Republicans in Washington state can save their party from irrelevancy by ignoring many of its endorsements

click to enlarge Republicans in Washington state can save their party from irrelevancy by ignoring many of its endorsements
Dave Reichert for Governor photo
How out of touch is the statewide GOP? Their leading candidate to run for governor, Dave Reichert, skipped their convention in Spokane in April.

Washington's Republican Party is teetering toward irrelevancy. To be viable, a party must put forward candidates who can articulate a vision that at least 51% of voters embrace. At its April convention in Spokane, the Republican Party didn't do that. Instead, Republicans revealed that winning isn't what's most important to them.

Democrats should not find amusement in what more thoughtful Republicans have described as a shit show, because a robust democracy needs at least two viable parties, and in Washington, that's at risk.

Think I'm exaggerating?

Republicans endorsed a candidate for governor who polls in the single digits, has been charged with a gun theft felony, who defrauded a bank, was recalled from the only office he's been elected to, and was reprimanded by the Pentagon for misrepresenting his military valor. The party could have endorsed gubernatorial candidate Dave Reichert, who in addition to polling within the margin of error with the likely Democratic nominee, served our state and country honorably as a former King County sheriff and U.S. congressman.

By not supporting the candidate most qualified and with the best shot at winning, the convention's gubernatorial endorsement process amounted to political masturbation. It probably made delegates feel good, but had zero potential to produce any enduring result, except, the party's irrelevancy.

That irrelevancy is fueled by unquestioned fealty to Donald Trump, and the insistence of many convention delegates that Republican candidates genuflect before that altar. For many of the delegates, a candidate's qualifications, character, years of public service, commitment to traditional Republican principles were trivial when compared to a candidate's blind loyalty to a man.

Those who demand a pledge of allegiance to a person are Republicans In Name Only, because true Republicans put principles above any person and party. Republican President Theodore Roosevelt believed it was unpatriotic not to challenge a president, stating, "Patriotism means to stand by the country. It does not mean to stand by the president."

Those who only support candidates devoted to Trump should heed the words of Republican President Ronald Reagan who repeatedly said, "The person who agrees with you 80 percent of the time is a friend and an ally, not a 20 percent traitor."

Both those Republicans had an affinity for the West. Independence, character and having the courage to speak your mind are values generally appreciated in the West.

They certainly were hallmarks of Washington's Republican Party when I was growing up. In March 1974, Washington state's Republican Attorney General Slade Gorton called for Republican President Nixon to resign. Gorton argued that the president had demonstrated a "broad pattern of indifference to and disrespect for the laws of the United States." Many in Washington's Republican Party were irate, claiming they'd never support Gorton again, that his political career was over. But the Republican state chairman acknowledged the attorney general could have a different voice within the party, saying, "Those who support the president should speak out. Those who oppose the president should speak out."

Gorton went on to win reelection as attorney general and then to serve several terms as Washington's US senator.

That Republican Party elected US senators, state attorneys general, congressional representatives and governors.

As a Republican candidate for governor, 11 months before the 2016 election I told a Seattle crowd that if Trump believes what he says, he's unfit to be president, and if he doesn't believe what he says, he's a farce. While some Republicans thanked me for saying that, many didn't, but even Republicans who didn't like what I said about Trump still grudgingly voted for me. I'm not sure they would today. The 2024 party does not harbor a gracious space for dissent.

At the Spokane convention, former U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Buetler, a candidate for state public lands commissioner who worked on natural resource issues during her tenure as a Republican congresswoman, was jeered and ignored by many because she had voted to impeach Donald Trump.

Gubernatorial candidate Reichert didn't even attend the convention.

When a Republican candidate who served three years in the state Legislature and 12 years in Congress is treated rudely, party leaders need to reflect on what they value, and consider the effect that behavior and those values could have on their future ability to recruit qualified candidates.

When the leading Republican candidate and likely nominee for governor does not attend his party's state convention, party leaders need to confront their potential irrelevancy.

That irrelevancy should concern Republicans and Democrats. Democracies function best when two or more viable parties, each committed to winning, present different solutions to commonly recognized challenges. If there is only one viable party, it can run roughshod over the legitimate concerns of the minority, dictating policies designed to appease only its own voters. That absence of compromise erodes the consensus that binds a democratic republic together, and increases the polarization that's corroding our political process.

Washington's Republicans can rescue their party from irrelevancy by voting in the August primary for qualified candidates who value policy options over loyalty oaths.

That will present general election voters with Republican candidates who have a shot at winning, and will send Republican Party officials the message that in Washington, blind loyalty is a loser. ♦

Bill Bryant, who served on the Seattle Port Commission from 2008-16, ran against Jay Inslee as the Republican nominee in the 2016 governor's race. He lives in Winthrop, Washington.

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