Republicans should recruit veterans to pull damaged party back from the brink | Opinion

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It has been a tough three years for Republicans, and the future of their party is in doubt. Conservatives lost the White House, the Senate and the House of Representatives in a span of just 24 months. They caused a constitutional crisis by objecting to certify the results of a free and fair election. Conspiracy theorists and extremists have been elected to influential positions on the party ticket. And they demoted one of their most important leaders, U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, for bucking former President Trump and telling the truth about the 2020 election.

I voted for Donald Trump. I gave to his campaign and for decades supported Republican candidates and conservative policies. I served in the Bush administration as ambassador to Portugal. But I cannot be silent about my concern for the GOP and its future.

The party was once about ideas. Now it is about fealty to a man who cost Republicans multiple elections, most notably the election in Georgia that handed control of the Senate to Democrats. Distressing as it is to watch the GOP put goals in our own net, Trump taught us an important lesson: Candidates matter.

And therein lies the future of the GOP, particularly the Florida GOP. The party must be rebuilt. Strong, dynamic candidates will be the foundation of that rebuild. After years of party activism and supporting Republican candidates, my best advice to the party is this: Recruit military veterans.

Sen. Tom Cotton was an Army ranger who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan. He also voted to certify the 2020 election against overwhelming political pressure to vote No. Congressman Brian Mast was clearing a road for Army rangers when an IED took both his legs. Today, he makes Florida proud as one of the most thoughtful and bipartisan representatives in the House. Former Navy SEAL-turned-Houston Congressman Dan Crenshaw lost an eye to a Taliban bomb and also bucked his party and voted to certify the election’s results. Trump won Crenshaw’s suburban district by 1 percent in November, while Crenshaw won it by 14 percent. If the Republican Party is to have a future, it will look like the Brian Masts, Dan Crenshaws or Tom Cottons of the world.

Veterans have shown unique characteristics of personal courage and resiliency to roaring political pressure. Perhaps it is because veterans have seen real danger up close, and are not as vulnerable to the fires and furies of modern American politics.

The military ingrains officers and the enlisted with skills vital to a healthy democracy. From the Army to the Coast Guard, all train in personal courage, selfless leadership, uncompromising integrity and steely discipline. These qualities are necessary on the battlefield and the House floor alike.

Veterans swear an oath to the Constitution and back it with a pledge to defend it, if necessary, with their lives. That loyalty to our republic — and not to a former president — must be the focus of the Republican Party’s 2022 rebuild. It is no mistake that the term “campaign” has roots in military history. Party leaders should identify and recruit veterans from all walks of life and use them to refill the GOP’s depleted reservoirs. That includes diverse vets like African-American and former Apache helicopter pilot John James, who almost turned blue Michigan red in two statewide races, and Sen. Joni Ernst, of Iowa, who was a lieutenant colonel in the Army National Guard.

To their credit, party leaders have acknowledged that some of their brightest stars are military veterans and have begun a dedicated recruitment push. This was a playbook that Democrats used with great effect in 2018. The effort includes Bronze Star recipient Brian Mills, who is running to unseat Congresswoman Stephanie Murphy in Florida’s 7th district.

Veterans will be the focus of my 2022 campaign contributions. I encourage other Republican donors to do the same.

As the number of veterans in Congress has fallen, so, too, has trust and faith in the institution itself. The 117th Congress has the lowest number of veterans since World War II, while trust in Congress is at all-time lows. I believe the two to be related.

In a country ripped apart by racial and identity politics, there is deep value in having elected officials who share a common American experience and character. Republicans should look to veterans as they work to reclaim Congress. Once elected, all Americans will look to veterans to steer our country on a steady and prudent course.

Al Hoffman Jr. was co-chair of President George W. Bush’s campaign for president and is a former finance chair of the Republican National Committee.

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