Patricia Smith, the mother of a Benghazi survivor, criticized Hillary Clinton and blamed the Democratic presidential candidate for the death of her son during the Republican National Convention in Cleveland July 18, 2016. (Washington Post)
I am a lifelong political animal and a longtime Maryland Republican. I worked on the staffs of Maryland Congresswoman Helen Bentley and Congressman/Gov. Bob Ehrlich. I also served on the GOP staff of the House Financial Services Committee.
I have lived my life, proudly, as a political moderate striving to make a positive contribution in and around the political arena — not an easy feat in deep blue Maryland, where an insular Democratic establishment has dominated state politics until very recently. But I have always been GOP to the core.
Growing up, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan were my icons. My sense of party fealty is such that I worked on the paid GOP convention staff in Philadelphia in 2000, and again, just recently, as a professional volunteer on the speechwriting staff in Cleveland.
In fact, I personally drafted the speech of the "Benghazi mom," Patricia Smith. In that speech, I concluded with the following line: "If Hillary Clinton can't give us the truth, why should we give her the presidency?" As a political speechwriter, that was something of a home run moment for me. The New Yorker called the speech "the weaponization of grief."
But weeks after the end of the 2016 GOP convention, I am confronted by an inconvenient fact: Despite what I wrote in that nationally televised speech about Hillary Clinton, I may yet have to vote for her because of the epic deficiencies of my own party's nominee.
President Eisenhower would have never proposed banning Muslims from America. Nor would President Nixon. Nor would President Reagan. Donald Trump has betrayed and perverted their legacies. Consequently, I no longer recognize my party.
I have never voted for a Democrat for federal office, but when I hear the president criticize the GOP nominee, I can't honestly disagree with him.
I have no political home — a deeply uncomfortable place for me to be. My GOP pals regard me as a renegade, and my Democratic friends don't know quite what to make of me.
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.
While I'm proud of my service to the Republican party, I am not proud of the present state of American politics. I look around me; everything just feels awful and sad. The divisions in our national discourse are great, and there is no political hero waiting to rescue us from ourselves. Instead, we're confronted by the awful spectacle of a "Mothra versus Godzilla" election. And, just like in the movies, no matters who wins, Tokyo suffers.
Regardless, the reality is, I cannot vote for Donald Trump. I could never vote for Donald Trump.
So instead I am confronted by two painful choices: Vote for the most divisive political figure in the past 25 years or throw away my vote on a kooky Libertarian ticket.
I believe this is a citizenship election similar to others we have had in our history. This is a time to stand up and be counted — just like supporters of the civil rights movement once chose to do.
The central question in 2016: Are Muslim Americans an equal and welcome member of the American constituency?
For me, the answer is a clear "yes." Now, the question becomes: Can we come together and find a positive solution to the issue of illegal immigration, just like President Reagan and congressional Democrats were able to achieve? The answer to that is, "we must."
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.
Still, the prospect of voting for Hillary Clinton is uncomfortable to me, as if Dr. Van Helsing were compelled to vote for Dracula.
But the only prospect more terrifying than voting for Hillary Clinton is not voting for her.
The reality of American politics today is, she is the only choice.