Political commentator Mary Matalin made headlines on Friday for leaving the Republican Party over the likely nomination of Donald Trump. Though she implied she would still vote for Trump, Matalin said the Libertarian Party better represented her principles.
It is an odd stance. Most Beltway insiders burning their Republican voter registrations are doing so because they reject the candidate, not the institution itself (except insofar as it will soon be led by him). Matalin claims to be sticking with the man but rejecting the party.
But the timing suggests that Trump really is the reason for her departure. Nothing in the Republican Party’s policies or platform has demonstrably changed. If her own principles had shifted, Matalin could have left years before.
And while Trump is controversial, to say the least, the Republican Party has endured far more unsavory characters in high leadership posts. Matalin has even defended some of them. Here, for example, is Matalin defending House Majority Leader Tom DeLay in 2005 on NBC News’ Meet the Press:
MR. RUSSERT: Let’s turn to another man in the news. Here is Tom DeLay, leaving Marine One, the president’s helicopter, a presidential embrace, a show of support for the majority leader of the House of Representatives. Mary Matalin, where do we stand with Tom DeLay?
MS. MATALIN: Well, this is a wonderful Washington parlor game. So what’s the charge? He went on trips. Do you know who is the biggest, the most frequent trip takers in Congress, even though there are fewer members? The Democrats. You know who spends more on private trips, even though there are fewer members? The Democrats. So let’s take it to the Ethics Committee; let’s lay it out. The attack on DeLay has nothing to do with this Washington parlor game. It has everything to do with his effectiveness. He has never lost a whip vote when he did that. He gets things done.
You know, it was four years ago at this time that the president sent to the Hill a comprehensive energy plan, the first one in a generation, and Tom DeLay got it passed in the House, four years ago. Here we are languishing, lo, these many years later. That’s–he’s effective on all sorts of legislation like that and that’s why they want to take him out. It’s not about Tom DeLay. It’s about obstructing the president’s agenda, and it is about what they’re always about, which is demonizing. You know, it’s a politics of personal destruction, which they’ve taken to an art form.
Her husband, Democratic strategist James Carville, was having none of it:
MR. CARVILLE: Well, first of all, I think it’s a lot more about taking trips. It’s about lobbyists paying for trips. It’s about this story in the Los Angeles Times about Marianas–about the violence in the Pacific, getting something in return. There was a good David Rogers story in The Wall Street Journal.
The larger question is this. The Democrats have–Congressman Meehan and Congressman Emanuel have a very good ethics reform bill. They ought to just focus on that because DeLay is going to take care of himself and the press is going to keep coming. There’s going to be more and more stories. You have The Wall Street Journal editorial page, probably the most rabid right-wing outlet in the United States, saying that the whole DeLay thing is kind of sleazy. You’ve got many Republicans who are saying this. What the Democrats need to do is just push through and talk about their reform bill. Now, if DeLay is so innocent, why he is telling the Dallas Morning News that he’s not sure he will even testify before the Ethics Committee? And I think Democrats just need to keep pushing on that…
MS. MATALIN: It’s a witch hunt.
MR. CARVILLE: …to get him to come forward. It’s a Republican House. How can he have a witch hunt in the Republican House?
MS. MATALIN: Because you are. You’ve got all the old media under attack, you’re maligning his character. The Marianas, or whatever those islands, trip is, Democrats went on that. Democrats were paid by these same lobbyists.
MR. CARVILLE: No, no, no, it’s these lobbyists that went over there. But at any point…
MS. MATALIN: Which Democrats did the same thing.
MR. CARVILLE: …Jack Abramoff never paid for a trip for a Democratic congressman, but that’s not the largest point. The larger point is the Democrats have to be very aggressive in pushing a pro-reform agenda.
And they did, sweeping to power in both houses of Congess in November 2006. DeLay had stepped down, but became a symbol of a corrupt era in Republican politics, even though his eventual conviction in 2011 would later be overturned.
Trump has his flaws — and, if his worst critics are to be believed, he could be even worse than DeLay or Abramoff (from whom Matalin also defended the GOP on Meet the Press). But the idea that they are tolerable within the Republican Party, while Trump is somehow contaminating to everyone on the Republican voter rolls, is not credible. If anything, they represent the cloistered world of Capitol cronies Trump’s voters hope he will sweep away. Perhaps Matalin is getting out while she can.