Growing number of Republicans speaking out against Trump

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    President Donald Trump speaks during an event on "Protecting America's Seniors," Friday, Oct. 16, 2020, in Fort Myers, Fla. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) Evan Vucci

Monitor staff
Published: 10/17/2020 3:03:51 PM

Sometime before the 2016 New Hampshire primary, Joe McQuaid got a call from Donald Trump.

It wasn’t the most unusual thing. McQuaid, then the Union Leader publisher, had his hands on an important lever of power in New Hampshire and Trump, then a presidential candidate, wanted to benefit from it.

More unusual was McQuaid’s advice. ” I said: ‘Mr. Trump you should not be running for president!’” McQuaid recalled in an interview. “‘Why not!’” Trump replied. McQuaid said it was simple: He lacked experience. Businessmen do not become presidents.

The candidate paused. “Well, there’s always a first time,” he told the publisher.

“He clearly didn’t take my advice, so that’s where we are,” McQuaid said.

Four years later, Trump is clawing for a second term as president. Polls suggest he’s still commanding high approval ratings among self-identified Republicans in New Hampshire, even if he’s fallen behind Democrat Joe Biden among the broader electorate.

But if McQuaid, a conservative, was an early voice of dissent in 2016 among his party, a chorus of New Hampshire Republicans are speaking up in 2020, not only denounce Trump but to actively support Joe Biden, including former New Hampshire Republican Party Chairwoman Jennifer Horn, former Congressman and state Supreme Court Justice Chuck Douglas, former state Attorney General Tom Rath and former U.S. Sen. Gordon Humphrey.

Horn, an outspoken Trump opponent, said with those names already out there, more could be coming. Others may choose to stay silent at their own peril, she said.

“I know with certainty from my own conversations that we have elected Republicans and elected officials within the party structure who feel almost the same way about Donald Trump as I do,” she said in an interview. “The fact they recognize the things about him that I recognize but are unwilling to speak up, unwilling to take a stand, unwilling to risk losing their next election, is a reflection unfortunately of their own character, of their own integrity. And they deserve to have voters hold them accountable for that.”

In many respects, McQuaid and Horn were ahead of the rest of the pack. And for them, one question remains as Biden maintains a steady polling lead ahead of Nov. 3: What comes next for the Republican party?

‘Basic philosophy’

In 2015, McQuaid never had a particular sense that the Republican primary season was going to be any different from any others. With an incumbent Democrat leaving, though, the intensity was not surprising to him.

Back then, faced with an impossibly big Republican primary field, McQuaid and the editorial board applied the same decision criteria they always had: character.

“People who have some integrity, some experience, a philosophy,” he said dryly. “Dumb things of that nature.”

It wasn’t clear who on the list was going to meet those hurdles. It was clear, McQuaid said, that Donald Trump was not.

“If I got any sense (at that point) it’s that I wasn’t thrilled with any of the candidates coming forward,” McQuaid said. “This was not Ronald Reagan territory.”

Early on, Trump wasn’t on the radar to serious observers of the race; he was an “asterisk,” McQuaid said. He had flirted with the idea of running – or “threatened,” McQuaid chuckled – but he hadn’t presented as a serious threat. Trump hadn’t even shown up to the Union Leader’s candidate roundtable, a key venue for the editors to size up the other candidates.

Beyond character, the paper’s leadership was looking for vision. They didn’t see any in Trump, McQuaid said. He had held pro-choice positions before he turned against abortion. His larger economic philosophy was muddled at best.

“I’m a guy that runs a newspaper – or did – and (we) pick out candidates based on what we think they have done in particular office or life, and what their basic philosophy is,” McQuaid said.

“Trump didn’t have a basic philosophy,” McQuaid argued. “He mouthed other people’s things.”

McQuaid jokes that he was the one to give Donald Trump his big shot in New Hampshire. After attending a Politics and Eggs event in 2014 featuring the billionaire businessman, McQuaid noticed that Trump was giving the Union Leader publisher a lot of attention in his remarks. He decided to take advantage of the interest, inviting Trump to keynote the Nackey S. Loeb First Amendment Awards ceremony.

That was November 2014. Those in attendance lined up for photos with Trump. The next June, Trump announced his run for president.

Trump would continue the charm offensive, dropping by the Union Leader offices, meeting for lunch at the Derryfield Country Club, and calling McQuaid up on Christmas. At one point, over the phone, Trump asked for advice; McQuaid told him with his lack of experience, he should abandon course.

McQuaid wasted little making his opinion known. In November 2015, a year after inviting Trump to the First Amendment awards, McQuaid and the editorial board fired the first public salvo against Trump: They endorsed Chris Christie for Republican nominee.

Then they escalated things. That December, aware of Trump’s stubborn position at the front of the polls, McQuaid penned a front-page editorial comparing Trump to Biff, the villainous bully in the Back to the Future movie series. Trump wasted no time either; he picked up the phone to WMUR to complain about McQuaid and his lackluster job steering the paper.

“I think the people from Channel 9 called me and said ‘He’s going berserk! We got him on tape, he’s going berserk!’” McQuaid recalled. “‘What’s he saying?’ ‘He’s saying you’re a loser and a liar!’”

Whether he wanted to or not, McQuaid had joined the side of a small but insistent group of mainstream conservative voices who opposed Trump and considered him a long-term threat to the Republican party. That included the National Review, the once-essential conservative magazine, that assembled a group of right-leaning thinkers into an issue titled “Never Trump.” Suddenly, the small-scale movement had a name.

As the primary fight dragged on, and Trump continued to rout the remaining contenders in the field, those voices persisted. In the end, they were hopelessly drowned out. Trump had captured the imaginations of voters in the party looking for a system upheaval, and he had pulled party elders and elected officials along for the ride as well.

It wasn’t that McQuaid didn’t see the appeal at the time. He saw the raw celebrity attraction of the man.

But, he said: “I didn’t know that star quality was going to result in people putting their hopes into this empty vessel and voting for the dude.”

“He’s a con man,” McQuaid added, “but he won the con.”

Front row seat

As the primary unfolded, Horn was also watching anxiously. But she didn’t have the luxury of a soap box to speak her mind.

As the chairwoman of the New Hampshire Republican Party from 2013 to 2017, Horn had a front row seat to its transformation. Near the the start of her tenure, the party was reeling from the defeat of Mitt Romney, and evaluating how to broaden its support among minority voters. By the end of it, the party seemed to tilt heavily in the other direction.

Along the way, Horn spoke out against some of Trump’s antics. She criticized his statements on captured prisoners of war. She spoke out again with the release of the Access Hollywood tape emerged, in which Trump used vulgar language and boasted of grabbing women by their genitals.

“I got quite a growing amount – an increasing amount of blowback when that happened,” she said. “From those who thought that the chairwoman should just be silent and stupid.”

But as standard bearer of the Republican Party, Horn had to keep most of her opinions to herself. It wasn’t until she voluntarily left the post at the end of her term that she started on a new path – speaking out against the Republican party.

“We just saw at the national convention, a Republican party leadership that voted not to vote on a platform,” Horn said. “There is nothing more obvious than that that the current Republican party has completely lost their soul.”

The journey from party insider to outside agitator was a long and somewhat lonely one. But Horn says it’s the only journey that adhered the closest to her beliefs.

Back in 2013, the party was trying in earnest to broaden its support, focusing on “why our messaging and our positions were not speaking to minority communities, to women, to Latinos, to African Americans.”

Just two years later, Trump was calling unauthorized Mexican immigrants criminals and rapists. Horn, still at the helm, had to figure out what to do.

“I felt like I had to choose between defending a politician and defending a principle,” she said.

After Trump’s inauguration, Horn went more directly on a path of opposition – or at least criticism. She joined the Log Cabin Republicans, a Republican LGBTQ rights group, in large part because they had declined to endorse Trump in 2016. She left the group in 2019 after they endorsed Trump’s re-election, telling the Washington Post that she wanted to explain her decisions to her children in the future.

She began outright opposing the president, serving as Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld‘s campaign manager in 2019 in his quixotic bid for Republican nomination.

Then she took the biggest leap yet, joining with several other disaffected Republican strategists and co-founding the Lincoln Project, a concerted effort to bring Republicans against Trump in the 2020 election.

Horn’s role is not exactly subtle. She’s helped lead the tip of the project’s spear, organizing as many high profile leaders to join “Republicans for Joe Biden” as she can.

Politics as usual?

Four years after Trump’s election, McQuaid and Horn are still grappling with what to do about the Republican Party’s transformation.

McQuaid says if Trump is a new political development, the reaction by the rest of his party in embracing his style of governance is merely “politics as usual.”

“The real shocker to a lot of those people has got to me – not the sycophants, but the damn U.S. senators and Congressmen, Republicans who would waste the party’s philosophy, history and future based on their own god damn selfish needs,” he said.

For McQuaid, the Trump years aren’t a minor change in course for the party . They’re a “sea change,” an inescapable, once-in-100-year phenomenon, akin to the fate of the Republican party in the aftermath of the Great Depression that led to the rise of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. And the current crop of lawmakers, he said, are not the ones who can turn it around.

“I think the Republican party is dead as it currently exists, and it’s going to have to reinvent itself, or be reinvented by some new and or seasoned voices,” McQuaid said.

As for Horn: She still supports down-ballot Republican candidates, including Gov. Chris Sununu, who remains popular with voters in both parties. But she doesn’t yet know what place she has in the future of the Grand Old Party. First off, she says, it needs to get its act together.

“I think that there is no question that the Republican party is going to be held ac countable for voters for many cycles to come,” she said.

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