Originally Published: The Times-Leader By Christopher Gagin

Ohio’s conservatives and right-leaning independents have a choice to make this fall: Is it better to be loyal or wise? The dictionary tells us “loyal” means, to be “faithful to a cause, ideal, custom, institution, or product.” To be “wise,” on the other hand, means one “characterized by wisdom; marked by deep understanding, keen discernment, and a capacity for sound judgment.”

Yes, I know. If Donald Trump loses in November, Democrats win. And for many of you, that’s enough to remain loyal to a failed presidency simply because whatever else Trump is or isn’t, he’s a Republican and you could never vote for a Democrat.

In 2016, many conservatives decided to support an untested reality TV star and businessman, who said he would govern as a conservative convert, over a career politician with a disagreeable progressive policy agenda and past.

But 2020 is not 2016. In 2020, conservatives now have the consequence of the Trump experiment to consider. And with that experience must come wisdom, not reflexive loyalty.

Is the government smaller under Trump? No. Was Trump on his way to balancing the budget and reducing the national debt prior to the COVID-19 bailout? No. Is the world safer in 2020 than it was in 2016? No. Has manufacturing returned to the U.S. under Trump? No.

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Are we in a trade war with China, in which Americans are forced to pay for Trump’s tariffs? Yes. Has Trump pardoned or commuted his political friends? Yes. Has Trump ever fully accounted for his love of Russian President Putin and authoritarian dictators the world over? No. Is there compelling evidence that Trump has weakened the rule of law to a degree unprecedented in American history? Yes.

Was he impeached? Yes. Is Trump prone to Twitter tantrums and telling untruths? Yes and Yes.

And, in the greatest crisis of his presidency (COVID-19, in which more than 220,000 Americans have died, has Trump failed his test of leadership and put the country’s interests above his own? Yes.

“But Trump is a Republican. And if I don’t vote for him, Biden wins,” you say. “If I vote for anyone other than Trump, I’m not being a loyal Republican, and I’m not sure how I’ll be able to face my friends,” you worry.

These are real and understandable concerns. But real-world worries are the essence of both wisdom and courage. “Courage” is defined as, “mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty.” Most conservatives are loyal by both nature and practice. And in normal times that is laudable.

But these are not normal times. These are dangerous times. These are times that are testing American institutions in ways never before seen. These are truly the times that try men’s (and women’s) souls.

This is why it falls upon Ohio’s conservative voices to restore order. To restore America’s future. To restore the trustworthiness of the American presidency.

Your loyalty must truly be to America first, to its ideals, its values and principles. Those must forever be placed above loyalty to any individual. America needs Ohio’s conservatives and right-leaning independents more than at any time since the Civil War to preserve our Union.

Join us. We are Operation Grant. We are Ohio’s conservative Republicans and right-leaning independents who see our duty to country over party as paramount. We understand that many of you will not be able, or willing, to join us because you value loyalty above all else. And though saddened, we respect your view.

But we welcome and celebrate those courageous enough to allow their wisdom and their recognition of a failed presidency to dictate their vote this November.

Because America needs us now more than ever.

Chris Gagin resigned his post as GOP chairman in Belmont County following President Trump’s 2018 summit with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki. He is a team leader at Operation Grant.

Email rise@operationgrant.org