Mickey Edwards has been a Republican for more than half a century. He ran for office for the first time in 1974, and later served in Congress for 18 years. He was a founding trustee of the conservative Heritage Foundation and a national chairman of the American Conservative Union.
Mickey Edwards has real conservative bona fides. He would not say the same about Donald Trump.
“It’s all about who [Trump] is as a person,” Edwards told MTV News. “Abusive, nasty, ill-tempered, poorly informed, derisive, and lacking in the judgment, temperament, and competence required of anybody in public office.”
Edwards isn’t alone. Earlier this month, 30 former GOP lawmakers signed an open letter declaring that they cannot and will not vote for Trump for president. Edwards signed on, as did former Missouri Congressman Tom Coleman, who told MTV News, “Trump is emotionally and mentally unfit to be president. He has no idea what the U.S. Constitution contains. He is a danger to our democracy.”
Coleman added that his decision wasn’t based just on his own personal feelings. “I have three granddaughters who I do not want to grow up in a nation led by Donald Trump. If elected, he will alter our nation as we know it. I believe he could become dictatorial and effectively trash the Constitution.”
The letter was released after the first presidential debate, but before the tape of Trump’s 2005 comments about grabbing women emerged (and before Trump was accused of sexual harassment by more than half a dozen women). Since then, Trump has lost the support of high-profile Republicans like Arizona Senator John McCain and House Speaker Paul Ryan — sort of. (McCain unendorsed Trump, though Ryan did not, instead saying he will no longer defend the candidate and will focus on down-ballot GOP races. Bravery at work!)
In all, 40 GOP governors and members of Congress have denounced Trump and withdrawn their support since the video was released. Twenty-six percent of Republican governors and members of Congress recently surveyed by USA Today will not endorse Trump. They include Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse, who has fervently opposed the nominee’s candidacy since February. "Why shouldn’t America draft an honest leader?” he said of Trump on Facebook. “You know ... an adult?”
Trump and his followers have responded by lashing out, accusing Republicans of disloyalty and pledging to defeat those running for seats of their own in November. But the former GOP lawmakers speaking out against Trump, like Edwards and Coleman, don’t care. Following years of service in Congress, they and many of their fellow signatories are in the private sector now. Like McCain, most of them are over 65 and have been loyal Republicans for decades. But with no race to win and a party in crisis, they are not afraid to stand up to Trump.
Many of the GOP’s current crop of dissidents owe their choice of party to their moral compasses. When former Rhode Island representative Claudine Schneider got into politics in the mid-1970s, the elected officials in charge were “all Democrats, all white, and all men” — and, she added, all corrupt. “My husband and I concluded, ‘Whatever those folks are, we’re the opposite,’” she told MTV News.
Schneider decided to run for Congress after a cancer diagnosis at age 25, wanting to model the kind of campaign she thought her constituents deserved. She lost. And then she ran again, and won. She would be reelected four times, serving in Congress from 1981 to 1991. But now, her party — the one she joined to stand up for the rights of others — has rallied behind a man she despises.
“Donald Trump lacks intelligence and knowledge, he lacks empathy and understanding, his temperament is one that I had never seen as a congresswoman or an observer, and he lacks good judgment. He’s basically unqualified,” Schneider said, adding that she’s seeing old friends and colleagues putting the cohesion of the Republican Party ahead of their most closely held beliefs in order to support the nominee. “To me, that’s a huge mistake, because neither party is right all of the time,” she said. “Why would anyone always vote for a candidate because they have an R or a D after their name?”
Steve Bartlett, a former mayor of Dallas, Texas, who served in Congress from 1983 to 1991, has identified as a Republican since 1960 — when he was in sixth grade. Yet in 2016, he’s found himself opposing the GOP’s candidate for president. “It’s the party of anticorruption, limited government, strong national defense, and core values,” he told MTV News — all qualities he’s failed to see from Trump. Bartlett believes it’s his patriotic duty — and his loyalty to the Republican Party — to speak out against Trump. “He has unbelievably bad character, dangerous tendencies. He’s unpredictable,” he said.
“In short, he is dangerous for the country. And would destroy the the Republican Party.”
Trump has driven some loyal Republicans even further away from the flock — directly into the arms of Hillary Clinton. Republican strategist Andrew Weinstein, who served as deputy press secretary to Newt Gingrich and worked on Bob Dole’s campaign in 1996, has been fighting Trump’s candidacy for nearly a year. He put together a letter to RNC chairman Reince Priebus in August asking him to direct funds away from Trump and wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal urging Republicans to support Clinton instead.
“Trump threatens the very institutions of our democracy with his ignorance and his authoritarianism,” Weinstein told MTV News. “He doesn’t even understand the constitutional obligations of — or restrictions on — the presidency, yet he expects us to elect him to that office.” He’s suffered backlash for his views: Weinstein, who is Jewish, received so many anti-Semitic threats online that he contacted the FBI for help.
Weinstein will be voting for a Democratic president in November. “Hillary Clinton is a deeply flawed candidate,” he said, “and in any other election, I’d be working against her, but compared to Trump, there’s no contest. She is sane, qualified, rational, and experienced, while Trump is a danger to our safety and our system of government.” When asked about the GOP’s support for Trump, particularly in the wake of new sexual harassment allegations, Weinstein said, “The moral cowardice of most of today’s GOP elected officials will stain the party for a generation. They will forever be known as the self-interested enablers of a man who abused women, promoted hatred, and threatened our country.”
Schneider will also be voting for Clinton on November 8: “It’s a very comfortable decision for me.” Bartlett will be voting for Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson, while Edwards and Coleman haven’t decided whether they’ll vote for Clinton, Johnson, or simply leave that part of their ballots blank. But all say that the concept of a Trump presidency is, in the words of Mickey Edwards, “frightening” — and would spell the end of the GOP.
These lawmakers and longtime Republicans argue that standing up to the GOP’s nominee is the only way to save the party from its own ill-chosen standard-bearer. “We’ve nominated a candidate who is a walking repudiation of many of the party’s core values,” Weinstein said, “and party elders are trying to mutate the GOP to fit into his warped vision. We’ve welcomed some of the worst elements of our society — the bigots and haters — into the party of Lincoln, and we must renounce and expel them, if the party is to survive.”