Chris Vance’s New Book: Battle Cry for Republican Revolt


Chris Vance wants to take back the Republican Party from the followers of Donald Trump. To that end, he has written a partisan book. I just voted for Chris Christie in the Republican primary, so it will be no surprise that I agree with a good deal of it.

Vance is the most outspoken Never Trumper among Washington Republicans. Or former Republicans, since he publicly resigned from the party a few years ago. He was, he writes, “immersed in the GOP from 1980 to 2017” — the year after he lost his race for Patty Murray’s Senate seat. He was, at various times, a state representative, a member of the King County Council and, crucially, state party chairman from 2001 to 2006. By his account, the party began going wrong the next year, 2007.

His self-published book, The Fall of a Shining City ($11.95 on Amazon) argues that “Trump and his supporters have changed the ideology of the Republican Party.” The Trump Republicans oppose free trade. Trumpers oppose reform of Social Security and Medicare, and they don’t care about the federal debt. They oppose aid to Ukraine and, many of them, also NATO. And they believe Trump’s claim that Joe Biden won the election of 2020 by fraud.

The Republican Party has changed many times before. In the 1970s, Ronald Reagan’s supporters waged huge interparty battles — in this state, against the Dan Evans Republicans. In his book, Vance downplays that fight. I called him and asked him about this omission. He replied that the differences then were not all that great. The proof of it, he says, is that the Evans people — John Spellman, Sam Reed, Ralph Munro, and Slade Gorton — stayed in the party. They were not cast out or booed on the podium by party activists.

Today is different.

Vance recalls his campaign for U.S. Senate in 2016, the year Trump was elected. At the convention of the Spokane County Republicans, he made a partisan speech attacking Sen. Patty Murray, the Democratic incumbent. He got a standing ovation, which might be expected in a room full of Republicans. Then the Trump supporter making a primary challenge to U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers gave a speech denouncing her as a RINO — a Republican In Name Only — and the crowd gave him a standing ovation. To Vance, that was a shock.

Vance had been talking to Republican groups for years. The Trump people were different — “older, angrier and more working-class.” In Clark County, a Republican crowd demanded that Vance promise that if elected to the Senate, Vance would not vote for Mitch McConnell for Senate majority leader. At a meeting of Republican women in Eastern Washington, Vance says he realized that “I was the only one in the room who did not regard Islam as a cult and did not want to deport all Muslims.”

The change in the party had not happened all at once. The Tea Party had been part of it, pre-Trump. The birthers, who asserted with a tone of certitude that Barack Obama had been born in Kenya, had been part of it, and Donald Trump’s fans had been a part of it. The party had always had some people like that, but they weren’t calling the shots. Now they were. “A dangerous strain of nationalist populism had taken over our party,” Vance writes.

The year Vance ran for Senate, 2016, was also when the party ran Bill Bryant for governor. Bryant was an elected Port of Seattle commissioner. He was also a Seattle businessman who owned a foreign-trade consultancy. Bryant was nothing like Trump. Speaking to City Club in December 2015, when he had already announced for governor, Bryant declared that Trump is “unfit to be president, if he believes what he says.” But it frustrated Vance that during Bryant’s campaign for governor, Bryant did not continue to denounce the goofball at the head of the Republican ticket.

I asked Bryant about that, to which he said, “I didn’t want to talk about Trump because it was all Jay [Inslee] wanted to talk about.” It was also what the news media wanted to talk about, not state government issues such as education and highways. And if the election was going to be about Trump, Bryant figured, he would lose. As it turned out, the election was about Trump, and Bryant did lose.

Bryant clearly had the experience and skills to be an effective governor, whether you agreed with him. Four years later, the Republican Party selected as its nominee Loren Culp, who Vance describes as “the police chief of a tiny town in a remote area of eastern Washington who had never run for office and had never graduated from high school.”

Vance’s book — which is not a large one — makes a case for free-market, pro-defense conservatives to either take back the Republican Party or to start a new one. Vance was involved in several efforts to start a centrist, non-ideological party and gave up on the idea. “Running candidates with no discernable ideology does not work,” he writes. “Politics is about ideas, and parties form around those ideas.”

Vance is not a centrist, anyway. He’s a conservative. His choice is for people like him to create “a branded, dissident faction within the Republican Party” to rise up and push the Trumpists aside. He’s always had an appetite for battle.

“MAGA Republicans,” he writes, “believe they are fighting to defend America itself — an America based on the Bible and traditional American patriotism — and so every issue becomes part of the culture war. Legalized abortion and same-sex marriage, athletes kneeling during the national anthem, increased immigration, gun control, talk of democratic socialism and institutional racism, even how we greet each other during the holidays — these are not just issues to be debated but existential threats to ‘America.’”

Vance believes that the Trumpists are wrong about many of these things. His political argument is that electing Trump and his minions to office will not roll back the cultural changes of the past 50 years — and in the Evergreen State, political candidates who vow to do that will lose. “Trump was and is anathema in Washington state,” Vance writes. “No one who supports him, or even fails to actively oppose him, can get elected statewide.”

Taking over a political party is hard. Political parties are not controlled by their officials. “Ultimately,” Vance writes, “primary elections determine the direction of a political party.” Political change requires leaders to inspire the troops, but it’s the troops that storm the castle. That is how the Trump people won.

Vance argues that the losers in that war need to do the same. By writing this book, he is essentially offering himself as a potential candidate for statewide office in 2028. (“It’s too late for 2024,” says Vance, who will vote for Biden, again.)

Bill Bryant is more open to creating a new party. It has been done, though it was long ago. In 1912, Washington cast its electoral votes for Teddy Roosevelt’s Progressive Party, and in 1896 it elected a governor, John Rogers, of the People’s Party. (Puyallup has a high school named after him.) At many other times, there has been talk of a new political party, but talk is cheap. Creating a new party isn’t.

Either of these plans — a party takeover or a new party — requires money and leadership. Money is the easier problem. Finding leaders is hard, since they burn bridges that way. Somebody has to do it — and so far, they have not.

In my interview, Vance lamented that so many of the Republicans he knew have given up on politics. “They’ve left to go make money,” he said. On that matter, Bryant, who sold his company and is now living in the Methow Valley, agrees. “The middle ground is full of people who really don’t like politics,” he says. “They have lives. Politics is unseemly.”

But if you leave politics to the zealots, you get political parties championing the pissed-off. That problem is not confined to the Republican Party — the old-line Democrats have their arguments with the Pramila Jayapal progressives — but the GOP is the party Vance cares about.

“And right now,” he says, “there’s only one litmus test: Are you loyal to the Orange Jesus?”


Bruce Ramsey
Bruce Ramsey
Bruce Ramsey was a business reporter and columnist for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer in the 1980s and 1990s and from 2000 to his retirement in 2013 was an editorial writer and columnist for the Seattle Times. He is the author of The Panic of 1893: The Untold Story of Washington State’s first Depression, and is at work on a history of Seattle in the 1930s. He lives in Seattle with his wife, Anne.


  1. As I wrote, Nikki Haley could reshape the Republican Party’s landscape more than any other politician. She has the fortitude and the message that can attract Rs disaffected with Trump to vote for her as an ardent conservative; one representing the values that Chris notes that Trump has rejected.
    It would have been a mistake for Haley to run with a Democrat. She needs to offer herself as an alternative to the Democrats. That message will allow Republicans to cast a vote for her as a protest-vote against the MAGA wing of their party.
    Haley will not win any electoral votes, but her campaign could contribute to a Trump loss, which would not be bad for the party. It’s not that Biden’s winning is bad for the Republicans; it’s Trump’s winning that will lead to their party becoming weaker and going down a dead end.
    That has been Haley’s message. By getting between 20 and 40% of Republican primary votes, she has demonstrated that those Never Trumpers can play a role similar to the House Freedom Caucus. They can disrupt the normal course of events to gain leverage.

  2. But the key was that transition from the Evans era to the Reagan era. The character of the party wasn’t transformed to its current state overnight, but the trajectory starts there. Reagan begat Gingrich, etc. The real Reagan Republican has to take the whole bag – a little neoliberal dogma isn’t enough to sell to voters, without the denial and cultural atavism. Is Vance really ready to go all the way back to the Evans standard? I doubt that!

    • Yes. And it all started with the effort to repeal the New Deal beginning seriously in 1961 with the hiring of F Clifton White by a group of proto-MAGA billionaires intent on deregulating and cutting taxes. White captured Washington’s Republican Party in 1962 and no one has seriously challenged their victory. Bill Bryant’s right: until “regular folks” conclude politics important, we are condemned to the tyranny of the crazy fringe duopoly of the MAGA and woke.


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