent of Lyndon Johnson’s deceit during his 1964 election campaign against Barry Goldwater. I had voted for Johnson. At a campaign appearance in Ohio in the fall of 1964, Johnson promised, “we are not about to send American boys 9,000 or 10,000 miles away from home (to Vietnam) to do what Asian boys ought to be doing for themselves.

However, Johnson’s plan to escalate the war immediately after the election was already baked into the cake. On February 13, 1965, and less than a month after his inauguration (I remember because it was my 27th birthday), President Johnson authorized Operation Rolling Thunder, the continuous bombing of North Vietnam. A month later, the first 3500 US marine combat troops were on the ground, and by the end of the year, 185,000 US troops had followed them there. By the end of Johnson’s second year, he had called up over 400,000 men, among the first of 2,700,000 who would eventually see combat there. Fifty thousand would never return.

Frankly, it wasn’t the war itself that bothered me so much—not at first, anyway. Then, I had no way of judging the justification for the war, and I had completed my military service years earlier. As did most Americans at the time, I also believed that the Gulf of Tonkin incident, which was the linchpin for Rolling Thunder, involved an unprovoked attack on one of our ships in international waters. Subsequent investigations have determined that it was simply not true. No, it was, simply, Johnson’s bold-faced deceit during the ’64 campaign regarding his plans for the war that infuriated me.

Barry Goldwater had been warning that we were in a war in Vietnam, while Johnson was campaigning that we were not, nor were we about to send American troops to such a war. Johnson even campaigned that Goldwater would get us bogged down in war, but he would keep us out of the war. His clever but outrageous daisy commercial that suggested a Goldwater election would lead to nuclear annihilation is still an iconic reminder of just how deceitful Johnson’s campaign was.

He was lying about his intentions to escalate the war. I was furious and perhaps naïve. Notwithstanding Johnson’s remarkable success in passing the historic Civil Rights Act of 1964, I became a Republican, and I remained a Republican for the next half-century.

I was not merely registered as a Republican, but, in those early days, I was an active Republican. I was a senior strategist in one of the greatest Republican congressional upsets ever (Maryland’s 5th congressional district – Hogan vs. Machen, 1968). I wrote numerous campaign speeches (and even delivered a few when there were conflicts in Hogan’s schedule). I designed and managed political polls, participated in campaign strategy meetings, and handled all campaign advertising.

Larry Hogan and I sold our agency following his election to Congress to avoid any semblance of conflict, given that many of our clients required Washington representation.

In 1972, after Republican Larry Hogan had won three successive elections in Maryland’s heavily Democratic fifth district, my wife and I and our two young children relocated to Chicago where I joined the senior management team of a, then, newly public company, Waste Management, Inc., and there I remained for the next twenty years.

Since retiring I spend much of my tme writing historical fiction and publishing these weekly essays, of which this is the 485th. The first of this long series, “A Stimulus That Would Work,” was published on July 21, 2009.

So, I have been a Republican for over 50 years. What were the Republican principles that appealed to me? Well, mostly, that rampant growth of government sooner or later becomes burdensome to the very people government is there to serve, and that chronic deficits and excessive debt do matter.

I also believe that protectionism and trade barriers are, on balance, inconsistent with healthy global trade and not in the United States’ best interest. Nations that consume more goods than they produce will always have trade deficits, and we are one of the most consuming nations in the world. We will probably always consume more goods than we produce. Trade deficits are not a hobgoblin.

I believe that unfair trade practices should be dealt with collectively through international agreements. Unified action is preferable to the unilateral imposition of protective tariffs and the trade wars they produce. Generally, tariffs simply keep the cost of goods artificially high, and I believe they are inconsistent with promoting a robust and healthy economy. America’s position in high-tech, artificial intelligence, and other services will grow and play an ever-increasing role in world trade even as facets of the more traditional goods sector face growing pressure from rapidly emerging nations.

Tariffs will not provide long-term protection for industries that face competition from suppliers abroad who offer competitive products at a competitive cost. For example, steel tariffs are applied to the importation of imported raw steel but not to imported finished goods. So, foreign finished goods produced with foreign steel now compete with US finished goods made with steel that is now more expensive because of the tariffs. As a result, the Federal Reserve estimates that the steel tariffs have already resulted in the loss of 75,000 American jobs.

Tough tariffs provide pseudo-tough politicians with swagger, but they do not do much for the economy. Need proof? Our trade deficits have increased every year since Trump imposed his tariffs over what the trade deficits were when Obama left office. Our trade deficits in manufactured or agricultural goods with China are today approximately the same as they were when Trump imposed his tariffs. In the meantime, China’s retaliatory response decimated sectors of our agricultural industry, which in turn has necessitated tens of billions of dollars of aid to our farmers.

Our trade deficit in manufactured or agricultural goods during the Obama Administration’s last year was $346,825,000. Last year, with Trump’s tariffs, the trade deficit was 345,204,000, and the year before that, the deficit was $418,953,000. Lots of swagger, but not much difference in deficits.

My major issue in leaving the Republican Party isn’t with President Trump as much as it is with the GOP, my Old Party with the Grand awol. President Trump is neither true nor faithful to his Party nor its traditional principles. That’s not surprising, given that he has changed party affiliation five times. The Republican Party has become besotted with the President, principles be damned. For this, I suspect the Party will pay a stiff, and perhaps, a long-enduring penalty.

The Republican Party’s lockstep conformity with President Trump’s whims and wishes, at least until it dawned on several Republicans that the nation was taking note, has been harmful to both the country and the Party itself. It may very well cost the Republican Party both the Presidency and the United States Senate in a couple of days.

Hyperbole is common in political campaigns, but Goebbelsian shameful whoppers such as “I saved your suburban neighborhoods,” or “I beat the pandemic,” or “we’re turning the corner,” as the pandemic exceeds 100,000 new cases a day, or  “I’ve done more for black Americans than anyone since, maybe, Abraham Lincoln,” or that “I produced the greatest economy the world has ever seen,” or his boast that he has a beautiful relationship with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, who simultaneously brandishes brand new monster nuclear missiles the size of Trump Tower capable of reaching any city in the United States.

When President Trump brags about the great pre-pandemic economy, he is largely praising the economy President Obama left him following the disaster Bush 43 handed Obama. Economic growth, employment growth, and household income improvement are all marginal incremental additions to Obama’s final years in the White House.

Specifically, Under Obama, from 2014 to 2016, GDP grew at an average annual rate of 2.5%. In Trump’s first three years, 2017 through 2019, real GDP expanded by an annual average of 2.6%—incremental and marginal growth. The US economy added 6.6 million jobs in Trump’s first three years, shy of the 8.1 million payroll gains in the last three years under Obama.

From the end of 2016 to the close of 2019, the nation added 1.27 million blue-collar jobs in construction and manufacturing, although factory jobs flatlined in 2019 thanks largely to Trump tariffs. During Obama’s last three years, construction and manufacturing gained 1.13 million jobs. While unemployment rates among Blacks, Asians, and Latinos dropped to their lowest rate in history under Trump, the actual change (or improvement) was greater under Obama.

Comparing Obama’s last three years as President, with Trump’s first three years, median income grew by 8.4%, slightly better than during President Trump’s first three years as President.

Both political parties have had their ups and downs over the years. The Republican Party has produced some of America’s most beloved Presidents. Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, and Ronald Reagan quickly come to mind. Republicans have also had their Warren Hardings, Herbert Hoovers, and Richard Nixons. But Donald Trump seems to be in a world of his own, and just about the entire Republican Party has embraced Trump’s world.

The Nixonian Watergate nightmare represented a dark time for the Republican Party, but many Republicans acquitted themselves honorably when their President acted dishonorably. My former partner and dear friend, the late Larry Hogan, comes to mind. He became the first conservative Republican on the Rodino House Judiciary Committee to announce that he was voting for all three Articles of Impeachment against Nixon. His statement to the Committee is a veritable civics lesson. You can watch it by googling, “Larry Hogan Watergate.” He knew his decision meant he would lose what had become the safest Republican seat in the House. He knew his own Republican Party would turn him out in the next primary. I know that to be true because he called me the night before the vote. He was heartsick, but he knew what he had to do. Republican Senator Howard Baker of Tennessee was a dogged pursuer of facts during the Senate Watergate Committee hearings chaired by Democratic Senator Sam Irvin. Barry Goldwater went to the White House to tell Nixon he was through.

Today’s Republican Party has become the Party of Trump. The Party is silent on his demagoguery, on his dog whistles, on his tariffs, gargantuan deficits, and super-spreader, inane name-calling rallies. Far too many Republicans are eager to embrace his highly exaggerated claims of great accomplishment, either afraid to cross him or hopeful that his followers will also follow them. Such sycophantic behavior rarely turns out well.

One of the most treasured books in our library is an original edition of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Self Reliance.” It teaches reliance on one’s introspection rather than the noise of the crowd; serious critical thinking rather than groupthink. Great leaders take their counsel in the realm of serious reflection rather than the rancor of raucous rallies.

I didn’t sign up for unwavering loyalty to a man, any man, when I became a Republican fifty-five years ago. Sometimes party loyalty can, indeed, demand too much. So, I’m out.

All comments regarding these essays, whether they express agreement, disagreement, or an alternate view, are appreciated and welcome. Comments that do not pertain to the subject of the essay or which are ad hominem references to other commenters are not acceptable and will be deleted.

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21 responses to “Confessions of a Former Republican”

  1. Vicki Hood says:

    Very powerful essay—and not just because of the conclusion. Facts don’t lie.

  2. Jamie Kabler says:

    Bravo Hal

    You explained in such a smart inciteful way the
    history of the last 60 years of Presidential leadership.
    Hal, you are brilliant and I agree with your assessment.
    You have given the world a new word, “Goebellian.”
    Wow, what a comparison.

  3. Barry Usow says:

    I wonder how many serious thinkers would follow your lead, Hal?
    Why are proved facts and truths ignored today to support this President?

  4. Perry Green says:

    Hal, you have to admit this Democratic party is hardly the
    party of Scoop Jackson or Hubert Humphrey which we both
    endorsed,
    Today’s Democrat party is hardly a bastion of either FREE SPEECH or exceptionalism.
    The insane amount of money being plowed into the campaign and the “Gaslighting” of the American Public is just as much an
    issue as the question of Trump’s Party as I view it.
    Unlike you I left the party of the Democrats but never embraced the Republican Party, but was overly concerned about the direction of the Democrat party which I believe has
    borne out. Two more days? We shall see what we shall see.

  5. ELIEZAR BENJAMEIN. Aka Leonard Sherman 98 on 12/2/2020 says:

    Hal, I liked your political history very much. My favorite expression is if you look behind the history you will find the truth.
    The truth is you are a patriot who loves our country and wants to try to improve it.

  6. Carol Frankel says:

    Such an insightful essay. Thank you, Hal. Also as a longtime Republican, I voted for Donald Trump in 2016, However, my conscience and distaste for a leader who lacks a moral compass, doesn’t believe in science and cares primarily for self aggrandizement sent me to vote for Joe Biden.

  7. susan duman says:

    Hal, coming from a background in mental health, I feel like I had the privilege of being involved in your long and storied process. I have questioned my biases, because anything you wrote to and for all of us was the result of extraordinary thought and reflection. As recently as yesterday I read 2 opinion pieces in the Wall Street Journal. I came away thinking that Trump’s policies are probably better for our country. I think Joe Biden is somewhat weak. Yet, he feels basically decent, and we have never needed that more than now.
    I am reminded of a memory that has stuck with me since Gerald Ford became President. That is, his pardon of Richard Nixon. Would I want Joe Biden to do the same for Donald Trump? I don’t know, but you understand my point.

  8. Peggy Jacobs says:

    Best Essay ever on this suspenseful Sunday before the election.
    As always I respect your through research and totally agree with your conclusion. I, also, am a disfranchised Republican.

  9. Robert borns says:

    I grew up a socialist believer in the arbiter fur bund movement who loved the muckraker George seldes. I admired Sam Gompers,Walter Reuther and John l Lewis. Then as a young adult I realized that those heroes were dead and the next generation of the left wing American leaders were out to enrich their personal pockets and screw their constituents. My various summer jobs made me join the hod carriors union,the United steel workers and the oil atomic chemical workers union. I saw them from the inside and they were ugly. I also came to believe that people who vote for the party and not the candidate got what they deserved-mediocrity and typical Gary Indiana flim flam for an ignorant bunch of shleppers. If biden gets elected get ready for the ignorant lunatics to run wild. I repeat what I said last week-I don’t understand why Jews,blacks,christians and average Americans would vote for Biden and his light weight crazies. They will take us down baby. But with all the campaign talk two giant issues are not discussed. The huge growing inner city population of uneducated kids who can never participate in our changing future and the sword of a huge growing over spending and debt which will come to cut us deeply.

  10. Leonard H Sherman says:

    OF THEE I SING.
    ON NOVEMBER 3rd LET US ALL JOIN HANDS AND SING
    GOD BLESS AMERICA LAND THAT I LOVE.
    STAND BESIDE HER AND GUIDE HER.
    THROUGH THE NIGHT WITH THE LIGHT FROM ABOVE
    FROM THE MOUNTAINS TO THE PRAIRIES.
    TO THE OCEANS WHITE WITH FOAM
    GOD BLESS AMERICA MY HOME SWEET HOME

  11. James Fisher says:

    Hal – thanks for baring your soul in explaining your emotional and intellectual lifelong journey to your present political position. Your experiences and observations are enlightening and educational for anyone seeking to determine which policies and platforms to embrace to ensure that America fulfills its greatest potential as a democratic free society.

    I won’t dispute your findings on the comparison between Obama and Trump as you are much more informed and knowledgeable than I about such matters. I also won’t contest the adverse personal feelings you have for Donald Trump as we are each equally entitled to our personal opinions and feelings.

    What I fail to understand is how a lifelong Republican who has observed the failed policies of the democrats over the last 40 years can choose to jump to that floundering ship. Just one example: You choose the party whose policies have allowed – and even fostered – the gross decay and downward spiral of our major cities – with no light at the end of the tunnel. You choose the party whose actions and inactions have managed to essentially destroy the once-wonderful – universally loved – New York City? I could more logically see you not voting at all.

  12. Stephen Prover says:

    Enjoyed reading this weeks remarkably well crafted impactful essay… The Republican Party has lost a stalwart member of towering stature…

  13. LWY says:

    Hal, I now understand why you don’t love either party. Yes the Republican Party has changed. It is now more like the Democratic Party used to be. The Democratic party has changed as well. It is now left of left. If you think the Democratic party is so much better, I encourage you to go to Amazon Prime and watch the documentary “The Plot Against the President.” There you will see what the Democratic party is really like.

    Can you imagine what will happen if the Dems win the presidency, the House and the Senate? Just look at California it is a microcosm of what our country will look like. There you can see what happens when one party has total control. That is why people and companies are moving out of the state. They don’t like crazy laws, like requiring a publicly held companies to have a minimum of 3 minorities (LGBTQ counts as a minority) on the board if they have 9 or more people on the board! There is no limit to what they can do.

    The Democratic party has threatened to pack the court, admit Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico as a state, and to change our election rules from electoral college. Just imagine what else they could do.

    Like you my father was a fan of President Kennedy. On his desk he had a bust of his portrait. But during the election, I was shocked when he told me he voted for a Republican, Evert Dirksen, for the senate. When I queried him, he told me, son, the strength of this country is based on checks and balances. If I vote for a Democratic president, then I vote for a Republican senator and vice versa.

    So, I can see and understand why you don’t like Trump. But I can’t see why you think the Democratic Party is your party of choice and that is so much better than the Republican Party.

  14. Steve Hardy says:

    I enjoyed your essay, Hal. There isn’t much difference between the two main political parties during my lifetime other than the rhetoric. Republicans claim they want smaller government, less regulation, and more personal freedom, but they do the opposite when elected. In this respect, at least the Democrats are honest. We had the most massive expansion of the federal government since Lynden Johnson under George W Bush. Richard Nixon passed wage and price controls, the EPA, OSHA, and more Federal regulations since the New Deal. Now both parties have no scruples about saddling future generations with trillions of dollars of debt. The sad fact is it probably won’t make that much difference who wins this election.

  15. paul lubar says:

    Like you, Hal, I am unaffiliated with either party. Many years ago I realized that I could not find a home in either party and have been a registered independent who often votes for the Libertarian candidate. Setting that aside I have grave concerns that we are on the way to having one party rule for a long time to come and I share the concerns of LWY’s father.
    One hundred years ago, in 1920, Walter Lippmann wrote “Liberty and the News”which Princeton University Press described as the “classic account of how the press threatens democracy whenever it has an agenda other than the free flow of ideas.
    We are living in an era in which the fourth estate has forsaken its watchdog role and has censored news which does fit the narrative of its preferred political candidate while not confronting their chosen with serious questions. They have also been joined in their bias by the even more powerful fifth estate (social media). Add to this the corruption of ensconced bureaucrats, notably the fbi, justice and the irs and you have the makings of the loss of a viable two party system.
    I am sorry to say I cannot vote for a president of either party this time around which was the same four years ago.
    Hopefully we have a better choice next time.

  16. Mike Regan says:

    Hal, you are very articulate.

    That said, I am disappointed that you continue to overlook some important facts about Trump’s record and what the Biden candidacy represents.

    Aside from some of the others (such as James Fisher) have said, we have three Supreme Court Justices that are more likely to hue to the Constitution than any of the picks Hillary would have had, or the picks that Biden (if he were to ever identify) will have if elected. Second, his approach towards Iran has helped create a framework for a Middle East Agreement that runs counter to the narrative that the Democrats promoted in 2016. Third, as someone who is active in various C-Level organizations, it is generally agreed that someone had to stand up to China – in particular, their theft of intellectual capital. I agree with you that the tariffs may not have been the best way, but after hearing Fred Smith from FedEx identify China’s egregious abuses after being admitted to the WTO, he endorsed the fact that someone had to draw a line in the sand. Unlike Obama, who also talked about lines in the sand, Trump stuck to his guns. Fourth, while most people think any challenge to climate change argument needs to be off the table, I think pulling out of the Paris Accords was the right move – especially in light of the fact that there were no penalties for countries like India and Chain violating the accords.

    I think the economy improving in 2016 was more attributable to the natural economic inertia as Obama’s regulatory policies were definitely not pro-business. For example, Card Check would have been a disaster. And had the MACT policies been enacted, the cost of energy would have risen sharply. But very few Obama supporters even know about these things.

    He has also been the most Pro-Life and Faith friendly President in our lifetime. And he has been a great friend to Israel as evidenced by the fact that he was the only President that had the guts to move the embassy.

    Finally, before casting your vote for Joe, I challenge you to read the policies espoused in the Biden Unity Task Force Recommendations (you can google it) and then state on the record, that you think those policies will be good for the United States.

    I have yet to meet Trump Hating Biden voter who truly knows what they are voting for. And they have no clue about how truly liberal Kamala has been. That is kind of important because no one I’ve met thinks Joe will serve 4 years and as he turns 78 shortly, not a whole lot of people are confident that he has the cognitive abilities or physical stamina to handle the demands of the Presidency.

    And for those of you who are voting for Joe because you want someone who will “unify” the country, I truly believe you’re delusional – especially if the Senate goes Democratic. People on the the right will have no choice to resist as the Dems impose anti-faith policies, as well as threaten our Constitutional rights.
    Before any of you challenge that assertion check out the aforementioned Biden recommendations. As my friends from Zimbabwe and Venezuela have reminded me, experience has proven you can lose a country within a generation.

  17. Stuart Goldfine says:

    Trump is not a normal politician. I call him a Populist, like Ross Perot about 30 years ago. Drive across America and you can see that Trump will win again as you see the yard signs.
    Today’s Democratic Party is not the same as JFK, Hubert Humphrey, etc., but a bag of socialists and anti-Semites.

  18. Jerry Kaufman says:

    A thought to a new “Unaffiliated” voter from P.J. O’Rourke: ‘ Joe Biden’s platform is “full of unicorns and flying ponies” but is better than “having the inmates run the asylum.

  19. Jamie Grant says:

    Thoughtful and thought-provoking…thank you for sharing…

  20. Thomasin Savaiano says:

    Hal,
    Thank you for facts. And on a topic many of us don’t have as much expertise in as yourself.

    Despite the fact that almost everyone has a smart phone and can literally find, at their fingertips, uncut unedited footage of exactly what someone says and what behaviors they encourage, can do their own research, and fact-check for themselves – so many do not choose to do so.
    And that is indeed, a choice.

    My understanding has always been that Civic Duty means taking the time to look, listen, learn and assess for one’s self the choices at hand in any election.
    Watch behaviors that protect or threaten the idea of our County, it’s sacred rights (like voting without the kind of fear people are experiencing this year), and that lead us to be better people to each other, and as a Nation.

    Behaviors that do not support and bring out the Human ugliness we all have the possibility to show, but rather, the best Humanity we each can offer.

    And to then lay the knowledge one finds against the job description of President.
    The most important and complex CEO job there is.
    It is a job we are hiring for, after all.

    One of the first of many, many, ,check boxes on the interview sheet is: An ability to understand that the job is not about them. It is about the people of this Country.
    Because all choices the person in that job will make filters through that lens – is the lens focused on themselves, or on the Country?

    Then, one votes.

    I guess you’d call that “unaffiliated”?

    I call it our Civic Duty. And our job as Americans -as protectors of the idea of our open-arms Country that was meant to be about it’s people, not it’s leader. A country that was meant to display the best Humanity can be to the rest of the World.

    Now doing this means, one must take actual time and effort to look at the choices before them, as opposed to simply voting for the “the party candidate they always have”.
    But that is our job.
    And every one of us has the tool in our hands every day to help us do it.
    It is a choice.

    Even those who have maligned you in your choice to look at things from The Center, if they know you at all, can not deny that you have always been a person who puts deep thought and introspection into many of the largest ideas around what it is to be the best Human one can be. You do not do things rashly. They would be wise to give your thoughts a bit more time to personally ingest, even if causes some uncomfortable self-assessment, for you do not come by them lightly.
    You take the time.
    You always have.
    Unaffiliated fits you well.

  21. Marc says:

    Hal,
    I am really surprised that you voted for Johnson. That man caused a lot of human devastation to our country. I remember my dad saying we need Goldwater. Anyway, if Trump loses its his fault. Like you say, he has a big mouth and cant control himself. Too bad, he actually can do some things well.

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