When lifelong Republican and former Ronald Reagan aide Doug Elmets publicly declared his support for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump, backlash was swift. A longtime mentor called him up to ask: “‘Have you lost your goddamn mind?’” Elmets recalled. There have damaged friendships, even death threats. But there has been an outpouring of enthusiasm as well. “I’ve heard from a lot of Republicans who appreciate that I’m speaking out,” Elmets said. “Many people feel the way I do, that Donald Trump is unhinged and totally unfit to be president.”
A small, but growing, number of Republicans are turning their back on the party’s presidential nominee and rallying around Clinton as the days tick down to the general election. Earlier this week, Representative Richard Hanna of New York broke with his party to become the first sitting Republican member of Congress to announce that he will vote for Clinton over Trump. Republican fundraiser Meg Whitman came forward to say that she too will support Clinton—personally and monetarily—in order to defeat Trump.
There may be more defections ahead. “People are starting to panic,” said Ben Howe, a contributing editor at the conservative website RedState who tweeted#ImWithHer the day Ted Cruz dropped out of the race and effectively handed the Republican nomination to Trump. “People want to make sure their voices are heard in opposition to Trump before it’s too late,” Howe said. “It’s becoming a Titanic situation, where everyone wants to grab a lifeboat.”
Republicans who can’t stand Trump face a difficult choice. If they publicly denounce him and go so far as to say they want Clinton to win, they risk retaliation from within the ranks of their own party. If they stay silent, they will have to live with the consequences and very likely their own guilty consciences. Elected officials have taken to saying things that sound strange and contradictory as a way of navigating that challenge. House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have committed to supporting Trump, though they have also attempted to distance themselves from him—weakly opposing offensive episodes of the candidate’s own making without actually disavowing Trump himself.
It’s a strategy that risks damaging the credibility of anyone who pursues it—that is, if the credibility of Republican leaders has not already been irrevocably damaged. “There’s no way to lie down with somebody like Trump without getting fleas,” said Max Boot, a former foreign-policy adviser to Marco Rubio, Mitt Romney, and John McCain who has said he will vote for Clinton. “Being associated with him, I think, will do long-term damage to the Republican Party and to individual Republicans who have endorsed him.”
“The vast majority of Republicans in elected office are weak-kneed,” Elmets said. “That includes Speaker Ryan and Mitch McConnell, who are acting as if Donald Trump is simply an out-of-control toddler rather than potentially the next president of the United States.”
Conservative resistance to Trump, and the mixed reaction of scorn and admiration it has provoked from within the ranks of the Republican Party, is testament to the tumult on the political right. There will always be partisans who don’t want to fall in line behind their party’s presidential candidate. But the extent to which prominent Republicans are condemning Trump, and making clear that they would rather see Clinton win instead, is remarkable.
Read the full report at The Atlantic