WASHINGTON ― Every day of the Donald Trump campaign seems to bring with it a new article about an establishment Republican whose conscience can’t bear to back the reality TV star.
For those who haven’t made that decision, these relentless news items are starting to smart. Some Washington Republicans wish these folks and their consciences would shut up.
The most recent insult came Monday with a Politico story that began, “Former President George W. Bush’s Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy is the latest high-ranking Republican to announce his support for Hillary Clinton’s White House bid.”
Setting aside where the bar is for a “high-ranking” Republican, the undersecretary in question was James Glassman, the author of Dow 36,000, a 1999 book whose title prediction, to be fair, fell hilariously short. He followed a parade of former officials from both Bush administrations, and some from the Ronald Reagan White House, who’ve all publicly condemned Trump.
Other Republicans think the Never Trumpers are missing the point.
“Our majorities are at stake and there is so much more to being part of the team than voting for the White House,” said Sam Geduldig, a former senior aide to then-Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) and now a lobbyist with the CGCN Group. “I’m certain Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan would prefer that the Never Trump supporters would put more effort into retaining the House and Senate.”
Geduldig hastened to add that his criticism was reserved for the foot soldiers of the Never Trump movement, rather than its financial backers, who have also given generously to the Republican Party.
Before Glassman publicly disparaged the GOP nominee, there came among others Lezlee Westine, director of public liaison in George W. Bush’s White House, and Frank Lavin, who served in the Reagan and both Bush administrations. Former George W. Bush aide Tony Fratto has been particularly outspoken in criticizing Trump.
One establishment Republican, who like Geduldig is a former aide to House GOP leadership, said that many of the defectors had already defected. “Looks like she gave to Obama in 2008,” he said (accurately) of Westine. “Weird, I don’t remember The Washington Post covering her endorsement then.”
Another member of the GOP establishment, who also offered his criticism anonymously, called the public parade of conscience “commercial self-interest masquerading as ideological purity.”
A fourth Washington Republican, who is voting for Trump but doing so quietly, lamented:
“The slick moral preening in the media by former Bushies and NeverTrumpers at bottom reflects their desperate need to be accepted in the liberals’ putative morally superior universe. Thus their public shaming of Trump and his supporters has nothing to do with the Republican Party or conservatism ― the latter of which they know very little, as evidenced by the egregious big-government achievements that they enabled and advanced in the Bush administration. What they really want is to be liked by their enemies. And oh yes: to assure their well-paying clients who may be thinking of cutting them loose that they are on the side of the right and the true. It’s all so pathetic and disgusting.”
That assessment is shared by others around K Street, albeit not for attribution.
“These are mostly self-serving political hacks from an administration (Bush) that was neither conservative nor effective, who are first and foremost concerned about their commercial success in a Clinton administration. This is not about patriotism or conservative principles. It is about impressing their Democratic clients and friends in the liberal media,” said one senior Republican who also plans to vote for Trump, but won’t be writing an op-ed about.
Many of those walking away from Trump were lousy givers anyway, the establishment Republicans complain. Republican strategist Rory Cooper, a Never Trump spokesman, has donated $750 to support GOP candidates over the last five years. Political commentator Bill Kristol has given less than $13,000 since 1998. Fratto, the onetime deputy press secretary turned strategic communications consultant, has contributed roughly $50,000 since leaving the Bush administration.
Fratto said his donations have slowed because he doesn’t want to support an agenda he disagrees with. “I used to give to the party until I couldn’t be sure that they wouldn’t give my money to tea partiers and Freedom Caucus members who wanted to shut down government and oppose immigration reform. Now I give only to candidates who I respect and are interested in responsible policies and growing the party,” he said. “Until the party shows me it’s serious, that’s what I expect to continue to do.”
Cooper, a former spokesman for then-House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), said the focus on monetary contributions misses the point. “This isn’t about donations. This is about what the party stands for. I’ve spent more than 20 years working on Republican campaigns. I’ve done everything I’ve been asked to do, but I’m not gonna support Donald Trump as an accreditation of that service,” he said. “The oppo file on me is pretty thin. Not being a super-wealthy donor is all they’ve got.”
He understands the impulse behind the criticism. “I get the sentiment that party regulars want more support for down-ballot races,” said Cooper. “That is why Never Trump Republicans were warning against a Trump candidacy, because he’d be toxic to the rest of the ticket ― and we are where we are.”
He suggested that maybe those people worried about money should focus on how the Republican National Committee and Trump are spending donors’ cash today. “How much money that is being donated is being wasted on the top of the ticket right now?” he asked. “If we’re really concerned, let’s have the RNC move their resources to the down-ballot races, like the letter I signed said.”
(On Monday, HuffPost reported that with Trump’s bid now largely funded with donor dollars, he has quintupled the rent paid by his campaign to Trump Tower.)
“Frankly, a lot of pissed-off people are trying to find excuses for why they’re not Never Trump Republicans.”
The decision to speak out against Trump is, in the end, a moral one, Fratto said. “I’m not a lobbyist and my business isn’t political or partisan ― these are personal decisions with my own money. I’m under no delusion that my money will make a big difference either way,” he said. “If people can live with themselves supporting Donald Trump, that’s their business. I have to look my kids in the eye and tell them I’m trying to do the right thing, and I’m completely comfortable with that.”
Much of the criticism, Cooper suggested, may be rooted in self-doubt. “Frankly, a lot of pissed-off people are trying to find excuses for why they’re not Never Trump Republicans. They joined the party because they believed in something bigger than themselves,” he said. “After November, there are going to be more Never Trump Republicans than aged hippies claiming to have been at Woodstock.”
The refusal of most of the aggrieved Republicans to go on the record, said Cooper, speaks volumes. “I love a good blind quote ― that’s why I give plenty of them myself,” he said. “You give it because you don’t want that quote to stick with you. I get it ― but, guys, come on.”
Besides, Fratto said, the argument that he’s acting in his own commercial interest has it backward.
“The very best thing for my business would be to have Donald Trump trying to screw up the world,” he said. “It would be the worst thing for the country and for humanity, but make no mistake, it would be really good business.”
Editor’s note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims — 1.6 billion members of an entire religion — from entering the U.S.
CORRECTION: Rory Cooper said “aged hippies claiming to have been at Woodstock,” not “ancient hippies.”