A good friend and former Republican operative who worked in America’s national capital, send a cryptic email:
The end is near.
Some will celebrate.
Some will condemn.
Most won’t give a damn.
So I emailed back.
His response: “Wait for it.”
He left the GOP because he felt the party had become too extreme with right-wing ideology and too subservient to Donald Trump.
“There’s little doubt Trump will destroy the party I supported and worked with for so many years,” he said in his farewell to the Republicans. “The bigger question is whether or not he will destroy America along with it.”
We met and worked together during my time as an operative for the Republicans in the early 1980s. We shared successes and failures in elections. We celebrated wins and consoled each other in defeat.
He believed in Republican issues. I did not.
That bedeviled him and he asked: “Do you have any political ideology?:
“None,” I answered. “I don’t give a damn about what any of what these folks stand for. I do care about how much they are paying for my help.”
I first worked for a Republican congressman in 1981 — Paul Findley of Illinois. He never asked if I was a Republican or Democrat.
Neither did Rep. Manuel Lujan of New Mexico. The question did come up when he retired from Congress and asked me to join his staff when he became Secretary of the Interior.
“I appreciate the offer,” I said, “but the position you want me to take requires approval by the White House and I won’t pass the screening. I’m not a Republican.”
That caught him off guard.
“You’re a Democrat?”
“No,” I said. “I’ve never been a member of any political party and I never will join one.”
So he asked me to become part of his “private cabinet.” We would gather at his office from time to time and talk about issues faces the country. Sometimes he would take our advice. Sometimes he would not.
Sometimes he would ask me to accompany him to the White House for meetings with President George H.W. Bush. Those were heady days and I had a White House pass. At the time, my “day job” was as Vice President for Political Programs for the National Association of Realtors and, among other tasks, managed what was then the largest political action committee in Washington.
Heady times. My Republican political operative friend would shake his head when we met for drinks at the Capitol Hill Club, the GOP gathering spot on Capitol Hill.
‘I’m a lifetime career GOP operative and I’ve never met with the president in the Oval Office,” he moaned. “You’re a political atheist and you get to huddle with our President, our Cabinet leaders, and others. Not fair.”
It wasn’t fair. I didn’t care about the issues or the goals of any of the people. I was addicted to access, the power, and the money.
He believed in the party and its goals and he worked tirelessly for Congressional and Senate campaigns.
He once told me that political agnostics like me were helping destroy the political system.
“You don’t fight for anything you believe in,” he said. “You enjoy the perks but you have no soul in the game.”
He was right. What I was doing had gone to my head but I finally woke up. I left that world the same year that I attended my first meeting of Alcoholic Anonymous. A coincidence? No.
My GOP friend worried about the increasing influence of the extreme right zealots in his party. When Trump won the nomination and the 2016 election, he left the party of his choice a bitter man because of what had happened to the Republicans and its embrace of Donald Trump. He wasn’t alone. Republicans like Steve Schmidt, a strong GOP operative who ran both Congressional and Presidential campaigns, left the party. So did conservative columnist George Will.
My friend’s cryptic email arrived last weekend. On Thursday, his ex-wife called with the answer on what it meant. He died Wednesday night from an overdose of opiates. He left an envelope with a note to her and their two kids.
I mourned, but he was right. Too many of those we worked among and with over our years in Washington don’t care or give a damn.
The America we served is no longer the one where we now live.