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Why Democratic Voters Would Never Accept Republican Defectors

Recently, a Tory left his U.K. party to join Labour. That’s something that could probably never happen here, and here’s why.

Nikki Haley looks off camera
Sean Rayford/Getty Images
Nikki Haley announced on March 6 that she was suspending her campaign for the Republican presidential nomination.

Last week, Dan Poulter, a Conservative Party member of Great Britain’s Parliament, abandoned the Tories to become a member of the Labour Party. In 2022, Christian Wakeford similarly left the Tories to join Labour, the equivalent of an American Republican member of Congress being welcomed into the Democratic Party.

The last Republican member of Congress who became a Democrat was New York’s Michael Forbes, who made the switch more than two decades ago in 1999. Democrats in his district overwhelmingly rejected him in the 2000 election: Although he raised and spent $1.4 million to hold his seat, he was defeated by a 71-year-old librarian who’d raised and spent a mere $40,000.

Why would it be that in Great Britain, Conservative members of Parliament are welcomed into the Labour Party, but here in the U.S. it’s almost impossible for a Republican to successfully become a Democrat?

Turns out, there’s a reason. British Conservatives and American Republicans are qualitatively different: The British equivalent of our Supreme Court never legalized political bribery.

Because corrupt Republicans on the court legalized political bribery, most recently with Citizens United, we have:

— Republicans who take money from the NRA and gun manufacturers blocking an assault weapon ban and pushing for more guns in our communities and schools.
— Republicans who take money from the fossil fuel industry denying climate change and sabotaging efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
— Republicans who take money from the pharma industry fighting Joe Biden’s efforts to allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices while fighting to protect the industry’s obscene profits.
— Republicans who take money from the for-profit health insurance industry obstructing all efforts to create a national single-payer system that would save Americans as much as half of what we spend on health care.
— Republicans who take money from billionaires fighting to protect Ronald Reagan’s, George W. Bush’s, and Donald Trump’s multitrillion-dollar tax cuts and now arguing for more gifts to the morbidly rich.
— Republicans who take money from the banking industry preventing even one single banker from going to prison when it crashed the U.S. economy during the last year of George W. Bush’s administration, despite massive evidence of fraud.
— Republicans who take money from the tobacco and alcohol industries fighting decriminalization of marijuana at the federal level.
— Republicans who take money from the lending industry preventing students from declaring bankruptcy on student debt.

In the United Kingdom, the Conservative Party—while still hewing to neoliberalism and austerity politics—hasn’t been completely corrupted because there are still enforceable limits on campaign spending in the U.K. A political party can’t spend more than 54,010 pounds ($67,623) for each individual constituency (like a congressional district here), and an individual candidate can’t spend more than 49,000 pounds in the 55 months leading up to the next election.

The result is that British members of Parliament are more generally forced to respond to constituents and voters instead of billionaires and Britain’s largest corporations. A Cabinet member in the Conservative government of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, for example, just came out this weekend bragging about how they’d increased spending for the National Health Service.

When a Conservative member of Parliament in the U.K. defects to Labour, while there is usually a policy clash on a couple of issues, few people would consider that former Tory to be so corrupt that he’d be considered a bribe-taking criminal. By contrast, Democratic voters looking at a Republican who’s taken millions in cash from the industries mentioned above are unlikely to forgive the obvious corruption.

This is not to say there aren’t any corrupt Democrats: The so-called “Problem Solvers” are probably the best example of on-the-take Democrats who think they have to use the loopholes the Supreme Court has created in our campaign laws to win elections. But they’re increasingly the outliers in the Democratic Party, and there’s no equivalent in the GOP to the Congressional Progressive Caucus, with almost a hundred Democratic members who pledge not to take corporate PAC money.

Democratic voters won’t accept Republican defectors, in other words, because they don’t want career criminals in their midst.

After all, who goes along with children being torn from the arms of their nursing mothers and then trafficked into the red state kids-for-sale marketplace like Trump did (almost a thousand are still missing)?

What patriotic American would want a politician representing them who supported Trump’s traitorous burning of a spy by giving him to the Russian ambassador during his first weeks in office? Or dissing our intelligence services in front of Putin in Helsinki?

Who’d want to vote for a former Republican who kept silent while Trump’s incompetence and malice caused over a half-million Americans to unnecessarily die in the pandemic and then tried to overthrow the American government to stay in power when he lost the 2020 election?  

This corruption of the Republican Party wasn’t an overnight affair: I’ve written two books about its history. Unequal Protection: How Corporations Became “People” tells the story of how the origins of the corporate personhood scam found their roots in the headnote of an 1886 Supreme Court case; The Hidden History of the Supreme Court and the Betrayal of America covers, among other things, how Republicans on the court legalized political bribery for Congress and themselves in a series of corrupt decisions from the 1970s to today.

Republicans on the court have been pushing their bizarre idea that bribes by the morbidly rich and giant corporations are actually “First Amendment–protected free speech” for five decades now, and the result has been that Dwight Eisenhower’s GOP has degenerated into a corrupt neofascist movement animated by billionaire money. No other developed democracy in the world tolerates anything like this.

Thanks to brilliant reporting from ProPublica, we now know that Republican members of the court themselves have been on the take at least since the 1990s, when Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas first reached out to and hooked up with their and Ginni Thomas’s sugar daddies. The Thomases have since taken millions in gifts, trips, and bribes from wealthy men with interests before the court.

Thomas then became the deciding vote to hand the 2000 election to George W. Bush (even though Al Gore got 40,000 more votes in Florida) and the deciding vote to legalize political bribery (even by foreigners) in Citizens United. The billionaires then got their money’s worth, what with Bush’s and Trump’s massive tax cuts, climate change denial, and deregulation efforts.

While political hyperbole may argue otherwise, there are no members of the U.K.’s Conservative Party who are openly arguing for an end to the British democracy; here in America about half of the GOP voted to overturn the 2020 election and, just this month, openly voted with Vladimir Putin to deny Ukraine defensive weaponry.

While there are members of the British Tories who’ve worked for years to try to privatize parts of that nation’s National Health Service, none will openly call for a complete end to the socialist government-owned hospitals and doctors’ offices. Here in America, the Republican legislatures and governors of 11 states are still preventing Medicaid expansion that would give health care to the working poor.

There are no Tories in the U.K. who want their nation flooded with guns, who want to deny their constituents health care, or who want to surrender Europe to Putin. But America is now infested with Republicans pushing those same positions on behalf of billionaires and industries who profit from the death of our children.

Republicans on the Supreme Court—particularly Lewis Powell, who authored the 1978 Bellotti decision that said corporations are “persons” who are entitled to bribe politicians—laid the foundation for the corruption of American politics, and Republicans eagerly jumped at the opportunity.

Now they’re working to end our form of government altogether, installing a billionaire-friendly strongman oligarchy in its place. Spread the word.