Jimmy LaSalvia has always identified himself as a conservative, but in 2014, the influential consultant and party activist officially left the Republican Party. His memoir, No Hope: Why I Left the GOP (and You Should Too) recounts his history with the party, his frustration with its outmoded cultural attitudes and reflexive partisanship, and his fateful decision to finally switch his voter registration to "No Party."
In an interview for IVN, LaSalvia explained that the purpose of his book, which is being released in stores and online Tuesday, is to provide a personal account of his experience of "trying to fit into our two-party system" so that others can relate to it.
Like many independents, LaSalvia started his political journey by joining one of the major parties. As a 21-year-old, he writes in his book, he attended the 1992 Republican National Convention. Despite knowing he was gay, he recalls cheering, “Family rights forever, gay rights never!” when Pat Buchanan delivered his famous culture war speech, because "that’s what everyone else was doing."
For years, LaSalvia was a true team player. He writes that while he never lied about his beliefs, he instead "turned up the volume on some things, and turned down the volume on others." He downplayed his support for marriage equality, for instance, because he did not want to stray too far from Republican orthodoxy.
Rather than abandon the party over its stances on social issues, LaSalvia spent years trying to reform it from the inside. In 2004, he founded the Kentucky chapter of the Log Cabin Republicans, an organization dedicated to expanding LGBT rights.In 2009, he and Chris Barron co-founded GOProud (pronounced "go proud"). This organization, which disbanded in 2014, carved out a definitive space for gays in the conservative movement. Through its controversial and contested sponsorship of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) and its recruitment of cultural and political celebrities to speak at events like Homocon, for example, GOProud confronted and pushed back against the bigotry of those whom LaSalvia unapologetically refers to as "the crazies" inside the Republican Party. (Readers can count on enjoying LaSalvia's colorful descriptions of many public and private encounters and his candid portrayal of figures in the Republican Party, including presidential candidates like Rick Santorum, Rand Paul, Carly Fiorina, and even a nervous Donald Trump.)
GOProud supported Mitt Romney for president in 2012, hoping to have a working relationship with Romney if he had taken the White House. Yet, as LaSalvia writes, the Romney team was not a requiting partner: the campaign kept GOProud at a distance, and LaSalvia watched with dismay as Romney addressed a crowd at the late Jerry Falwell's evangelical Liberty University – "the mother ship of the anti-gay industry."
"I watched the speech on television and it was clear that he was with his people there at Liberty," LaSalvia writes, "and his people didn’t like my people."
By that November, LaSalvia had enough. Instead of supporting Mitt Romney, he voted for the Libertarian Party candidate, Gary Johnson.
"That taste of independence I experienced with my vote showed me that...I had compromised myself when I supported the 'lesser of two evils candidates' with whom I had major disagreements," he writes. "My vote earlier that day was my first experience of 100% true authenticity in politics. That action taken in the privacy of the voting booth was the most significant thing I had ever done in politics."
His final break with the Republican Party occurred when he switched his voter registration to "No Party." In a 294-word blog post, he explained that while he is "every bit as conservative" as he always has been, he just couldn't stand to "carry the Republican label any longer."
But this announcement by no means marked the end of his political career. As LaSalvia writes in the introduction to his book, "I have decided to focus my efforts going forward on bringing reforms to the closed two party system, so that everyone’s point of view can be represented in American politics, without having to be a part of one of the two major political parties."
LaSalvia has lots of ideas for how to make the political process more inclusive and representative, including implementing nonpartisan and open primaries, easing ballot access restrictions, and experimenting with other innovative reforms like ranked choice voting.
"I don’t think any reasonable reform proposal should be off the table," he writes.
But LaSalvia believes that before these institutional and political changes can occur, citizens will need to first reject the two-party system on their own.
“You just can’t change culture through government action," he said in the interview.
That's why LaSalvia founded the organization, Normal Nation, whose goal is to bring together voters who do not feel at home in either major party.
The name comes from a casual conversation at a dinner party, when he and a few others were discussing their frustrations with the two parties. They struggled to define their political identification: what should they call people who believe in fiscal responsibility, a strong national defense, and personal freedom, they wondered.
"We couldn’t even decide what to call ourselves," he writes. "Conservatives? Moderates? Liberals? Libertarians? Pragmatists?"
That's when a woman chimed in with, "Normal people."
Through Normal Nation, LaSalvia aspires to help lead this cultural movement against the two-party system by supporting "free-market reforms to the political process to enable more participation by voters, like us, who choose not to join a political party."
As part of this cultural movement, LaSalvia encourages citizens to speak up and share the stories of their own political independence. While it might be a simple contribution, LaSalvia believes it is an important first step that independents can take to raise awareness about the desire – and need – for the political process to open up.
As LaSalvia says, "Change starts with one."