The Trumpian rift in the Republican Party has deepened in recent days as allies of one of the GOP’s former presidents and former White House nominees have taken steps to endorse the enemy.
Whether the defections to presumed Democratic nominee Joseph R. Biden are born of dismay over what they see as haphazard leadership in the White House or simply a brimming hatred for President Trump as a person, their endorsement of a lifelong politician who is the antithesis of conservatism is the clearest evidence yet that their Republican Party — the GOP long dominated by the Bushes — no longer exists and likely will never return.
Declaring that Mr. Trump is a danger bigger than politics, scores of former George W. Bush administration officials and political operatives from Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential run are jumping ship to back Mr. Biden’s campaign for higher taxes, more regulation and bigger government.
The Republican National Committee balked at the notion that there was a rift in the party or that the defectors were true Republicans.
“Growing rift? More like growing grift among Never Trumpers,” said RNC spokesman Steve Guest. “Above all else, these political opportunists are solely concerned with making a quick buck. As our polling shows, President Trump has unmatched enthusiasm and support from Republicans.”
From that perspective, the friction isn’t coming from the Trump GOP but from the right side of the Washington swamp.
Still, the scope of the open revolt within the traditional Republican Party establishment is jarring.
As first reported in The Washington Times, dozens of veterans of the Romney 2012 campaign are preparing to make a mass endorsement of Mr. Biden.
Micah Spangler, who was a staffer in southern Florida for the Republican Party during the race, said he has signed up “dozens and dozens” of former campaign operatives to switch sides this year — and he expects to enlist more.
“There’s been an outpouring of support across all sectors of the campaign,” he told The Times.
Eight years ago, they fiercely opposed Mr. Biden as the vice-presidential candidate on the ticket with President Obama.
Mr. Romney, who as a GOP senator from Utah is one of the party’s most outspoken critics of Mr. Trump, has not sanctioned the effort. He also hasn’t disavowed it.
Hundreds of former Bush administration officials, including Cabinet members and senior staff, last week formed a political action committee to boost Mr. Biden.
The super PAC, dubbed 43 Alumni for Biden in a nod to Mr. Bush being the 43rd president, proclaims on its website: “Principles matter more than politics.”
“This November, we are choosing country over party,” Kristopher Purcell, a former Bush administration communications official involved in super PAC, told Reuters.
The split manifests itself on the pro-Trump side.
“We don’t call ourselves Republicans. We call ourselves Trumpicans,” said Annie Marie Delgado, president of Trump Team 2020 Florida, a grassroots group supporting the president that recently canceled its charter from the Florida GOP.
The wave of Bush and Romney defectors hit as Mr. Trump appears increasingly vulnerable while fending off public health and economic disasters.
Most polls have him badly trailing Mr. Biden, including in the election battlegrounds of Pennsylvania, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina and Wisconsin.
The most recent Gallup poll shows his job approval among Republicans has dropped to 85%, though it’s not as low as the 77% among Republicans in December 2017 when his overall approval rating hit 35%, the lowest on record for a sitting president.
The anti-Trump insurgents, though dismissed as turncoats and swamp creatures by the president’s die-hard fans, poses a threat, said Christopher Borick, director of the Institute of Public Opinion at Muhlenberg College in Pennsylvania.
“If these efforts can peel off even a sliver of Republicans that stayed loyal to the party in 2016 but have increasing misgivings about Trump, it can add one more challenge to a campaign that is working with a very small margin of error,” he said. “Biden’s campaign recognizes this and certainly welcomes the assist.”
The GOP defectors followed the lead of the Lincoln Project, a group formed last year by prominent Republicans in Washington to oppose the reelection of Mr. Trump.
They blame Mr. Trump for the divisions in the country and what they call the failure of the U.S. political system.
“President Donald Trump and those who sign onto Trumpism are a clear and present danger to the Constitution and our Republic,” the group declares in its mission statement. “Only defeating so polarizing a character as Trump will allow the country to heal its political and psychological wounds and allow for a new, better path forward for all Americans.”
The Republican anti-Trump forces willfully overlook the president’s wins on the conservative scorecard, including cutting taxes, appointing hundreds of conservative judges, confronting illegal immigration and rebuilding the military, said Ford O’Connell, a GOP strategist closely allied with the White House.
“The fact that they are going to throw that all away out of spite makes you questions whether they are actually conservatives,” he said.
Mr. O’Connell said that beating Mr. Trump in November would not turn back the clock for the Republican Party.
“The party is going to carry forward a lot of the things Trump taught them. The number one thing Trump taught them was to have a backbone. For years, Republicans did not have a backbone,” he said. “They are not getting their party back.”
Indeed, Trump Republicans have rallied behind emerging GOP figures such as Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri and Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, who have taken a page out of the Trump playbook in standing up to the liberal news media.
Mr. O’Connnell said the old school establishment that opposes the president has lost touch with the party’s base.
“Here’s what these people miss and what the Republican grassroots have figured out,” he said, “We can always get a new set of leaders. We can’t get a new set of grassroots. If you ignore your grassroots, you’re ignoring your party to its own political peril.”
Lincoln Project co-founder John Weaver, a veteran GOP political strategist who worked in the George H.W. Bush administration and on John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign, said eliminating Mr. Trump is just the beginning of the fight to retake the party.
“This is like the first season of ‘Night of the Living Dead.’ And if we’re able to dispatch the main zombie of this season into the zombie afterlife, there are other like-minded zombies roaming the body politic in America, like Tom Cotton and Josh Hawley and some of these governors in the South who have done such a poor job in dealing with the pandemic because they didn’t want to anger the president,” he told NPR’s Ari Shapiro.
“So our work is just beginning, but we’re focused on zombie No. 1 right now,” he said.
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