The Pulse: The end of the GOP affair

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Donald Trump , the front-runner in the GOP presidential primary, has fired up voters who are for him and against him.

Well, that didn't last long. My remarriage to the GOP is soon to end. So short was my stay that I am thinking annulment is a more apt description than divorce.

I rejoined the GOP just a month ago because the thought of sitting out this high-stakes presidential cycle with no say in a closed primary state due to my "no-affiliation" registration was unbearable. It was a homecoming of sorts. I was an active member of the Pennsylvania GOP from 1980 through 2010, having first registered at a time when Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush were still competing for the party nomination. After meeting them both on the campaign trail, first Bush at Our Lady of Czestochowa Shrine in Doylestown and then Reagan in the Italian Market in Philadelphia, I had a real dilemma in deciding for whom to cast my first presidential ballot because I revered each.

So enthused was I after first registering to vote that I volunteered locally to be an assistant Republican committeeman in my Doylestown Borough neighborhood. I'd stand at the Mount Carmel Church on Election Day from 7 a.m. till 8 p.m. handing out sample ballots with my GOP elder, Robert O. Baldi, then a young lawyer and now a Bucks County judge. Collegiality reigned. Judi Fonash, who was married to Bucks County Commissioner Carl Fonash, was our Democratic counterpart. We enjoyed one another's company while passing the hours, and I remember her sharing her lunch on more than one occasion.

When I was 22, I was elected countywide as an alternate delegate to the Republican National Convention in Dallas. Two years later, I ran unsuccessfully as a GOP candidate for the state House. And at age 29, I was appointed by the Bush 41 administration to run the Department of Housing and Urban Development in five states plus the District of Columbia.

Reagan, Bush, Bob Dole, George W. Bush. I voted for them all. Thirty-six years have passed since I first registered, but ideologically speaking, it was light years ago. Arlen Specter was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1980, joining John Heinz in the Pennsylvania delegation. Among their Republican colleagues in the Senate were moderates like Alan Simpson, Bob Packwood, Nancy Kassebaum, and Ted Stevens. A full 60 percent of the Senate consisted of moderates, according to the National Journal.

Then, in 2008, for reasons having mostly to do with my belief that the George W. Bush administration was fighting the war against radical Islam with too much bravado and not enough smarts, I broke with the party and voted for a Democrat at the top of the ticket. It was a decision made easy when Barack Obama told me that if he found Osama bin Laden in Pakistan he would violate its sovereignty in order to kill him. Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton ridiculed that opinion when he said it. (In 2011, they sat at his elbow while he did just that.)

As the GOP continued to succumb to religious dominance on social issues, I finally departed in 2010, and changed my registration to nonaffiliate, Pennsylvania's version of independent. Becoming a Democrat was, and remains, a bridge too far for me.

But this cycle brought me temporarily back into the fold to vote in good conscience for the only adult standing on stage in the mold of those who initially attracted me to the party. I was so eager to vote again in a primary election that I arrived at my polling place at 6:50 a.m. and was immensely disappointed not to be first in line. (Karl Rosenfeld, an orthopedist who practices in Paoli, won those honors.)

I knew in advance from the polling that Donald Trump would win statewide, but the breadth of his victory in the Philadelphia suburbs came as yet another Trump surprise. His margin over John Kasich was 31,216 in Bucks, 20,216 in Montco, 19,375 in Delco, and 11,722 in Chester. Kasich did win my home of Lower Merion Township, the historic Gold Coast of Pennsylvania establishment Republicanism, proving that its wisdom has fallen out of touch with the rest of the commonwealth.

I think one explanation for Trump's success is the exodus of moderates from the GOP. Whatever the reason, it appears many are engaged on a fool's errand. According to a CNN poll, nationally, 73 percent of women view Trump unfavorably and 22 percent of Pennsylvania Republicans told exit surveyors last week they will not vote for Trump. If that holds, it will be a tripling of the percentage who abandoned their party nominee in 2012, and so Trump remains an underdog against Hillary Clinton, despite her own significant negatives. Others see what's coming the same way.

Three days before the primary election, I interviewed former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, the nation's first secretary of homeland security, for CNN. I asked him if he could envision a day when at the airport in Erie, which now bears his name, he will embrace the candidacy of Trump with arms jointly raised?

"There's just nothing there for me," he replied. "I will tell you, candidly, he hasn't taken criticism very well. He builds himself up by knocking other people down. He disrespected my fellow veterans who are POWs, not just when he knocked [John] McCain, but we've had thousands and thousands of POWs.

"How the hell can he be a commander-in-chief when he says POWs are not heroes? And then you've got that whole Muslim thing - all Muslims are potential terrorists. I don't know whether it's public or private - maybe he's a chameleon. But what I see I don't like and I can't support him."

Michael Smerconish can be heard from 9 a.m. to noon on SiriusXM's POTUS Channel 124 and seen hosting "Smerconish" at 9 a.m. Saturdays on CNN.