In an extraordinary move, three members of the Transylvania County Board of Commissioners announced that they are leaving the Republican Party. One, David Guice, is a former state representative and Page Lemel’s father, Bill Ives, served as a Republican legislator before Guice.  Along with Mike Hawkins, they will continue to serve registered as unaffiliated. In a Republican stronghold like Transylvania, this move took courage. They put their convictions ahead of their party, something too many elected officials routinely fail to do. 

Make no mistake. These three commissioners are not Democrats. They make the point that local politics is better when it’s nonpartisan. They aren’t abandoning their conservative principles of limited government, respect for traditional institutions and the rule of law, and the the rights of the individual to self-determination. Instead, they are acknowledging that the modern GOP has largely abandoned the principles that brought them to the Republican Party in the first place. 

They’ve also come to believe that the hyper-partisan atmosphere that’s filtered all the way down to local races is harming our ability to govern. “Finally, and importantly, we believe local government should not be partisan in nature. Good ideas come from across the spectrum of political thought…Governing is done best when done closest, and close governing is done best when removed from partisan encumbrances.” Those are core conservative values and ones largely abandoned by the Republicans in North Carolina legislature.

In their statement and in interviews with the local paper, they are careful not to point fingers directly. However, it’s clear that while Trump may have been the last straw, their dissatisfaction with their former party is broader and deeper than just the last three years. Their comments about local government and partisanship are direct swipes a legislature that’s made nonpartisan races partisan and abused its power to impose partisan measures onto municipal and county governments. 

Still, the direction that the GOP has taken since the rise of Trump and Trumpism clearly led to their decision to leave.  Guice said, “At the least, leaders at every level should preserve and protect our fundamental American institutions and the rule of law.” Hawkins was even stronger. “One day my future grandchildren will read of these times in their history books, and I want them to know their grandfather opposed this and was not complicit through silence.”

We’re starting to see a wholesale rejection of the GOP by traditional conservatives. Conservative writer and life-long Republican Matt Lewis wrote a piece titled “The GOP is the party of Russian propaganda now.” He writes, “Facing the prospects of electoral defeat, today’s Republicans prefer to advance Russia’s propaganda. Whether it’s physical cowardice or political cowardice, it sure isn’t about putting America first.”

Educated and thinking Republicans are abandoning their party. They aren’t moving toward the Democrats but they are rejecting a party that’s lost its core principles. They may be setting the stage for a major political re-alignment.

Back in the Reagan era, Democrats left the party, becoming independents before becoming Republicans over the following decade. They reshaped our politics for forty years. We’re probably in one of those phases now.

Or they could be setting up an even more dramatic shift. They could be the beginning of a new unaffiliated political movement that rejects the major parties and plays more of a deal-maker role in the center.  The former scenario is more likely, building up the centrist wing of the Democratic Party and making it a dominant party for the next 30 to 40 years. That’s what’s happened historically in our country, much to the chagrin of both the left and the right. It’s also a major reason our government has survived for so long. 

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