Last week, eight elected officials in Mississippi switched to the Republican Party after running in the 2019 election cycle as Democrats or independents. When asked about his choice to defect from the Democratic Party, Matt Sullivan, the 13th Circuit Court District Attorney and a self-proclaimed conservative, said, “It’s a new day in Mississippi, and I believe the Republican party is growing, and there’s a place in the Republican party for people like me.” While these officials frame their post-election change of party loyalty as a matter of ideology, I suspect that old-fashioned political self-preservation is really responsible for this “change of heart.”
Praising the new members of the Republican Party at the induction ceremony, Governor Tate Reeves remarked, “We are in a scenario in this country where you can choose to be a member of the party led by Donald J. Trump or you can choose to be a member of the socialist Democratic party led by Bernie Sanders.” In a state this deeply red, the deep divisions between the two major parties at the national level foreshadow a bleak future for Democrats competing in Mississippi’s local elections.
Although President Trump’s approval rating in Mississippi has dropped 20% since his inauguration, he still maintains a 55% approval rating in the state and a 91% approval rating with all rural voters nationwide. If these newly elected officials are primarily concerned about reelection, then they likely made the right choice in joining the GOP bandwagon.
However, this pragmatic choice seems to contradict the conservative label that these party-switchers claim. Conservatives are more likely than liberals to emphasize loyalty as one of their foundational values. Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist at the New York University Stern School of Business, finds that conservatives are less likely than liberals to compromise these moral foundations, even when offered large sums of money. Why, then, would the GOP be so excited to welcome turn-coats into their party? Maybe loyalty is not valuable in and of itself. Perhaps, loyalty is only desirable when it benefits us directly.
I should be clear: I have no problem with a politician changing parties. I will never advocate blind party loyalty. If a politician finds that her party no longer aligns with her personal beliefs, she should change to the party that better represents her ideology. However, this change in party affiliation should take place before the election cycle. To only use the Democratic label to achieve electoral victory is misleading at best and fraudulent at worst.
These eight politicians may be following their personal convictions in changing parties, but it seems unlikely to me that they just now discovered that the Republican Party is more conservative than the Democratic Party. Most students who complete a basic government course are privy to this bit of trivia. Instead, these officials asked for the support of Democratic and independent voters, who in good faith believed they were supporting a candidate who shared their party identification and policy preferences, only to abandon these constituents after taking office. Regardless of partisanship, I think that all Mississippians should be able to see this as a gross violation of voters’ trust.
Amy Cain is a senior philosophy and political science major from Southaven.