For the first time in my life, I am registered to vote as a Colorado Democrat. Why would I, a libertarianish former Republican from a Republican family, a one-time Libertarian, and a columnist for a conservative-libertarian outlet, do such a thing?
To adapt a line by Reagan, I didn’t leave the Republican Party, the party left me. It has left reality and decency in the process. Especially since the rise of Trumpism, the Republican Party has become the party of conspiracy mongering, lawlessness, and bigotry especially toward gay and transgender people and immigrants.
If conservatism means conserving the principles of liberty expressed during America’s founding, then today’s Republican Party is anti-conservative. Rather than seek to delimit the powers of the state, today’s Republicans too often seek to use state power to advance their personal agendas.
I am under no illusion that today’s Democratic Party is a consistent advocate of liberty. It is far from that. Indeed, the hard-left of today’s Democratic Party would impose economic authoritarianism in the name of liberation, and lock peaceable gun owners in cages over technical “crimes” for good measure. I have relentlessly criticized Colorado Democrats for legislatively encroaching on liberty.
The Democratic Party, however, is dominated not by its fringe lunatics—as is the Republican Party—but by its reality-focused (or at least reality-adjacent), feet-on-the-ground, basically reasonable Center Left coalition.
No one need lecture me on all the ways that Jared Polis is not a libertarian. He is more libertarian in the best sense than is today’s Libertarian Party, which has become dominated by “right-wing nationalist Twitter edgelords.”
Polis and the Center Left Democrats generally (or at least often) favor legal abortion, gay marriage, a winding down of the drug war, sensible criminal justice reforms, marginally liberalized immigration laws, and reform of intrusive zoning laws. On all of those issues, Republicans usually are on the anti-liberty side.
Sure, the Democratic Party of Colorado recently installed a legislator who intimated “the people” will lead a Marxist-Leninist “revolution.” That’s a problem. But he’s a crackpot within his own party (a good-looking, hard-working, charismatic crackpot with strong networking skills). By contrast, the Republican Party of Colorado is led by bigoted conspiracy mongers who deny the legitimacy of Joe Biden’s election and take every opportunity to demonize gay and transgender people.
Me registering to vote as a Democrat does not mean that I agree with most other Democrats on various issues. I do agree with most Democrats on important issues including legal abortion, gay marriage, and the separation of church and state. I disagree with many Democrats on many economic issues, mainly because I believe that free markets usually solve problems best, while government interference often hurts people. “Unintended consequences” and all that. In joining the Democrats, I take heart in the great Democratic tradition of sensible deregulation.
What registering to vote as a Democrat means is that I now believe that my new party offers the best opportunity to advance individual rights and responsible governance via the political system. I register with a party not to define my identify, but to most effectively change policy in ways that I deem best. Obviously, I will never vote a party line, but I will vote for the Democrat in every case where, in my judgment, the Democrat is, on net, more supportive of liberty (or at least less antagonistic to it).
I am not saying that everyone should register to vote with a party. In Colorado, with our semi-open primaries, often it makes sense for a given individual to remain unaffiliated.
In addition to potentially affording me additional opportunities to advocate my views in the political arena, registering as a Democrat is the strongest possible statement that I can make to condemn the current direction of the Republican Party.
If other people in the Democratic Party do not wish me to join “their” party, my message is, tough. I’m coming to dinner, so set a place. I’ll strive to remain polite. Yes, I believe that political parties should be strictly private organizations, without any government privileges, and with ability to control their membership rolls. But I did not make the rules, hardly anyone seems interested in my ideas on political parties, and all I can do is manage as well as I can under the existing rules.
In the spirit of using the Democratic Party to further the agenda of individual rights and personal liberty, I hereby announce the formation of the Colorado Democratic Liberty Caucus. To date this group has one member: me. If you wish to join this group, please let me know, and then you will be a member too. (Note: I reserve the right to kick people out of this group at will.)
My switch to the Democratic Party will come as no surprise to those who follow my work. I discussed the advantages of working with Democrats last November. I announced that I was leaving the Republican Party in March. And I said I was joining the Democratic Party at the end of August. Now I’ve actually done it (at least, I’ve sent my letter to the county clerk declaring my intentions).
I’m a Democrat now. Deal with it.
Ari Armstrong writes regularly for Complete Colorado and is the author of books about Ayn Rand, Harry Potter, and classical liberalism. This article was originally published on his Substack, Colorado Pickaxe, which you can read and subscribe to here.