“I will vote for the Republican — I really will. I won’t leave my party,” Baker told Peter Baker and Susan Glasser, the authors of a riveting new biography of him, even though he also described President Trump as “crazy” and “nuts.” So better a crazy Republican in office than a sane and moderate Democrat? Baker apparently thinks so, and so, presumably, do other GOP grandees — from Paul D. Ryan to Dick Cheney — who refuse to speak out against the president.
But the real news this election is not how many top Republicans are sticking with Trump. It’s how many are repudiating him. Tom Ridge, a former governor of Pennsylvania and the first secretary of homeland security in the George W. Bush administration, published an op-ed on Sunday announcing that he was endorsing Joe Biden because Trump “sows division along political, racial, and religious lines” and “lacks the empathy, integrity, intellect, and maturity to lead.”
This came less than a week after Sen. John McCain’s widow, Cindy McCain, joined a slew of former McCain staffers in endorsing Biden. The mother of two sons who served in the armed forces, she cited as her breaking point Trump’s disparagement of the troops as “losers.” “I want my president to have my back,” she said, “and I don’t believe that’s the case right now.”
Ridge and McCain are only a small part of the flood of Republican leaders who have turned against Trump, even while 90 percent of the rank and file remains loyal. Some — such as former president George W. Bush, former national security adviser John Bolton, Gov. Phil Scott (R-Vt.) and Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) — have made clear they won’t be voting for Trump even though they don’t plan to endorse his challenger.
Many others have gone further. In addition to Ridge, at least six other members of Bush’s Cabinet have endorsed Biden. So have more than 70 former Republican national security officials. So have seven former Republican governors (including Rick Snyder, who until 2018 led the swing state of Michigan), five former Republican senators, and more than two dozen former Republican House members.
There is even a new group of Trump administration veterans, such as Miles Taylor and Olivia Troye, as well as others from previous Republican administrations, who have endorsed Biden. Meanwhile, some of the sharpest political ads of the campaign come from Republican Voters Against Trump and the Lincoln Project — organizations started by disaffected Republicans.
I, too, am a Biden Republican — someone who was driven out of the GOP by Trump’s ascendance and is now rooting for a landslide Republican defeat on Nov. 3. I used to joke that there were enough Never-Trump Republicans to hold a dinner party but not a political party. But that’s no longer true. Anti-Trump Republican and independent voters helped deliver the House to Democrats in 2018. They could make the difference again this year if the election is close. Indeed, recent polls show a big Biden lead in the swing state of Pennsylvania in part because Trump is losing nearly a quarter of Republicans in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh and their suburbs.
As political analyst Ronald Brownstein notes, having so many elites in one party endorse the presidential candidate of another party is unusual. The only time in modern history when there was this much crossover was among “Democrats for Nixon” in 1972. There was a smaller crossover for Ronald Reagan in 1980 led by neoconservative intellectuals who thought the Democratic Party had gone soft in the Cold War.
Those defections were significant because they signaled the rise of the “Reagan Democrats” — mainly blue-collar, socially conservative White voters. They have now become a mainstay of the Republican Party. But most college-educated White voters — who once leaned Republican — have left the party. Hillary Clinton won White voters with college degrees by 17 percentage points, and Biden is leading among them by an even larger margin.
This could be a realigning election, like 1932 and 1980, one that moves White college graduates and moderates of all races into the Democratic ranks for good. That depends, of course, on Biden first winning and then governing as moderately and successfully as his track record would suggest. If Biden can cope with the pandemic and other monumental challenges, he can leave the Democrats dominant for decades to come, with the Republicans reduced to a rump faction dependent on stoking the resentment of a shrinking White base. No wonder Republicans are so desperate to lock in a Supreme Court majority: They know it’s now or never.