Saturday, March 24 , 2018, 5:18 pm | Fair 64º


Jamie Stiehm: Donald Trump Fuels a Party Double-Cross in Troubled Times

My Republican friend, Richard J. Cross III, is a talented wordsmith who has just crossed over to the other side. He’s written many political speeches — even one for the recent Republican National Convention in Cleveland — but he’s leaving the party he loved all his life. It’s all over now, as the bittersweet song goes.

At 49, Cross is now a card-carrying Democrat. He published his change of political heart in pieces in the Los Angeles Times and the Baltimore Sun.

Starting a wave from coast to coast, Cross illustrates the inner struggle for many Republicans in the surreal summer presidential campaign of 2016.

Face to face with your conscience: To vote or not to vote for Donald J. Trump? It’s a question of citizenship, all but the most consequential one the electorate will ever face.

As a loyalist, Cross voted for seasoned John Kasich, the conservative Ohio governor, in the primary. The takeaway line in his searing declaration: “The only prospect more terrifying than voting for Hillary Clinton is not voting for her.” Take him down to the river to pray for his soul.

Trump, the crude Republican Party standard-bearer, was more than Cross could bear. After seeing how the party had changed up close in Cleveland, he searched for a place where a moderate could breathe and belong in party politics.

He particularly hated Trump’s venom against Muslims, which, he says, Republican Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower, Richard M. Nixon, Ronald Reagan and others would never have incited.

There at the volatile convention as a professional volunteer, Cross drafted the vitriolic “Benghazi mom” speech delivered by Patricia Smith, who snarled at Hillary Clinton. It was a real doozy and, as it turns out, a fare-thee-well.

Cleveland on the ground level, Cross says, was akin to “being a witness to history and a train wreck.” Still, he was ambivalent about what to do next when he came home to Baltimore, a deep blue Democratic city.

Cross lives in charming Fells Point, where young Frederick Douglass worked on the Chesapeake waterfront when he was enslaved. Like me, he gets lost in history.

Our friendship across the fence, forged when I worked on the Baltimore Sun city desk, focused more on the past than present. Baltimore has plenty of the past, in all its enclaves.

For now, Cross feels at peace with his decision, writing a note from the netherworld.

“I have no political home — a deeply uncomfortable place for me to be,” he said. “My GOP pals regard me as a renegade, and my Democratic friends don’t know quite what to make of me.”

In our anxious age, American politics is missing its music of optimism: “What is this election really about? It should be about the future — every election should be. But this election is about the misery of the moment,” Cross writes. So we want our children to inherit a nation of anger?

Over the years, Cross worked for a Republican governor of Maryland, Robert Ehrlich, and for a grande dame of Maryland politics, Helen Bentley — a former Republican congresswoman who died earlier this month.

His establishment credentials are pretty perfect, with the right schools in Baltimore, including St. Paul’s School and The Johns Hopkins University.

More to the point, Cross loved the party. He was a believer, even in Nixon, with whom he corresponded late in Nixon’s Shakespearean life — when the bitter old man was trying to rehab his name in history.

And I grew up round a family where Nixon’s name was spoken often, not in a good way. He never rehabbed his reputation with us.

To me, Cross seems like a Confederate soldier putting on a Yankee uniform in partisan civil war. There is no middle ground.

“This is a time to stand up and be counted — just like supporters of the civil rights movement once chose to do,” says my newly liberal friend, cut free after an agonizing journey.

“To choose otherwise embraces fear, as Donald Trump has chosen to do. Fear sometimes wins you elections, but it doesn’t create jobs, build schools, reduce crime or improve the quality of life for all citizens. Great political leaders help us transcend our fears.”

Cross nailed it.

Jamie Stiehm writes about politics, culture and history as a weekly Creators Syndicate columnist and regular contributor to U.S. News & World Report, The New York Times and The Washington Post. Follow her on Twitter: @jamiestiehm. The opinions expressed are her own.

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click here to get started >

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through PayPal below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments.

Thank you for your vital support.

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >