In an almost unprecedented repudiation of a presidential nominee by the former presidents of his party, the George Bushes – both W. and otherwise – just announced that they will not be supporting Donald Trump for president. W. said in a statement that he will “does not plan to participate” in the election, while his father was more circumspect, saying that at his age he is “retired from politics” despite the abundant evidence to the contrary. The Bushes joined a growing chorus of Republican leaders who are refusing to stand behind such a divisive, vitriolic demagogue as their party’s standard-bearer.
Historically party leaders and former presidents have almost automatically announced support for their party’s nominee, and indeed Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee, will enjoy the support of all three living former Democratic presidents and a unified Democratic leadership. Not so on the Republican side. Not only the Bushes themselves but numerous figures who served in their administrations – as well as that of the GOP messiah Ronald Reagan – declared on background that they will not be supporting Trump. And Laura Bush, the former first lady under the W. administration, has even hinted that she may be supporting Hillary Clinton over Trump, which would be another almost unprecedented break in party unity.
The reaction of repulsion to Trump’s nomination has swept across the party, and even many of those who have endorsed the nominee have done so only tepidly. House Speaker Paul Ryan, considered by many to be the leader of the party, joined the incredibly long list of prominent Republicans who have declined to endorse Trump in announcing this morning that he was “just not ready” to support Trump. Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse, who posted an epic anti-Trump polemic on Facebook in February, has continued to be among the most vocal Republican opponents of The Donald, and a movement within the Party to potentially even field a third party candidate has begun to coalesce around him.
The Donald has also failed to garner the support of his party’s previous failed nominees, with both Mitt Romney and John McCain announcing that they will not be attending the Republican National Convention over the summer. Romney has said that he will not be supporting Trump at all while McCain yesterday grudgingly gave his support to the nominee, although given McCain’s prior statements about how difficult it will be to run on a ticket with Trump’s name at the top, it was clear that his subdued endorsement was more cynical political maneuver than a reflection of true admiration or support for Trump.
Indeed much of the Republican backlash to The Donald has arisen out of a concern that his divisiveness and historic unfavorability will damage the GOP’s candidates all the way down the ticket and hurt the party’s image. The anti-Trump movement within the GOP should thus not really be understood as a laudable reaction against his bigotry and hatred but a movement of self-preservation against the disgust that his bigotry instills in voters, who may come to see that even the Republican establishment is merely better at concealing its bigoted ways. We should thus view it not as a heart-warming indication of an inner humanity buried deep within the void of the conservative soul but rather as an amusing party implosion that will only end up benefiting the party that truly champion’s the people’s interest.
And thus it is not just Republican leaders but voters too who are reacting with repulsion to the message of Donald Trump. After he secured the nomination new polling suggested that a dozen states had shifted significantly to the left, and many Republicans took to social media to renounce their party membership in often spectacular ways. And, of course, Trump’s unfavorability ratings remain historically astronomical, particularly among such important demographics as Latinos, women, and young people. With both the party establishment and the everyday voter reacting so strongly against Trump, it seems that the election is gearing up to be a landslide despite Hillary Clinton’s own low favorability ratings. If Sen. Bernie Sanders, who polls much better nationally against Republicans, somehow ends up as the Democratic nominee, it would be a landslide of historic proportions.
James DeVinne is a student at American University in Washington, DC majoring in International Service with a focus on the Middle East and South Asia. He is a founding member of Occupy Baltimore and interns at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy.