Richard Painter has become a reliable voice in the public sphere since the inauguration of Donald Trump as a Republican who has fallen out with the kind of party that can still throw their support behind someone like the failed real estate tycoon. In fact, there’s an entire Trump-era subculture of conservatives from the “old school” of Republican thought, who never thought to buy a ticket on the Trump Train because why would they?
Andrew Sullivan, William Kristol, Richard Painter — not to mention the legions of Republicans still in the intelligence business like Robert Mueller or formerly of it, like Andrew McCabe — all are among those who now include a broad swath of Congress members who have resigned rather than continue to be a part of the Trump debacle.
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They are sick of a Republican party that doesn’t care about governance or conservative principles — only continued power and authority.
But unlike Bob Corker or Jeff Flake or any of the numerous small-time legislators, big-time movers and shakers, committee chairs, or panel members who are leaving Congress, Richard Painter is doing the opposite — he wants to join the ranks of those left fighting for something different in Washington D.C.
So he’s joined the Democrats.
Make no mistake: Painter is a life-long Republican. He was the chief ethics lawyer for the first purely neoconservative president the country ever had, George W. Bush — a man whose conservative roots run deeper than any “Freedom Caucus” or Tea Party Republican in a flyover state could ever aspire to.
Many are asking whether Painter is running as a Democrat for the Senate (in Al Franken’s old seat, no less) because he’s actually become a Democrat, or simply because he’s seeking to undermine the left’s cause and drag it to the right by introducing conservative ideas into a Democratic platform.
To those people, I would say look at the subset of the party he’s running with: The Minnesota DFL, the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party. That group is, most would agree, further to the left even than many of the mainstream Democrats, and certainly more liberal than some of the Democrats currently in Congress today, like Joe Manchin or Joseph Donnelly.
In fact, I would say Painter is indicative of something that’s unique to the Trump era in terms of motivation. Most of the time when someone switches parties it’s because they know they can’t win a primary in the party they would normally run with.
Instead, I think Trump is actually turning Republicans into Democrats.