I’ve always been a Republican. I grew up in a very conservative Catholic family. From childhood until I left for college, we lived in Rancho Santa Fe, a well-known Republican stronghold of Southern California. My parents reside there to this day. My undergraduate studies were in economics and government at reputationally conservative Claremont McKenna College.
Most of the candidates I’ve voted for or donated to over the years have been Republican. I have hosted meetings for my District (28) Republican Committee at my home in South Anchorage. My politics were part of my identity and I intended to one day seek elected office as a Republican. Along the way, I met, collaborated with, and befriended wonderful people on all ends of the political spectrum.
Regardless of one’s background, a quality shared by humans is the ability to blend cognitive, experiential learning with instinct. It enables us to read a situation and, if necessary, take appropriate, decisive action. In other words, the famous axiom: when the time is right, you’ll know. Anyone reading these words can pinpoint illuminating moments in their life when they simply knew it was time; time to leave a relationship that was beyond repair, time to leave a job that wasn’t working out; insert your own experience when, like the proverbial light bulb turning on in your head, you knew it was time to move on.
For me, such a watershed moment came on February 5, 2020. I knew it was time to leave the Republican Party. I registered as a member of the Alaska Libertarian Party.
Part of getting older is coming to terms with realities that shift one’s paradigm. Throughout my two decades of adulthood, I’ve witnessed a material and tragic shift in the Republican Party, rapidly accelerated in recent years by President Trump. Undoubtedly, the Republican Party now prioritizes a socially conservative agenda, which grows increasingly obsolete with the passage of time. In its pursuit, the Party has irreparably alienated a critical mass of Gen-Xers, Millennials, and Gen-Zs.
Ignored by the Party is fiscal conservatism and, at times, basic decency. Last September, I published an article in Must Read Alaska documenting this shift from my perspective, and holding President Trump accountable for (1) his rapid expansion of Federal debt at a rate now exceeding its ascent under President Obama, (2) the denigration to the Republican brand that his words and actions have brought about, and (3) his fiscally liberal policies and interference with free markets. If you need a good laugh, peruse the comments that follow.
Despite our president’s rhetoric denouncing socialism, socialism is, indeed, a likely result when sovereign debt reaches the kind of unsustainable levels America now owes. World history demonstrates such causality through multiple examples. Just days ago, our president reaffirmed his liberal fiscal policies through a State of the Union address celebrating his administration’s spending and growth of the federal government, all to the applause of the Republican Congress. Further, the newest budget posited by President Trump this week continues deficits for years to come, accruing trillions more to our debt.
Republican leaders also empower our president’s lack of civility, respect, and honesty. For years now, I’ve watched as Party leaders condoned, and at times celebrated, the vile, often grammatically and factually inaccurate statements made daily by our president. Many shrug it off with the casual refrain I’ve heard countless times in Republican circles: “I wish he would just stop using Twitter…” This response is insufficient.
As if to confirm my decision, I listened to our President’s press conference celebrating his impeachment acquittal, using the terms “sick, evil people” to describe his political adversaries. Don’t get me wrong, Democratic leaders embarrassed themselves in this impeachment spectacle, but “sick, evil people” are terms we once assigned to terrorists like Dylann Roof or Osama Bin Laden. Now, this rhetoric is for people with whom we simply disagree.
Like I said. When the time is right, you’ll know.
I’m also not blind to a similar chasm within the Democratic Party between the more moderate, blue dog types, and the “woke,” progressive left that seeks a socialist and socially engineered America. Becoming increasingly disenfranchised are those lost among the reasonable middle ground. The moderate and independent voters, who lack a voice in the primary system (which in many jurisdictions is closed), end up stuck choosing between increasingly extreme candidates selected by the bases within the two-party system.
Make no mistake – Republican Party leadership is all-in on President Trump. Alaska, and other states, cancelled this year’s Republican primary. Democratic Party leadership acted similarly during the 2012 cycle. This year, the Democrats appear all-in to defeat President Trump with the most progressive and unrealistic policies in our nation’s history. The two-party system has devolved into an all-out manipulative fight for power; serving the people is an afterthought.
My words are not intended to bash Republicans or Democrats; most of the individual members of those parties are inherently good Americans. Rather, I submit these words as an invitation of empowerment to finally challenge the two-party system in a practical way.
If you care about our future, then I respectfully challenge you, the average American like me, to put your credible name behind meaningful action.
From ballot access to a spot on the debate stage, election cycle infrastructure favors the two-party system. It is tough for a third party to gain access and exposure. Lawsuits, op-eds, and open letter pleas like one I sent to the Commission on Presidential Debates in 2016 will do little to change that. Running the same perennial candidates to maintain ballot access, though a noble and at times selfless endeavor, weakens the brand over time.
This futility will continue until we are ready to take some calculated risks and make bold changes. It’s a lost cause to try and reform the Republican and Democratic parties from within. I, like many others, have tried and wear the scars to prove it.
Scattered, we’ll continue to lack a meaningful voice. United, under the strength of an established party, we will have a seat at the table. This approach is not just ideological, it is practical. United under the same party, we in the reasonable middle will eventually obtain the membership numbers needed to (1) guarantee access to ballots and debate stages, and (2) develop a deep enough bench to field high-quality, credible, and electable candidates.
No party is a perfect fit and I certainly don’t agree with everything in the Libertarian platform. Neither will you. Focus, instead, on the basics. Libertarians believe in strict adherence to the benefits and burdens of our Constitution, not just cherry-picking certain parts. We believe in smaller governments, free markets, fiscal conservatism and balanced budgets, the separation of church and state, and equal (not special) rights for all – regardless of race, religion (or lack thereof), or sexual orientation. While you and I as individuals may disagree on the details and nuances, many in the reasonable middle can unite on those basics.
And yes, every party has its warts – the Libertarians’ are no different, yet receive disproportionate media attention. However, with more credible individuals becoming Libertarians to support those members already working for years behind the scenes to mainstream the Party, the paradigm will shift.
If the above words resonate and we agree on the basics, I invite you to make the switch with me. This is a long-term plan in a political climate inundated with short-term thinking, so keep your immediate expectations in check. Momentum is, however, building. Libertarians are making material gains every year, rapidly expanding their membership rolls and accruing victories in local and state elections at record levels.
I’m willing to leverage my credibility, for what it’s worth, toward that momentum. I hope you’ll join me.
Peter J. Caltagirone is an Anchorage resident, pilot, and oil and gas attorney licensed in five states. He is now a proud member of the Alaska Libertarian Party. The above words are published in his individual capacity.