As RINO, I knew Trumpers would win. I didn’t know how they’d make me feel.

I knew when I attended a Missouri GOP presidential caucus gathering last Saturday that I would be in the minority as a Nikki Haley supporter. But nothing prepared me for what I experienced.

Some Republicans are apparently committed to shrinking the party, and are willing to harass other Republicans to do it.

In 2022, state lawmakers in Missouri eliminated the state’s presidential primaries as part of a larger election bill. This left it up to the two political parties to come up with their own procedures on choosing presidential candidates and delegates to their national conventions.

The Missouri GOP decided to hold local, county-level caucuses on March 2. Each candidate was allowed a representative to say a few words and make their case for their candidate.

In other states, such as Iowa, caucus votes are counted by secret ballot. In Missouri, caucus participants were asked to gather in groups to support their candidates.

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While this all sounds reasonable on paper, in person it had a completely different and unnerving gestalt.

As soon as a caucus-goer raised their voice to nominate former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, the crowd erupted in boos. Then former President Donald Trump was nominated and cheers abounded.

It then went from bad to worse.

The caucus chair asked those supporting Haley to come down off the bleachers and gather in the middle of the high school gym floor. The gym became eerily silent for a split second as Trump’s supporters seemed almost surprised that there was anyone in the room who was not there to support Trump.

Then, as the roughly 10% of caucus goers who supported Haley gathered on the gym floor, the boos and jeers started back up. We were called traitors, RINOS (Republicans in Name Only), Democrats, and Communists.

We were then asked to line up two by two — as if we were going to be led somewhere. Our designated speaker got up to the microphone and shared our view of why Haley was the right Republican for this time. The boos intensified.

Haley supporters were not just made to feel unwelcome, but intimidated and fearful. Being called in front of your own neighbors and community members for preferring a different Republican candidate is alarming in a way that I could have never imagined.

Nearly everyone sitting on the bleachers next to one another had gathered together or volunteered with each other in years past at Republican events. Now we were enemies. In fact, the disdain that Trump supporters have for us RINOs seems to go even beyond the animosity they hold towards Democrats. That is saying something.

Again, I was never under any illusion that the current Republican Party is anything but Trump’s party. I just wanted to vote for Nikki Haley.

On the same day as the Missouri GOP caucus, Trump told his supporters at a rally: “We’re getting rid of the Romneys of the world. We want to get Romneys and those out.”

He was referring to Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, Romney’s niece and former Republican National Committee (RNC) Chair Ronna Romney McDaniel and independent-thinking moderates down the line. Romney McDaniel was just replaced by Trump’s daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, as RNC co-chair.

Back in January, the Post-Dispatch’s Austin Huguelet reported that former Senate candidate Mark McCloskey suggested a vetting protocol for all Republican candidates. He called on the St. Louis’ Republican central committee “to make prospective candidates take a test measuring their knowledge of the party platform, to pore through their tax records, legal records and voting history — and then to prohibit anyone who doesn’t score high enough from running as a Republican.”

While the party has yet to formalize any sort of vetting process, it is probably just a matter of time.

There was also the matter of having to sign a pledge of allegiance to the Missouri Republican Party in order to participate in the caucus.

What happened at the caucus is concerning not just because it disenfranchised a number of Republican voters. Nor is it about excluding a faction of the party. Rather, it should frighten all of us that a voter in America can be tormented while voting for a candidate of their choice.

I found myself face to face with the radicalization that has taken place within the Republican Party and it is alarming.

Maya Angelou said, “At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.”

I will not forget how I felt last Saturday morning. I vote — and I will take that memory with me the next time I step into the voting booth.

Schmidt is a Post-Dispatch columnist and Editorial Board member.

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