Rep. Scott Rigell (R-Va.) resigned Tuesday from the Virginia Beach Republican Party, taking another step away from party politics two days after he endorsed Libertarian Gary Johnson for president over Republican nominee Donald Trump.
Leaving the local committee of the Republican Party will have little practical effect on the congressman, who is retiring from Congress at the end of his term after six years in office.
Rigell said he remains a “proud member” of the Republican Party, although there is no party registration in Virginia.
“Scott Rigell is a lifelong Republican and a member of the Republican Party, the same party of Lincoln, Reagan and so many other conservative leaders who supported limited government, fiscal responsibility, a strong national defense and freedom,” Esmel Meeks, a senior adviser to Rigell, said in a statement.
The move, first reported by TV station WAVY, signals another symbolic break with the party for Rigell, who said in March that he would not vote for Trump and has expressed dismay at the intensity and toxic nature of partisanship in Congress.
Rigell said he thinks Trump’s policies and statements put him in line with Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party, leaving him with Johnson as the only conservative in the race for the White House.
“Faced with the decision for president, in which the traditional choices are between two lifelong Democrats in Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, his conscience dictates that he votes for a fiscal conservative alternative, Governor Gary Johnson,” Meeks said.
Under Virginia GOP rules, members of local committees must commit to supporting the party’s nominees. If they refuse, they are automatically removed from the local committee and their membership is terminated.
That means that they can no longer vote on internal party workings, such as changes in bylaws and the election of an internal chairman.
“Because Scott refuses to support his party’s current nominee for President, the local committee was expected to revoke Congressman Rigell’s membership. Knowing that, Congressman Rigell resigned from the Virginia Beach Republican Party,” Meeks continued in the statement. “While he is no longer a member of his local party unit, he remains a proud member of the Republican Party.”
Dennis Free, chairman of the GOP committee in the 2nd Congressional District, which Rigell represents, said he volunteered for Rigell in all three of his elections and considers him a close friend.
“I’m sorry it came to this, but it is what it is,” said Free, who backs Trump. “As a party official, I have a duty to the party and I take that seriously.”
Rules say Rigell can return to the city committee if he applies at a later date and members accept him.
In supporting a candidate other than Trump, Rigell joins a contingent of Republicans unhappy with the mogul’s unorthodox campaign and comments some consider unwelcoming to women, Muslim Americans and Hispanics.
Another prominent Virginia Beach Republican, former state senator Jeffrey L. McWaters, is enthusiastically supporting Trump and last week hosted a fundraiser at a steakhouse for his running mate, Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana.
“He is a better candidate than Hillary Clinton,” McWaters said of Trump. “He believes in the principles of the Republican Party. And he will be choosing as many as four Supreme Court nominees.”