There’s a revolution happening within the GOP right under our noses.
The latest sign came Sunday, when former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge penned an op-ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer making clear his intent to vote for former Vice President Joe Biden over President Donald Trump in November.
“He lacks the empathy, integrity, intellect and maturity to lead,” Ridge, who also served as the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security in the Bush administration, wrote of Trump.
Ridge joins fellow Bush Cabinet secretaries Christine Todd Whitman (EPA), Ann Veneman (Agriculture), Carlos Gutierrez (Commerce) and Colin Powell (State) as Biden endorsers. Ray LaHood, a former Republican congressman from Illinois, and Chuck Hagel, the former Nebraska Republican senator, both of whom served in the Obama Cabinet, have also backed Biden.
And that’s just Republicans who served in a presidential Cabinet! There are a slew of other prominent GOP elected officials — from former Ohio Gov. John Kasich to former California gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman to 2016 presidential candidate Carly Fiorina to former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder — who are on record as either planning to vote for Biden or leaning in that direction.
Then there are the staffers. That group includes the former chiefs of staff at the Department of Education and Department of Homeland Security in the Trump administration! More than 70 national security officials from various Republican administrations are backing Biden. As are more than 150 alums of the George W. Bush White House.
Trump, has, of course, dismissed all of these people as disgruntled losers — members of the stolid GOP establishment who don’t like the fact that he beat all of them (and their bosses) in 2016.
One example, via tweet, of Trump’s response: “The failed former Governor of Michigan, RINO Rick Snyder, who was responsible for the Flint Water Disaster (and I let him know it!), is now endorsing Sleepy Joe Biden, who doesn’t have a clue!”
And the President and his most loyal allies, rightly, note that he remains extremely popular with the rank-and-file of the Republican Party. His job approval in the latest Gallup tracking poll among Republicans is 92% and has been in the high 80s or low 90s for, basically, the last two years straight. (Trump’s job approval with the entire electorate in Gallup’s latest poll is just 42%.)
Of course, two things can be true at once:
1) Republican voters are still broadly supportive of Trump
2) There is an insurrection within the ranks of prominent past GOP officials (and senior staff) the likes of which we haven’t seen against an incumbent president in a very long time.
And that’s exactly what we are seeing here.
In a typical, aka pre-Trump, election, we would see a handful (at most) of elected officials cross party lines to support the nominee of the other party. Georgia Sen. Zell Miller did so when he backed President George W. Bush and spoke at the 2004 Republican convention. Ditto Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman when he endorsed Sen. John McCain and spoke at the 2008 Republican convention. And Michael Bloomberg when he spoke at the 2016 Democratic National Convention.
So, it happens! But the very fact that we can a) name the people who have done it in the past few elections and b) all of them got prominent speaking slots at the other party’s national convention suggests it’s pretty rare — and something that is treated by a real coup by the other side.
Which brings me to Trump. And the hugely ironic reason that the sheer number of prominent Republicans rebelling from him in this election hasn’t received the attention I think it should: Because there are just so damn many of them.
As in, the storyline feels sort of warmed over now; Republicans defect from Trump, blah blah blah. As opposed to, in past elections, how Lieberman speaking at the Republican convention was seen a major moment for McCain — a testament to his bipartisan appeal. Because there was pretty much just Lieberman. Or just Zell Miller.
For Trump, the raw number of defectors winds up making the coverage more diffuse — and less effective. Ridge here. Powell there. Snyder. Kasich. Seventy(!) former Republican national security officials. It winds up being treated as just more noise when, in fact, it is absolutely ahistorical to see this sort of abandonment of a sitting incumbent by so many high-profile figures within his party.
None of the above means Trump will suffer major defections among Republican base voters. Our politics it too polarized for that. But it does suggest that the roots of a rebellion — especially if Trump loses on November 3 — are already sunk deep in the ground.