As President Trump’s unceasing attacks on the Constitution, abject lying and disinclination to defend America’s national security (when confronted with evidence of Russian bounties on the heads of U.S. troops in Afghanistan), NeverTrumpers (this one included) have cheered the nomination of former vice president Joe Biden, a center-left politician with high regard for democratic institutions. We now see some of the best pro-Biden ads from Republican ad-makers at the Lincoln Project and at Republican Voters Against Trump (which has captured hundreds of ordinary Republicans explaining why they will vote for Biden).
On Monday night, with the start of the Democratic convention, that trend will be highlighted with the appearance of familiar Republicans — former New Jersey governor and director of the Environmental Protection Agency Christine Todd Whitman, former Senate candidate Meg Whitman, former Staten Island congresswoman (and keynoter at the Republicans’ 1996 convention) Susan Molinari and former Ohio governor John Kasich. The number of defectors from the other party appearing at a national convention must be a record of some sort. Trump and the party entirely under his sway have done a bang-up job of alienating real rule-of-law, pro-environment, anti-Russia, pro-legal immigration, pro-free trade and pro-democracy (little “d”) Republicans.
Of course, those Republicans have more in common with Biden than they do with Trump — just as White suburban women in 2018 found they had more in common with Democrats. Current polls show White college-educated voters have transferred loyalty to the Democratic Party. These are the sort of Republicans who actually believe functional and clean government matters, and cherish the American creed (“government of the people, by the people, for the people”). And, frankly, these are the Republicans put off by Trump’s willful ignorance, his bigotry, his bullying, his incompetence, his corruption and his norm-breaking. They are embarrassed to be associated with the Trump Republican Party, and they — not without reason — worry about what another four years of Trump would do to America.
A couple questions remain about Republican defectors.
First, we do not know how many party-crossers there are, in part because some of them already became Democrats. Gallup reported earlier this summer that Republican self-identification was down five points: “What had been a two-percentage-point Republican advantage in U.S. party identification and leaning has become an 11-point Democratic advantage, with more of that movement reflecting a loss in Republican identification and leaning (down eight points) than a gain in Democratic identification and leaning (up five points).” They now show up in polling and exit polling as Democrats, but these are the flock of Republicans Trump chased from the party. (It would be interesting to see what percentage of Biden voters are casting their first presidential pick for a Democrat.)
Second, we do not know how much of this realignment is permanent. That depends, in large part, on how Biden governs and what Republicans want to do with themselves after 2020. If, as many suspect, Trump Republicans are not yet ready to shed their populist, blood-and-soil, know-nothingism, then many of these ex-Republicans will not return anytime soon. They may not like everything Biden does, but if they are comfortable with enough of his agenda, that might be sufficient to keep them in the Democratic fold.
What Biden and his fellow Democrats hope is that lots of Republican or ex-Republican voters sense tonight that John Kasich, Susan Molinari, Christine Todd Whitman and Meg Whitman sound an awful lot like themselves. And if these Republicans feel comfortable voting for Biden, they should too.
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