Opinion writer

Demonstrators hold signs protesting Donald Trump’s visit to Mexico City for a meeting with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto last month. (Brett Gundlock/Bloomberg News)

The group R4C16.org –Republicans for Clinton in 2016 — has been actively recruiting Republicans to announce support for Hillary Clinton and has been busy publicizing its cause. Co-founder John Stubbs tells me, “The entire focus of our voter outreach is on the 4-5 million Republican voters who won’t vote for [Donald] Trump but might still be on the fence about supporting Clinton: We’re going to bring them across.”

Now Stubbs’s group is out with its first ad, contrasting Trump’s thuggishness and racism with the words of Ronald Reagan and other esteemed Republicans:

A conservative group, "Republicans for Clinton 2016", releases its first ad contrasting the rhetoric between Republican nominee Donald Trump and former Republican president Ronald Reagan. (Republicans for Clinton in 2016)

As the race narrows, the argument that Republicans adamantly opposed to Trump should vote for Clinton as opposed to a third candidate gets stronger. Who wants to be responsible for Trump by casting a vote for a candidate who could not remotely hope to beat Trump?

Clinton’s own ethics problems have understandably made it harder for Republicans to cross over to vote for a Democrat, in some cases for the first time in their lives. “There’s no denying that Secretary Clinton had serious lapses in judgement throughout this affair,” R4C16.org co-founder Ricardo Reyes acknowledges. However, he cautions: “Her behavior does not make me wonder about her willingness or ability to keep our country safe. Trump, on the other hand, has appealed to the Russians that they hack our official networks and hoped [Russian President Vladimir] Putin ‘likes’ him.”

Trump’s own financial shenanigans and poor ethics arguably exceed Clinton’s. The Donald J. Trump Foundation’s payment to Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi is one more argument in a growing list of concerns about Trump’s secretive finances, attempts to curry favor with politicians and self-enrichment at the expense of the little guys for whom he claims to speak. Stubbs tells me: “I think Trump has presented the sum total of his political experience as buying and selling politicians. But the problem is this does not translate well to governing.” He adds, “Trump’s transactional policymaking — buying and selling our principles to the highest bidder — would be utterly reckless and threatening to global stability.”

Foreign policy remains a core reason for Republicans to abandon Trump. On everything from Trump’s adulation of Putin to his ignorance about the nuclear triad, Trump broadcasts his unfitness. He once told us he had a “secret” plan to defeat the Islamic State. Now his “plan” is to ask the generals — who he once said did not know as much about the Islamic State as he did — what to do.

The Democrats’ own case lines up with Republican’ objections. Yesterday in Florida, Clinton bashed Trump on everything from his treatment of veterans (“His whole campaign has been one long insult to all those who have worn the uniform to protect our most cherished American values. And a man who is so wrong about our veterans isn’t right to serve as our commander-in-chief”) to his erratic ideas (“He’s even talked about using nuclear weapons. He’s very loose in his talk about nukes. He says he doesn’t care if other countries get them. He doesn’t know why they haven’t been used already. I mean, it’s so mind-boggling.”)

Meanwhile, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) in his foreign-policy speech yesterday hit Trump for his Russian connections:

Trump’s son said “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate” part of the Trump Organization’s assets, and that they “see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.” Recent investigations revealed that Trump’s been pursuing deals with Russian officials, oligarchs, and developers with deep ties to Russia since the late 1980s. And a Putin associate paid him millions to bring his Miss Universe pageant to Moscow. As long as Trump keeps hiding his tax returns, we have no idea how he might stand to profit from Russia, or what they might be holding over him. But something strange is going on. Trump’s long-time advisor and campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, resigned after allegations of corruption, illegal payments and financial ties to Kremlin-supported officials. Trump’s go-to defense advisor, General Michael Flynn, appears regularly on Russia’s government-funded propaganda channel. Trump has publicly encouraged Russia to hack America to help him win the election. No wonder the former Acting CIA Director, Michael Morell, says he believes that Trump is an “unwitting agent” of the Russian Federation.

Many Republicans would agree with Kaine that Trump’s approach to Russia and NATO “stands in total opposition to decades of American national security goals. But they match up perfectly with Putin’s wish-list. It makes you wonder.”

Lifelong Republicans do not take casually the decision to vote for a Democrat, let alone for one they have amply criticized for years. On the other hand, many do not consider Trump a real Republican. The Dallas Morning News editorial board wrote that “his ideas are so far from Republicanism that they have spawned a new description: Trumpism. … Trump doesn’t reflect Republican ideals of the past; we are certain he shouldn’t reflect the GOP of the future. Donald Trump is not qualified to serve as president and does not deserve your vote.”) His is loyal neither to fellow Republicans nor to the ideals of the party that gave him its nomination.

For #NeverTrump voters, party loyalty in this case asks too much. Citing his shoddy character and temperament as well as his ingrained racism, many Republicans find it impossible to cast their votes for him. They are dismayed that Trump has become the favorite of anti-immigrant Republicans and foreign policy know-nothings. They’re appalled that he has normalized the extreme alt-right. It’s not a situation that a significant number of Republicans can tolerate. Moreover, it is not an image that the GOP can perpetuate if it wants to stay in business.

“The new team has Mr. Trump on a short leash, but his campaign’s dog whistle for white supremacists still works,” Stubbs says. Many Republicans agree with Stubbs, who would tell the Trumpkins: “If you are comfortable with this racist nonsense, the rest of the Republican party invites you to take your candidate and go play somewhere else.” #NeverTrump Republicans, however, first have to beat him.