“I have stayed quiet with the approach of the election, but I’m troubled by our politics, as it has moved away from spirited debate to a vile, vituperative, hate-filled morass that is unbecoming of any free nation — let alone the birthplace of modern democracy.” — Mitt Romney, 10/13/20

- - -

It’s not easy being one of the principled Republican senators. I mean, okay, it’s actually pretty easy. Basically, you work in one or two vague statements a year where you openly but timidly break ranks with your party in a way that doesn’t tangibly affect anything policy-wise, then you get away with voting to pass whatever Trump wants 90% of the time while still being praised by liberals for being “one of the good ones.” Now that I really think about it, it’s actually super easy. As a principled career Republican, I’ve enjoyed helping lay the groundwork for someone like Trump to seize power, while also pretending to be above the fray once Trump eventually seized power. Simultaneously having my cake and eating it too has been the honor of a lifetime, which is why it brings me no joy to announce that lately, I’m downright perturbed by the state of politics.

You see, on one side of the aisle, we have my colleagues, who have spent decades systemically undermining the well-being of average Americans and dog-whistling to hate groups while they did. But that was the thing — they were only dog whistles! My colleagues used to respect the political process enough to try and strip Americans of their civil liberties while only subtly signaling to white supremacists that they shared similar world views. And whether or not I agreed with their decision to do so didn’t matter, because that subtlety allowed me to pretend I didn’t notice it was happening. It rocked!

But then Trump came along, and everything changed. He started publicly saying all the things my colleagues had privately said or implied via draconian legislation for years. That presented a real pickle for me, the principled senator who still agrees with all of Trump’s inhumane goals but wants to maintain a self-serving façade of moral superiority while doing so. Now, there’s a laundry list of offenses by my side more egregious than I ever could’ve imagined: telling the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by”; openly calling for voter intimidation; and even doubling-down on publicly badmouthing an American governor following news that a right-wing terrorist group had planned to kidnap her. It’s troubling, to say the least (which I always do, say the least).

But on the other side of the aisle, you have my Democratic colleagues, who certainly haven’t been angels themselves. While my Republican friends openly and violently undermine democracy and cozy up to ring-wing terrorists, the Democrats have responded with stern, stiff head shakes. Major rude vibes, guys. Sure, nothing the Democrats have ever said or done in retaliation has stopped us Republicans from achieving our legislative goals — their obsession with trivial stunts and the long-gone concept of civility have gotten in the way of any meaningful opposition, and I’m grateful for that much. But still, when Nancy Pelosi ripped up the president’s speech that one time, that was kind of boorish, right? Also, Keith Olbermann once said something I didn’t like, and while I know he’s not the president, or even an elected official, he is a self-identified Democrat with a YouTube show. As a principled Republican senator, my mush brain tells me that’s the same as the president failing to disavow white supremacists.

Would it be more meaningful for me to not frame Republican incitement of violence and cowardly Democratic TikTok stunts as being even remotely on the same level? Sure. But that’s just not me, man. For years, liberals have projected their dreams of a “decent Republican” onto me, desperate for me to prove that’s something that still exists — or has ever existed. They look to me to be a voice of reason, desperate for a moment of heroism where I throw my arms up and say “enough is enough” before foiling my party’s plans. And while I’m more than happy to coast on misguided assumptions that I’d ever do such a thing, I’m honestly surprised anyone still believes that’s on the table.

In the end, my job as a principled Republican senator is to be an aggressive toe-r of the line; a beautiful, empty symbol; an expert in the art of wagging my finger with one hand while voting in favor of evil with the other. And I vow to carry on that great condition as I furrow my brow and mutter “this troubles me” all the way through my reelection in 2024.