“You would vote for the devil if he were a Democrat, wouldn’t you?”

Thus begins an old story that makes fun of an old-time party-loyal, “yellow-dog” Democrat. His friend was teasing him about his unwillingness ever to stray from his party’s candidates even if they were obviously unsuited to hold public office.

“Well,” the yellow-dog responded after thinking it over, “I wouldn’t vote for the devil in the primary.”

That yellow-dog faced a dilemma, choosing between party loyalty and a moral obligation to withhold support from his party’s unworthy candidate.

He justified his reluctant decision to vote for the devil by asserting that he wouldn’t vote for him in the primary.

Sounds like some Republicans this year are grappling with a similar challenge, and like the yellow-dog, coming down on the side of party loyalty.

“Well,” they say, “I didn’t vote for Trump in the primaries. But now he is our nominee.”

In a recent column, The New York Times’ Thomas Friedman called out Republican leaders Paul Ryan, John McCain, Marco Rubio and Chris Christie for “being so willing to throw their support behind a presidential candidate whom they know is utterly ignorant of policy, has done no homework, has engaged in racist attacks on a sitting judge, has mocked a disabled reporter, has impugned an entire religious community, and has tossed off ignorant proposals for walls, for letting allies go it alone and go nuclear and for overturning trade treaties, rules of war and nuclear agreements in ways that would be wildly destabilizing if he took office.”

Friedman wrote that Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham was right when he said that there has to be a time “when the love of country will trump hatred of Hillary.”

What claim do our political parties have on their supporters? Does party loyalty require support for each and every one of our party’s candidates?

I don’t think so.

In fact, the power and organizational strength of political parties might be overrated.

Remember what Will Rogers said. “I am not a member of any organized political party. I am a Democrat.”

A politically savvy friend told me once that political parties are good for only one thing. “You need them,” he said, “to get your name on the ballot. That’s about all they’ll do for you.”

He made a fair point by emphasizing that the candidate, not the party, usually has to organize and secure financing for a successful campaign.

But political parties play a critical role in our system of government by bringing people together around a set of important principles.

For instance, Friedman asserts that America needs a center-right party that will “offer market-based solutions to issues like climate change…support common-sense gun laws…support common-sense fiscal policy…support both free trade and aid to workers impacted by it [and] appreciate how much more complicated foreign policy is today, when you have to manage weak and collapsing nations, not just muscle strong ones.”

This sounds like a statement of traditional core Republican principles. But Friedman says they have been abandoned. He writes, “Today’s Republican Party is to governing what Trump University is to education--an ethically challenged enterprise that enriches and perpetuates itself by shedding all pretense of standing for real principles.”

Those loyal Republicans who want to preserve and revive their party as a vehicle for supporting its traditional bedrock principles face complicated challenges in the coming months and years. Their decision about whether or not to support their party’s presidential candidate is an important one, but there will be others.

Their choices and dilemmas would gain sympathy even from that old yellow-dog wrestling with having the devil on his party’s ticket.