The number of Republican officials who’ve thrown their support behind Joe Biden’s candidacy was already striking, but as the Washington Post reported this week, the list isn’t done growing.
Twenty former U.S. attorneys — all of them Republicans — on Tuesday publicly called President Trump “a threat to the rule of law in our country,” and urged that he be replaced in November with his Democratic opponent, former vice president Joe Biden. “The President has clearly conveyed that he expects his Justice Department appointees and prosecutors to serve his personal and political interests,” said the former prosecutors in an open letter. They accused Trump of taking “action against those who have stood up for the interests of justice.”
Thomas Heffelfinger, a Republican and a former two-time U.S. attorney in Minnesota, not only signed his name to the joint statement, he also told the Post, “I can’t look at myself in the mirror; I can’t look my daughters in the face if I can’t do what I can to get rid of him.”
In context, of course, “him” referred to Donald Trump.
And while these Republican prosecutors’ willingness to publicly step up like this is an important story in its own right, it’s the larger pattern that’s unlike anything Americans have seen in modern political history.
As we’ve discussed, every four years, voters will see a handful of partisan apostates throw their support behind the other party’s nominee — Georgia’s Zell Miller, for example, delivered an unfortunate keynote address at the Republican convention in 2004 — and these isolated voices are often exaggerated to make it appear as if White House hopefuls enjoy broad, bipartisan support.
But 2020 is qualitatively and quantitatively different. Former Republican National Committee chairs are backing Biden. Former Republican cabinet secretaries have also endorsed Biden. Some Republicans who worked as members of Trump’s own team have announced their support for Biden.
The list includes former GOP governors, former GOP senators, former GOP House members, and several dozen Republican national security officials — from the Reagan, Bush/Quayle, and Bush/Cheney administrations — who’ve all endorsed Biden.
Is it possible the electoral impact of this will be muted? Sure. As I’ve argued before, Trump’s intra-party backing is relatively strong, and many far-right voters, if they hear about Biden’s GOP backers at all, will simply assume they’re a bunch of centrist RINOs who deserve to be ignored.
But let’s not overlook another group of voters: traditional Republicans whose support for their party is soft. They reluctantly backed Trump in 2016, largely because of their contempt for Hillary Clinton, and every day since, they’ve grown weary of their president’s tweets, failures, and scandals.
These voters aren’t satisfied with the status quo, and while they’re reluctant to back a Democratic ticket, they’re open to change. This is a constituency basically waiting for allies to tell them it’s OK to choose Biden over Trump.
And for this contingent, a whole lot of prominent Republican voices are now encouraging them to do exactly that.