Miami Herald

Work in­side or out­side GOP? ‘Never Trump’ Repub­li­cans are split over next steps

- BY ADAM WOLLNER awoll­ner@mc­clatchydc.com US Elections · U.S. News · US Politics · Politics · Elections · Republican Party Politics · Republican Party (United States) · Donald Trump · Democratic Party (United States) · United States Senate · Caldwell, ID · Congress of the United States · Wisconsin · Mike Pence · United States of America · Ohio · Rob Portman · Tim Miller · Zoom Video Communications · Florida · David Jolly · Abraham Lincoln · Pennsylvania · Pat Toomey · Joe Walsh · Bill Kristol · Reid Ribble · Republican Party · Morning Consult · Mitch McConnell · McConnell · Josh Mandel · Timken, KS · The Gallup Organisation Europe · Gallup, NM · Patriot Party · Learn and Serve America · Arlen Specter

■ Cur­rent and former Repub­li­can strate­gists and of­fi­cials who op­pose ex-Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump said they have largely fallen into three camps: re­form the GOP from within, start a third party or align with mod­er­ate Democrats.

The loose coali­tion of “Never Trump” Repub­li­cans who worked to de­feat then-Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump are now turn­ing to a new and far more chal­leng­ing goal: purg­ing his brand of pol­i­tics from the GOP.

But there’s lit­tle agree­ment on the best way to do that — or whether it’s even pos­si­ble.

Cur­rent and former Repub­li­can strate­gists and of­fi­cials who op­pose Trump and now find them­selves with­out a nat­u­ral po­lit­i­cal home said they have largely fallen into three camps since the 2020 elec­tion:

re­form the GOP from within, start a third party or align with mod­er­ate Democrats.

Re­gard­less of where they fall, the rel­a­tively small band of anti-Trump Repub­li­cans ac­knowl­edge that erad­i­cat­ing the in­flu­ence of the man who’s eas­ily still the most pop­u­lar fig­ure in the GOP is much more daunt­ing than sim­ply beat­ing him in an elec­tion.

But in the af­ter­math of the Capi­tol riot and the former pres­i­dent’s sub­se­quent ac­quit­tal of an im­peach­ment charge in the Se­nate, they ar­gue that chal­leng­ing the Trump coali­tion has taken on a re­newed sense of ur­gency, even if they tackle that mis­sion in dif­fer­ent ways.

“The ‘Never Trump’ coali­tion is not bound by any par­tic­u­lar pol­icy prin­ci­ples,” said Lucy Cald­well, who man­aged former Repub­li­can Rep. Joe Walsh’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paign.

“We don’t all have to make our bed to­gether any­more.”

The most ac­tive an­tiTrump GOP group since the elec­tion has been the Repub­li­can Ac­count­abil­ity Pro­ject, which spawned from Repub­li­can Vot­ers Against Trump. RAP’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, Sarah Long­well, said they plan to raise and spend $50 mil­lion over the next two years as they pur­sue mul­ti­ple av­enues to de­feat Trump­ism.

The group has al­ready paid for a se­ries of bill­boards and ads to put pres­sure on GOP law­mak­ers who echoed Trump’s un­founded claims of voter fraud and op­posed cer­ti­fi­ca­tion of the elec­tion. RAP is also pro­vid­ing sup­port for Repub­li­can mem­bers of Congress who voted against Trump dur­ing the im­peach­ment pro­ceed­ings, many of whom are fac­ing pri­mary chal­lengers and cen­sures from lo­cal par­ties.

Long­well said the group, chaired by con­ser­va­tive com­men­ta­tor Bill Kris­tol, plans to con­tinue those ef­forts through the 2022 midterm elec­tions. She added that they will also ex­plore back­ing both Repub­li­can and Demo­cratic chal­lengers to Trump al­lies in up­com­ing pri­mary and gen­eral elec­tions.

“How do you beat back the MAGA right that is work­ing to dom­i­nate the en­tire party? That re­quires com­ing at it from a num­ber of dif­fer­ent an­gles elec­torally,” Long­well said.

While anti-Trump Repub­li­cans gen­er­ally would like to see more cen­ter-right can­di­dates ad­vance out of pri­maries next year, not all of them would go as far as back­ing Democrats to en­sure the former pres­i­dent’s loy­al­ists are de­feated.

Former Rep. Reid Rib­ble, a Wis­con­sin Repub­li­can and fre­quent Trump critic, said he wrote in Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence for pres­i­dent on his bal­lot and voted GOP down-ticket in the last elec­tion be­cause he still found the Democrats to be in­com­pat­i­ble with his con­ser­va­tive views.

“I’m not ready to trash the Repub­li­can Party be­cause I have a dis­agree­ment with the top of the ticket,” Rib­ble said. “I pre­fer peo­ple like me work within the party sys­tem to find great can­di­dates.”

But even Repub­li­cans like Rib­ble ad­mit that will be dif­fi­cult as long as Trump main­tains his grip over the party. A re­cent poll from Morn­ing Con­sult found that 59% of GOP vot­ers na­tion­wide said that Trump should play a “ma­jor role” in the party go­ing for­ward, up 18 per­cent­age points from last month.

In a state­ment this week blis­ter­ing Se­nate Repub­li­can Leader Mitch McCon­nell, Trump promised to “back pri­mary ri­vals who es­pouse Mak­ing Amer­ica Great Again and our pol­icy of Amer­ica First.”

And the most no­table early en­trants into 2022 GOP pri­mary races are tak­ing note. In the bat­tle­ground state of Ohio, two can­di­dates run­ning to re­place re­tir­ing Repub­li­can Sen. Rob Port­man — former state Trea­surer Josh Man­del and former state party chair Jane Timken — are cast­ing them­selves first and fore­most as Trump de­fend­ers.

Tim Miller, the former po­lit­i­cal di­rec­tor for Repub­li­can Vot­ers Against Trump, said that many GOP vot­ers who op­posed Trump in the last elec­tion have left the party al­to­gether and are func­tion­ally Democrats now, mean­ing that they likely won’t even par­tic­i­pate in fu­ture Repub­li­can pri­maries.

“I don’t re­ally see a role for ‘Never Trumpers’ in open GOP pri­maries,” Miller said. “The Repub­li­can Party now con­sists of peo­ple that are ei­ther ac­tively pro-Trump or don’t think Trump was all that bad, given how bad they think the Democrats are.”

That line of think­ing has led some anti-Trump Repub­li­cans to con­clude that a third party would pro­vide a more nat­u­ral home. They point to a re­cent Gallup poll show­ing that 62% of Amer­i­cans think a third party is needed, more than at any point since 2003, and the tens of thou­sands of Repub­li­can vot­ers who have changed their party af­fil­i­a­tion since the Capi­tol riot.

As Reuters first re­ported, a group of more than 120 former Repub­li­can of­fi­cials met over Zoom ear­lier this month to dis­cuss form­ing a con­ser­va­tive third party, though the idea has since gained lit­tle trac­tion.

Prior to the im­peach­ment vote in the Se­nate, Trump also re­port­edly floated the pos­si­bil­ity of cre­at­ing a third party called the “Pa­triot Party,” but quickly dropped the con­cept.

Former Florida Rep. David Jolly, who left the GOP in 2018, has taken a step in that di­rec­tion and is now lead­ing the Serve Amer­ica Move­ment, or SAM Party. He said he hopes to at­tract a “big tent coali­tion” of vot­ers of all ide­olo­gies who are tired of the two-party sys­tem.

Jolly may test whether a third party is vi­able in the cur­rent cli­mate him­self, say­ing he is lay­ing the ground­work for an in­de­pen­dent cam­paign for Florida gover­nor. He added that he will make a fi­nal de­ci­sion by the end of the year and has been in touch with other ‘Never Trump’ Repub­li­cans about the ef­fort.

“We’ve all cho­sen a sim­i­lar, but dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion,” Jolly said. “They’re in a fight for con­ser­vatism ... I’m fight­ing for good gov­er­nance.”

Some anti-Trump Repub­li­cans fear that cre­at­ing a third party would back­fire. They ar­gue it would never be­come as pow­er­ful as the two ma­jor par­ties, and that if mod­er­ates leave the GOP, only Trump’s staunch­est al­lies would re­main.

“The coun­try as a whole is mov­ing away from Repub­li­can ex­trem­ists, but it still has the Repub­li­can Party as one of the two most dom­i­nat­ing forces,” Cald­well said. “An ex­o­dus of cen­ter-right peo­ple only means that what we can rea­son­ably ex­pect is far­right, ex­treme can­di­dates.”

The un­cer­tain fu­ture of the Lin­coln Pro­ject is also hang­ing over the ‘Never Trump’ uni­verse. The well­funded group, which was founded by former Repub­li­can op­er­a­tives and gained no­to­ri­ety for its vi­ral an­tiTrump ads dur­ing the

2020 elec­tion, has been un­der fire for its han­dling of sex­ual ha­rass­ment al­le­ga­tions made against co­founder John Weaver.

Sev­eral of the Lin­coln Pro­ject’s lead­ers have since re­signed, but the con­tro­versy has sparked con­cern that the group could hin­der the broader ‘Never Trump’ cause.

“Just shut it down al­ready ... it’s over,” tweeted Kurt Bardella, a former se­nior ad­viser to the Lin­coln Pro­ject.

Else­where, other ‘Never Trumpers’ are press­ing on. In Penn­syl­va­nia, Craig Sny­der, a Trump critic who served as chief of staff for Repub­li­can-turned-Demo­cratic Sen. Arlen Specter, is ex­plor­ing a bid for re­tir­ing GOP Sen. Pat Toomey’s seat.

Sny­der said he hopes that enough can­di­dates en­ter the pri­mary and split the pro-Trump vote, giv­ing him a lane with the sliver of Repub­li­cans who aren’t on board with the former pres­i­dent. He said his cam­paign could very well serve as a test case for whether there is still room in the party for some­one like him.

“The only way to find out is to give it a try,” Syn­der said. “It wasn’t the party of Trump be­fore all this, and it doesn’t need to be af­ter Trump.”

 ??  ?? Ex-Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump
Ex-Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump
 ?? TASOS KATOPODIS Getty Images/TNS, file 2020 ?? In the af­ter­math of the Capi­tol riot and former Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s sub­se­quent ac­quit­tal of an im­peach­ment charge in the Se­nate, anti-Trump Repub­li­cans ar­gue that chal­leng­ing the Trump coali­tion has taken on a re­newed sense of ur­gency.
TASOS KATOPODIS Getty Images/TNS, file 2020 In the af­ter­math of the Capi­tol riot and former Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s sub­se­quent ac­quit­tal of an im­peach­ment charge in the Se­nate, anti-Trump Repub­li­cans ar­gue that chal­leng­ing the Trump coali­tion has taken on a re­newed sense of ur­gency.

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