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Ryan Clumpner, a political consultant who managed Carl DeMaio’s race for mayor and has been a part of many conservative efforts in recent years, has left the Republican Party. He does political work for the Lincoln Club and Chamber of Commerce. We persuaded him to tell us why he left the party. Here’s our lightly edited and condensed Q-and-A, conducted over email.
When did you start to feel distant from the GOP?
I have many friends in Republican politics who are wonderful people I respect tremendously. It’s difficult to separate “the GOP” at large from all the people I know with whom I’m still very close.
I’ve never been a perfect fit on every issue. The GOP always had a wide spectrum of members and approaches. That’s changed. It has become the party of a single individual, one who holds many positions that were not even considered Republican just a few years ago and would be unrecognizable in earlier eras. Yet he is now the center of gravity around which everything else in the GOP orbits. When that cult of personality began to form, I immediately felt out of place and said so publicly. I’m always uncomfortable when the debate of ideas is exchanged for the battle of identities. The GOP has gone from resisting the framing of politics around identity to embracing and weaponizing it in the worst way.
Did your principles change?
My views on fiscal responsibility and balanced budgets haven’t budged. When governments at any level run out of money, the solutions are always terrible. Excessive borrowing, tax hikes and slashed services are all slow-motion disasters. Every year it becomes harder and harder to call fiscal responsibility a Republican principle. I can’t do it with a straight face any longer. Fiscal restraint, which once was a powerful rallying cry and principle, has been completely abandoned under Trump. It now seems to be more a product of divided government than any party’s principle.
I’ve certainly changed in other ways, which seem more like a shift in personal values. Child welfare, animal welfare, housing policy and environmental issues are the first to come to mind. They’ve taken on deeper significance with age and personal experience. There are plenty of Republicans and Democrats in local offices doing good work on these subjects. Republicans often bring a valuable performance-focused approach. Sadly, those leaders have become outliers in the shadow of Trump’s national stage.
How did you feel when Trump got elected? What did you think could happen ideally?
His primary win was a gut punch. His general win was a surreal fog. It felt like he’d stolen something I loved and smashed it. That’s an emotional response. The party never belonged to me, and the fact that it holds so much power right now refutes the idea that he broke it. He changed it, and I was out of step with the change.
My eternally optimistic side kept seeing opportunities for a transformation of the GOP in the direction I and many coastal Republicans preferred. Had Trump lost by a wide margin, the GOP would be in the throes of a very healthy soul-searching right now. Presently, such a moment of reflection is nowhere in sight.
What will it mean for the types of work you can do and the conversations you can be part of?
I’m privileged to have some great clients who hire me for the quality of my work and because we collaborate well together.
This is not good for my business, but I think the impacts have already come. Over a year ago, I stopped asking for certain leads and not pursuing some that landed in my lap. I’ve been moving toward aligning my business with my own views. By nature this shrinks the pool of potential clients. I’m OK with that because it allows me to devote energy to more rewarding pursuits and explore new types of business opportunities.
This post originally appeared in the July 28 Politics Report.