The Republican Exodus From Trump Quickly Becoming A Stampede

Republican leaders and politicians continue to distance themselves from their party's presumptive nominee.

Stampeding Elephants

Ohio Governor John Kasich became the latest Republican to say that he will not support Donald Trump for President, and he’s not alone:

John Kasich is in agony over his decision last year to support the eventual Republican nominee and the current reality that Donald Trump is his party’s presumptive standard-bearer.

“You know, it’s painful. It’s painful. You know, people even get divorces, you know? I mean, sometimes, things come out that, look, I’m sorry that this has happened,” the Ohio governor said in an interviewaired Thursday on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “But we’ll see where it ends up. I’m not making any final decision yet, but at this point, I just can’t do it.”


Kasich is the fourth Republican governor to declare that he will likely not support his party’s presidential nominee, along with Larry Hogan in Maryland, Rick Snyder in Michigan and Charlie Baker in Massachusetts.

And, while Kasich invoked the biblical Saul to make the point that “nobody would have thought” he would change, and so might Trump, Kasich added, “But, unless it changes, you know, I’m not going to be able to get there. So, I’ll watch.”

Trump’s proposed temporary immigration ban on Muslims is “bad” and one of many things that give him pause, the governor said.

“Well, the list is getting tall. It’s getting bigger,” Kasich said, as Scarborough referred to Trump’s comments Tuesday night suggesting that American soldiers stole money in Iraq. (Trump’s campaign has said he was referring to Iraqi soldiers.)

“Or you imply that maybe somehow the president is sympathetic to an act of terrorism,” Kasich said, alluding to Trump’s remark Monday that President Barack Obama is either “not smart or he’s got something else in mind” with respect to fighting terrorists. “I mean, those are outrageous things. It’s trending all the wrong way.”

Meanwhile, Illinois Senator Mark Kirk said that Trump was ‘too bigoted and racist’ to be accepted by voters in Illinois:

Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL), who is engaged in a tough re-election fight this year, on Thursday said that Trump is “too bigoted and racist” for the state of Illinois.

“I do not support Hillary Clinton, and I told the public that I did not support Donald Trump, either. I think he’s too bigoted and racist for the Land of Lincoln,” Kirk said when asked by John Howell of Chicago radio station WLS-AM 890 whether he could support Clinton, according to a clip uploaded by Buzzfeed News.

Kirk announced last week that he had withdrawn his support for Trump, citing the presumptive Republican presidential nominee’s controversial comments and attacks.

Michigan Congressman Fred Upton also joined the movement that seems to be development among Republican lawmakers to distance themselves from Donald Trump:

Republican U.S. Rep. Fred Upton says he is not planning to endorse Donald Trump for president, deepening the divide in Michigan’s GOP congressional delegation about supporting the party’s presumptive nominee.

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Upton, who has the most seniority among the state’s nine GOP delegation members, suggested the campaign of the New York businessman has gone “off the track.”

“I’m going to stay in my lane,” Upton, R-St. Joseph, told Holland radio station WHTC-AM on Tuesday while discussing the likely general election matchup between Trump and presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

“There’s a lot of things that folks are not happy about with either of these two candidates,” he said. “We’re running our own race, and don’t look for me to endorse anyone in this race probably the rest of the year.”

Upton, who has served in Congress since 1987, joins other Michigan GOP U.S. Reps. Justin Amash of Cascade Falls, Bill Huizenga of Zeeland and John Moolenaar of Midland in not endorsing Trump.

The Trump campaign has become frustrated with the lack of Republican Party unity behind his campaign. The New York billionaire went so far as to tell an Atlanta campaign crowd Wednesday that he is ready to wage his presidential campaign alone.

“We have to have our Republicans either stick together, or let me just do it by myself. I’ll do very well,” Trump said.

Former Michigan House Speaker Rick Johnson, a LeRoy Republican and state Trump convention delegate, blasted back at Trump’s critics as being out of touch with working-class voters.

“I’m a street guy, and the everyday working person is supporting Trump, from teachers to farmers to the guy that works at the factory,” Johnson said Thursday. “These politicians better get the hell out of their offices and get on the street.

“…These politicians out there, they might as well pack it in. They don’t want the system to change. I do, and Donald Trump does, too.”

Trump has been endorsed by Michigan Republican U.S. Reps. Candice Miller of Harrison Township, Mike Bishop of Rochester, Dave Trott of Birmingham, Tim Walberg of Tipton and Dan Benishek of Crystal Falls in the Upper Peninsula. Both Miller and Benishek are retiring from Congress at the end of this year.

Finally, Richard Armitage, who has served as a military and foreign policy adviser for Republican Presidents since the Reagan Administration announced that not only could he not support Trump for President, but that he was formally endorsing Hillary Clinton over the Republican nominee:

Richard Armitage, the deputy secretary of state under George W. Bush, says he will vote for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump, in one of the most dramatic signs yet that Republican national security elites are rejecting their party’s presumptive nominee.

Armitage, a retired Navy officer who also served as an assistant secretary of defense under Ronald Reagan, is thought by Clinton aides to be the highest ranking former GOP national security official to openly support Clinton over Trump.

“If Donald Trump is the nominee, I would vote for Hillary Clinton,” Armitage told POLITICO in a brief interview. “He doesn’t appear to be to be a Republican, he doesn’t appear to want to learn about issues. So I’m going to vote for Mrs. Clinton.”

Dozens of Republican foreign policy elites have already declared their unwillingness to support or work for Trump, though far fewer say they would cast a ballot for Clinton. That latter group includes Max Boot, a prominent neoconservative military analyst and historian; Mark Salter, former longtime chief of staff to Republican Senator John McCain;and retired Army Col. Peter Mansour, a former top aide to retired General David Petraeus.

More national security heavyweights with conservative credentials could emerge in opposition to Trump in the coming months, though. Several retired generals, some with strong Republican connections, are privately alarmed over Trump’s candidacy and are debating whether to say so publicly. One retired general who served in a senior command role during the Obama years said former generals and officers are wary of the political fray, but that he expects a group of them “probably will try to energize something.”


Armitage told POLITICO Thursday that he didn’t know whether more Republicans might soon back Clinton. But he added that many of his conservative friends with national security backgrounds “are confused” by the choice before them and unsure about what to do.

“They’re in kind of a fog,” he said.

They’re not alone.

In any case, these latest announcements, along with the long list of Republicans who have already distanced themselves from Trump and those who are quite obviously sitting on the sidelines and doing everything that they can to dodge having to comment of every comment that comes from the mouth of Donald Trump seems to demonstrate the extent to which the desire of GOP politicians to get away from Trump is quickly becoming a stampede. To a large degree, of course, these moves are being made in the name of the self-interest of the Republicans involved and the fear that being associated with Trump could end up harming the Republican politician in question in the fall. If it weren’t for the fact that Trump now seems to be falling in the polls and that his favorable numbers are nearing historic lows for any party Presidential nominee, one tends to doubt that there would be so many Republicans seeking to get away from Trump even before the Republican National Convention and this early in the campaign when its still possible, although admittedly pretty unlikely, that Trump could rebound and not appear to be the albatross that he is quickly turning into. Whatever the motivation, though, the reality of all of these political leaders, advisers, and office holders turning their back on the presumptiv party nominee is impossible to deny and, at some point, it seems likely that it will reach critical mass and we’ll see what effectively amounts to the creation of two Republican parties, one led by Donald Trump and the other comprising office holders and others unwilling to accept the choice their base has made. This is the kind of split that is going to be difficult to heal regardless of the outcome of the election. If Trump loses, which seems like the most likely outcome, the pro-Trump forces will blame the “Never Trump” movement and its ostensible allies for costing the parties the election, while the “Never Trump” movement will argue that it was nominating Trump in the first place that is responsible for the loss. If Trump somehow manages to win, one could easily see the relationship between Congress and the White House being as bitter as it has been during the Obama years, especially if Trump really does seek to enact some of the more controversial aspects of his stated agenda. In other words, win or lose, it seems almost inevitable that we’re looking at a real GOP civil war that could harm the party’s electoral prospects for years to come.

Along a similar vein, Trump’s relationship with the Republican National Committee seems to be falling apart:

Donald Trump is relying heavily on the Republican Party to bolster his skeletal operation, but his campaign’s relationship with the Republican National Committee is increasingly plagued by distrust, power struggles and strategic differences, according to sources in both camps.

In recent days, RNC Chairman Reince Priebus has privately grumbled that his advice doesn’t seem welcome with Trump, according to one RNC insider. Other party officials have expressed frustration that Trump’s campaign is trying to take too much control over a pair of fundraising committees with the party while adding little to the effort, according to campaign and party officials familiar with the relationship.

While Trump had promised Priebus that he would call two dozen top GOP donors, when RNC chief of staff Katie Walsh recently presented Trump with a list of more than 20 donors, he called only three before stopping, according to two sources familiar with the situation. It’s unclear whether he resumed the donor calls later.

Meanwhile, there’s deep skepticism on Trump’s campaign about the RNC’s commitment to the presumptive GOP nominee, with some campaign officials questioning how hard the RNC is working to help Trump and to raise money for his campaign’s joint committees with the party.

Indeed, faced with suggestions that party leaders are unhappy with Trump’s incendiary rhetoric about the Orlando shooting and the judge presiding over a lawsuit against the candidate and his Trump University, campaign insiders scoffed.

“I don’t think we are going to take a lot of political advice from Priebus,” a campaign official said. “From my perspective, we should not be relying on the RNC for much because I’m not sure they are fully supportive yet,” the campaign official said, adding, “but we hope and expect to soon be on the exact same page.”

The fraught dynamic is a potentially serious liability for an insurgent campaign that has proudly eschewed political infrastructure and is dwarfed by Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s operation, which is expected to raise $1.5 billion or more. The situation is equally problematic for the Republican Party, which typically relies on its presidential candidate to help boost down-ballot candidates, enhance voter data and raise money.


Major party presidential nominees typically merge their operations with those of their respective parties after securing a nomination, and it’s not unusual for rifts to emerge during the mergers. But in interviews with more than a dozen Republicans familiar with the relationship between Trump and the RNC, it became apparent that the phenomenon is more pronounced than in past presidential years, despite Trump’s greater reliance on the RNC for basic campaign functions.

In 2012, for instance, Priebus checked in numerous times a day with his party’s nominee, Mitt Romney. And, an RNC insider said that while the chairman does connect with the Trump campaign on a daily basis, it’s less frequent than it was with Romney’s team, and the discussions are more superficial.

A former RNC official who helped the party work with past presidential campaigns said: “Usually, the RNC sees itself as part and parcel of the presidential campaign, and they work hand in glove on budgets and spending. This doesn’t seem to be gelling that way. There’s some resistance there.”

The dissension appears to stem at least partly from the Republican establishment’s distaste for Trump.

Since the billionaire real estate showman dispatched the last of his challengers for the party’s nomination, a handful of RNC staffers have either left the committee or looked for other jobs. That notably includes the official tasked with communicating the party’s message to Hispanics — a demographic group that Trump has repeatedly antagonized with his criticism of undocumented immigrants and his calls for building a wall between Mexico and the United States.

There’s still time, of course, for Trump and the RNC to work through these differences, and one presumes that they’ll at least put on a brave face to claim unity in time for the convention. The undercurrent, though, clearly shows a lot of Republican unease with both the way the Trump campaign is approaching the General Election and with the candidate himself. After he effectively clinched the nomination with the withdrawal of the last of his opponents, top level Republicans had hoped that Trump would pivot to a more serious, less controversial approach for the General Election.. As we’ve seen in just the last two weeks, though, that simply isn’t going to happen. Whether its outrageous comments about a Federal Judge, attacks on Hillary Clinton that have little to do with policy positions and everything to do with regurgitating the arguments of the 90s, or his recent post-Orlando comments about his Muslim immigration ban and the insinuation that President Obama secretly sympathizes with ISIS and Islamic terrorists, Donald Trump is proving himself to be as controversial as ever. The result is a race where he is quickly falling behind Hillary Clinton as the public continues to sour on him. If that continues, you can expect to see more defections by Republican politicians and a widening rift with the rest of the party. All of which would create the perfect conditions for a GOP civil war regardless of how the election turns out.

Photo via Reddit

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. HarvardLaw92 says:

    Let the civil war begin 🙂

  2. Mikey says:

    Well, one thing we know for sure: he’ll always have Jenos.

  3. John Constantine says:

    :: wipes single tear of joy from eye ::

    It’s pretty fascinating to see the precise moral, ethical and legal lines the various players on the stage draw at which they flee in desperation and fear.

    Or go Chris Christie and become his butler.

    Either way, it’s fascinating.

  4. Surreal American says:

    If only the outcome of Trump’s impending nomination could have been predicted.

    Oh wait, it was. By even the most casual observers of the political scene.

  5. grumpy realist says:

    What the end game of all this might be.

    So this is the end of the Republican convention: a stage for the Grifter-in-Chief to strut and make speeches on.

  6. michael reynolds says:

    @grumpy realist:

    Also, incidentally, a good excuse to bail out early. “I’ve realized I can make more change via media than through politics. . . since I realized I was stuck at 39% in the polls”

  7. Kylopod says:

    Among elected officials who are running from Trump, there’s a common denominator that goes unmentioned in this article: they all hold office in blue states and face reelection at some point in the future. That’s the case with Maryland’s Larry Hogan, MA’s Charlie Baker, and Illinois’ Mark Kirk.

  8. Pete S says:

    Any of these people running for office cannot be allowed to get away from Trump. The last line of any Democratic candidates ads in their districts needs to be “Candidate X, brought to you by the same party that thinks Donald Trump is qualified to be President”.

  9. C. Clavin says:

    um…isn’t this pretty much unprecedented…to have so many elected officials rebuking the presumptive nominee?

  10. CSK says:

    @grumpy realist:

    “[Trump] struts and frets his hour upon the stage/And then is heard no more.”

    God willing.

  11. Andre Kenji says:

    Neocons for Hillary, the worst campaign slogan ever.

  12. JohnMcC says:

    Acknowledging that this is great as a general trend I still have some misgivings about being on the same team (even if temporarily) with Max Boot and company.

  13. Mister Bluster says:

    Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL), who is engaged in a tough re-election fight this year, on Thursday said that Trump is “too bigoted and racist” for the state of Illinois.

    For 556,916 Prairie State registered voters who selected the Republican ballot in the Illinois Presidential Primary last March, Citizen Trump was a smart feller!
    What will it take for them to see that he is really a fart smeller!!!

  14. Jen says:

    I find Armitage’s use of the word “if” interesting:

    “If Donald Trump is the nominee, I would vote for Hillary Clinton,” Armitage told POLITICO in a brief interview.

    I’ve heard this with increasing frequency lately, like they still believe that somehow, there’s a chance he won’t be.

  15. CSK says:


    They may be premising this on the hope/belief/assumption that Donnie will bail before (unlikely) or after (possible) the coronation in Cleveland.

  16. Grumpy Realist says:

    @CSK: there’s also the possible shenanigans with the delegates. Although I don’t see how that helps matters….

  17. CSK says:

    @Grumpy Realist:

    I don’t think it does, really. The best hope for the Republicans is that they can either force him out, persuade him to quit, or hope he bails on his own.

  18. stonetools says:

    I’m beginning to think the 2016 Republican convention will be like Dems 1968. It could be a war zone, with a determined attempt to wrest the nomination from Trump.
    The whole world will be watching…

  19. Tom Joad says:

    So Trump gets endorsed by the likes of David Trott of Birmingham, the “thinking man’s Kerry Benovolio. That should get Trump the fans of foreclosure vote.

  20. Pete S says:

    @stonetools: Cleveland is only about 3 hours from me, I have a feeling I might be able to hear some of the protests and debates from here.

  21. Mikey says:

    One GOP consultant is exemplifying the depth of the division, with a most amazing series of Tweets.

    GOP Operative Lashes Out At Party, Calls Trump ‘Cheeto Jesus’ In Epic Tweetstorm

    This weekend, people were lined up hundreds deep to give blood to the victims of Orlando. Your Cheeto Jesus was praising himself.

    “Cheeto Jesus…” Priceless.

  22. C. Clavin says:


    Cheeto Jesus

    I saw that…I love it…

  23. Jen says:

    From Politico’s caucus piece today:

    “People are talking about changing the rules to introduce another nominee. Dissatisfaction with Trump is growing among Republicans, not waning,” said a New Hampshire Republican. “His VP choice is all he has left if he wants any chance at all of uniting the party behind him.”

    This is interesting, if only for the fact that some in the GOP are ready to ignore Trump’s primary voters because they understand what this candidacy is doing to the party.

    Cleveland will be interesting, that’s for sure.

  24. MBunge says:

    Bob Dole spent virtually the entire 1996 campaign trailing President Clinton in the polls by substantially larger margins than Trump is losing to Hillary. And while everyone acknowledged Dole was going to lose, there was little fear that was going to mean Republicans would be wiped out in down ballot races. Democrats wound up only gaining up two seats in the House and actually lost two seats in the Senate.

    Which isn’t to deny Trump’s horribleness as a candidate/person. But I wish there was more recognition that little of this is fundamentally about Trump.


  25. Jen says:


    But I wish there was more recognition that little of this is fundamentally about Trump.

    But…it is. The reason that GOP leaders are “stampeding” away from their candidate is because of his innate awfulness. According to recent reports, he’s refusing to make fundraising phone calls, doesn’t have the money to self-fund the general, his campaign structure is in chaos, he refuses to take any advice from the RNC, he continues to dig in and make crazy statements on a wide range of topics. If pretty much any other candidate had won the nomination (excepting Carson, who also was in the race for marketing purposes), we’d be looking at a very different race right now. The GOP would still have fractures that were poking through, no doubt. But we wouldn’t be seeing this near-complete meltdown with party members essentially disowning their nominee.

    He is trailing Secretary Clinton, who is herself not politically popular, largely–and almost exclusively–because of his execrable personality.

  26. rachel says:


    If pretty much any other candidate had won the nomination (excepting Carson…

    I think that even Carson would not have fractured the party as badly as Trump. Carson may be prone to crazy statements, but they’re not crazy and hateful, plus he’d be more likely to let the political experts do their jobs.