Jun 7, 2020 - Politics & Policy

GOP leaders of the past decline to say whether they'll vote for Trump

Trump and Paul Ryan

Trump with Paul Ryan in 2018. Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

A number of prominent Republicans and military officials are wavering on whether to support the president's re-election in November, the New York Times reports.

The big picture: Some legacy figures in the Republican Party are reportedly weighing how public to be about their opposition to Trump, especially in the wake of blistering criticism from former Defense Secretary James Mattis and other respected military officers about the president's handling of the George Floyd protests.

  • Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), one of Joe Biden's closest allies in Congress, told the Times: “I’ve had five conversations with senators who tell me they are really struggling with supporting Trump."
  • Biden reportedly intends to roll out a "Republicans for Biden” coalition later in the campaign, eager to win support from across the aisle ahead of November.

What they're saying:

  • Former President George W. Bush will not support Trump's re-election, while his brother Jeb Bush has not yet made a decision on how to vote, the Times reports, citing people familiar with their thinking.
  • Former House Speakers Paul Ryan and John Boehner declined to say how they will vote, as did former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell said on CNN's "State of the Union" Sunday that he will be voting for Biden.
  • Rep. Francis Rooney (R-Fla.), who is not seeking re-election, says he is considering voting for Biden because Trump is "driving us all crazy” and has mishandled the U.S. response to the coronavirus.
  • Prominent anti-Trump Republicans like former Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and former Rep. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.) believe Trump is a threat to the stability of the country. "For people who were long waiting for that pivot, the last week has shown, if anything, he’s dug in and not even making an attempt to appeal to anybody outside his hard base,” Flake said.
  • A spokesperson for former Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told the Times that "ultimately he remains a loyal Republican but he believes the American people will decide on Nov. 3."

A number of military leaders, including some who served in the Trump administration, have backed Mattis' blunt assessment last week that the president is a threat to the Constitution.

  • Trump's former chief of staff John Kelly, a retired four-star general, defended Mattis against the president's attacks last week. He would not say who he would vote for, but told the Times that he wished "we had some additional choices."
  • Former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairmen Mike Mullen and Martin Dempsey both condemned Trump's threat to use military forces to quell protests last week.
  • Trump's former acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire told the Times: “Jim Mattis, Mike Mullen and Marty Dempsey are all good friends, and I respect them tremendously. I am in alignment with their views.”
  • Retired Adm. William McRaven, who directed the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, told the Times that Trump has shown "he doesn’t have the qualities necessary to be a good commander in chief," and called for "new leadership" this fall.

The other side: Trump has consistently maintained an approval rating within the Republican Party of more than 90%, according to Gallup. He also enjoys strong support from Republicans currently in Congress, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.)


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