From Republican to Democrat: My Story

Joseph J. Collins

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photo credit: Max Pixel

I walked out of the Republican party in April after 22 years that included service in the George W. Bush Administration as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Stability Operations. I didn’t abandon the GOP; the Republican Party left me. Beginning in 2016, the Republican Party was transformed into the “Trumpublican” party, largely turning its back on its traditional values of good government, law and order, fiscal responsibility, and a strong, alliance-based national security policy.

The core problem here was and is Donald Trump. I was a never-Trumper from the beginning. As a former New Yorker, Trump represented to me all that there was to dislike about the irresponsible rich. I knew all about his racism, bankruptcies, his mistreatment of workers and contractors, and his legendary personal improprieties. Like many, I underestimated him. I first thought that Republicans would reject him, and if not, that the Democrats would decisively defeat him at the polls.

By some quirk of fate, he developed a following strong enough to win the presidency, even while losing the popular vote by 2.8 million people. He fooled Americans into thinking that he would be a both forceful, business-type leader and a populist. He stooped to attracting bigots and malcontents into the party. He played to fear and resentment, blamed the press, and seized control of the party of Lincoln. His popularity with the “base” kept party leaders in line. Trump neutered senior GOP leaders and ruled by tweets, bombast, bullying, and vulgarity. Increasingly, he has used the Justice Department for political purposes. More and more, the GOP became his party at the expense of traditional Republican values and to the detriment of our people.

With another leader, this story might have had a better ending. Donald Trump, however, was inexperienced and unable to master the job. He proved himself to be emotionally unstable, mercurial, and incredibly dishonest. Some kind of cognitive problem keeps him from serious study of issues and conducting consistent and deliberate decision-making. Sexism, racism, and isolationism are present in all of his policies and nearly all of his public statements.

From a tax cut for the rich to farmer-crushing tariffs to trillion dollar per year deficits, his policies have been disasters. He sought (and seeks) to end Affordable Care Act without having any replacement for it. His anti-immigration policies were both ineffective and expensive. He had to fund “the wall” by taking money from the Defense budget. In the end, “kids in cages” and separating families at the border tarnished our image abroad. The ugly American had a new poster boy, who just happened to be its President.

Our foreign policy has been damaged by erratic moves to reduce troop strength in Syria and Afghanistan without adequate consultation with allies or advisors. One by one, experienced cabinet officers like Tillerson, Mattis, McMaster, Kelly, Bolton and others fell by the wayside. He alienated our allies and cozied up to dictators. His relationship with Russia’s Putin has put his entire administration under a cloud. His antics with Kim Jong Un have the world laughing at his incompetence in the art of the deal.

His attempted extortion of the Ukrainian president yielded an impeachment, but one that failed to become a bipartisan effort. Trump was acquitted, but no one pretended he didn’t demand that Ukraine, in return for security assistance, interfere in our elections by conducting a phony investigation into Trump’s most feared opponent, Joe Biden.

Today, we are in a trifecta of crises: the Covid-19 pandemic, a deep economic recession, and the racial unrest that exploded after the police killing of George Floyd. Trump has failed on each of these three interrelated crises. His policy responses have been ineffective and misguided. His incompetence and lack of empathy have been continually on display.

These are the reasons why I left the GOP, but there was one other incentive to do so. Joe Biden is the un-Trump. In fact, he is the ideal person to right the ship of state and get America back on course for a secure and prosperous future.

An ideal president must be a person of great character, caring, empathy, and compassion. The ideal president needs the experience and the skills to create policy solutions to complex problems. He or she needs to be respected at home and abroad. Joe Biden meets those tests with the highest possible grades.

The ideal president must also be able to bring us together. I saw up close and personal how Senator Biden worked closely with Republicans, like the late Richard Lugar, and how he interacted with committee staff. As Vice President, he understudied, mentored, and closely advised President Barack Obama. He is experienced, empathetic, and devoted to security, prosperity, and equal opportunity for all Americans. On top of all of this, Joe Biden is a family man, devoted to the values that made America great. He knows hardship and pain. We need to put a mature, experienced, and capable servant leader into the White House. That’s why I became a Democrat, and why I will work to put Joe Biden in the White House.

Joseph J. Collins is a retired Army colonel and Department of Defense civilian. For two decades, he also taught strategy at West Point, the National War College, and the Georgetown Security Studies Program. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations which is not responsible for the content of this piece.

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