By Peter Fenn | Contributor May 9, 2016, at 5:00 p.m. USNews & World Report
Here is a lesson from the past when it comes to Republicans dealing with Donald Trump and the upcoming convention in Cleveland. It was the summer of 1968. The country was torn apart. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy had just been assassinated, the Vietnam War was raging and Lyndon Johnson had taken himself out of the race for president.
I was a wet-behind-the-ears college sophomore working in the re-election campaign of Sen. Frank Church of Idaho. A liberal Democrat who was an early opponent of the Vietnam War, elected in a conservative state, Church had a decision to make that summer. Should he attend the Democratic Convention in Chicago in August, knowing that chaos would be the order of the day? Or should he remain in Idaho and run his own campaign? In some ways, not an easy decision.
Church was the keynote speaker at the Democratic Convention in Los Angeles that nominated John F. Kennedy, eight years earlier. He led the Idaho delegation to the 1964 Democratic Convention in Atlantic City, four years before. He was a loyal Democrat who cared about his party and would later, in 1976, run for president himself.
But Idaho was a hotbed of George Wallace conservatives; the John Birch Society had attempted a recall movement against Church a year earlier. (Rather reminds me of the Tea Party actually!) When we traveled all across the vast state, we saw far too many bumper stickers that read: “America, Love it or Leave It!” Frank Church had opposed President Johnson on Vietnam but supported his Great Society programs and had been an ally of Hubert Humphrey on civil rights and many other issues.
But he saw clearly where the Chicago convention was headed, both inside and outside the convention hall. The last place Sen. Church wanted to be during the hot month of August was in Chicago, in the midst of that firestorm. So from Aug. 26-29, 1968, Frank Church was nowhere near the Windy City. Instead, he took a few days off the campaign trail and holed up with his family and a group of us in the mountains of Idaho.
In the end, he ran his own campaign and barnstormed across the state under the slogan: “Re-elect Senator Frank Church: As Independent as Idaho.” His courage taking on his own party and president actually worked to his advantage, and having convictions that he cared deeply about earned the respect of voters even if they were not always in total agreement with him. But the decision to skip Chicago, to stay out of the donnybrook that ensued, was a very wise move for Frank Church in 1968.
For those Republicans who oppose Donald Trump, who are deeply worried about his lack of knowledge, understanding and qualifications to lead this nation, my advice would be stand clear. Let him run his campaign, you run yours. Let him have his convention, don’t follow him into that quicksand. Go with your conscience, not with a go-along to get-along march to Cleveland. Donald Trump is not the answer to the nation’s problems, he is a symptom of them. A strong, vibrant, Republican Party and Donald Trump have very little in common. Cleveland will no doubt prove that.