For months, Donald Trump’s rise in the Republican Party silenced conservative elites.
Unable to go against the public, yet weary of his bombast and seemingly lose party allegiance, traditional Republicans largely stayed out of primary politics.
But with every new controversy, more and more high-profile Republicans are breaking their silence: They cannot and will not vote for Trump in November.
The release of a hot mic recording from 2005 in which Trump brags about groping women without their consent prompted the latest wave of prominent Republicans distancing themselves from the Republican nominee.
In 24 hours, more than 40 Republican politicians said they would not be supporting Trump in November, including Ohio Gov. John Kasich, New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte, Rep. Barbara Comstock of Virginia, among others. Since then, former Secretary of State Colin Powell has also said he will not be supporting Trump.
Speculation that Trump would “change” for the general election proved improbable after the Republican and Democratic conventions. Republicans hoping for some semblance of party unity, the Paul Ryans and Mitch McConnells, still find themselves condemning Trump’s inflammatory comments. For others, denouncing Trump isn’t enough.
“I’ve long had concerns with Donald Trump that go beyond his temperament,” Kasich said in a statement after the hot mic recording was released. “It’s clear that he hasn’t changed and has no interest in doing so. As a result, Donald Trump is a man I cannot and should not support…it was been an accumulation of his words and actions that many been warning about.”
While Kasich did not make clear who he would be voting for in November, other Republicans like Powell and Rep. Richard Hanna (R-NY) have. They will be voting for Hillary Clinton instead. Others — like Ayotte, say they will be writing in Gov. Mike Pence, Trump’s running-mate, on the ballot.
Jumping on Team Clinton is not an easy shift for most Republicans. Jeb Bush won’t do it: He will vote neither Trump nor Clinton and “will support principled conservatives at the state and federal levels” instead.
His former communications adviser had more condemnatory wishes: “I’m in the camp that thinks that it’s important for him to suffer a humiliating defeat in November,” Tim Miller told Vox’s Andrew Prokop.
To date, Vox has found more than 150 prominent Republicans, from former governors and former presidential candidates to conservative pundits and high-profile aides, who have all said they cannot support Trump.
Until this most recent scandal with the released audio, among those who have spoken out, most have been seasoned faces in the party. And while some more active Republican politicians are still trying to strike a balance — Ted Cruz recently threw in the towel and expressed his support Trump — it has become increasingly clear that condemning Trump is becoming easier and easier for these prominent politicians.
Active Republicans have more at stake with Trump. But that might not matter anymore.
Until now, there has been a clear divide between Republicans willing to speak out against Trump and those who have supported him is political future.
This was no more apparent than in the Bush family: While Jeb Bush has publicly said he will not vote for Trump, George H.W. Bush said he will vote for Clinton and George W. Bush said they will not be participating in this presidential campaign, Jeb Bush’s son George P. Bush came out in support of Trump — albeit a bit begrudgingly. Unlike his father, uncle, and grandfather, he will likely be running for office again.
For active Republican politicians to go against Trump they must either defy their voter base or criticize aspects of the GOP ideology. For a long time, neither was politically feasible.
Sen. Ted Cruz attempted it at the Republican convention, patently avoiding a Trump endorsement while trying to speak to the future of the Republican Party. After, Cruz’s approval favorability rating plummeted. (On September 23, Cruz caved and finally endorsed Trump: “After many months of careful consideration, of prayer and searching my own conscience, I have decided that on Election Day, I will vote for the Republican nominee, Donald Trump,” Cruz wrote on his Facebook page.)
We have seen Ryan and McConnell awkwardly try to strike a balance, giving a denouncing-but-still-supporting vote. Others like Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, have resorted to just Clinton-bashing.
“It’s a little bit of every person for themselves,” University of Wisconsin-Madison political science professor Barry Burden told me during the Republican convention. “A lot of people are there to think about their future in the party. Skipping [the convention was] not a viable option, but they don’t want to be attached to a sinking ship.”
But with every scandal, treading that line with Trump seems to be getting a little easier. Trump is saying things so morally obtrusive that active Republicans have no choice but to speak out.