Ex-GOP Voter Calls Capitol Riots the 'Straw That Broke the Camel's Back' As Thousands Leave Party

Following the January 6 riots at the U.S. Capitol, several states saw a shift in voter registrations, with many deciding to leave the Republican Party.

An analysis of January voting records conducted by the New York Times found almost 140,000 Republicans deciding to leave the party across 25 states. A recent report from NBC News found more than 12,000 Republican voters in Pennsylvania leaving the party after January 6, while North Carolina and Arizona saw nearly 8,000 and over 9,000, respectively.

Kimrey Rhinehardt was one of the many North Carolina voters that decided to leave the GOP following the Capitol riot, describing it as "the straw that broke the camel's back."

"I was shaken by what I witnessed, what I heard and a couple of days after [January 6] I decided that I could no longer align myself with people who are changing the Republican Party to something other than I knew it to be," Rhinehardt told Newsweek.

While speaking with Newsweek Rhinehardt explained that she first aligned herself with the Republican Party when she was around 11 years old and went on to work as a Capitol Hill staff member for 28 years. Rhinehardt told Newsweek that she officially filed the paperwork to change her party affiliation in the days after the Capitol riots, saying "it took maybe two minutes."

"And I felt good about it," she said. "I felt like if I could do nothing else, I will not allow the Republican Party to expect loyalty from me anymore. And for me to go back to the Republican Party, I'm gonna have to see a lot of change, I'm gonna have to feel that others are included, that I'm included, that my voice matters, because right now I don't really feel like my voice matters."

Rhinehardt told Newsweek that while she still remains committed to the traditional policies and values of the Republican Party she noted that "it's just not the party that I know anymore."

Capitol Building
Pro-Trump supporters storm the U.S. Capitol following a rally with President Donald Trump on January 6, 2021 in Washington, DC. Trump supporters gathered in the nation's capital today to protest the ratification of President-elect Joe Biden's Electoral College victory over President Trump in the 2020 election. Samuel Corum/Getty

"I wanted conservative judges, I wanted a strong pro-Israel president," Rhinehardt, who voted for Trump in 2016 and wrote in a candidate in 2020, said. "There were things that I was willing to overlook to get my priorities attended to but never could I [have] ever foreseen the damage and destruction that came along with the good things the president did. I thought I could hold my nose and wait it out but I feel like [Trump] lit a match to burn the party down on his way out."

While data has signaled a shift in the Republican Party, Thomas Gift, the director of the Center on U.S. Politics at the University College London, told Newsweek that many of those who left the party likely have views similar to Rhinehardt, in that they still align themselves with the party's traditional policies but feel disconnected to Trump.

"[The data] certainly reflects that to some extent, like a shift away from Donald Trump and what he represents," Gift told Newsweek. "My guess is that most of these voters who are pulling away from the Republican Party are those who would have traditionally considered themselves traditional Republicans; country club Republicans, chamber of commerce Republicans and so on, who feel like the party, as it's currently manifested under Donald Trump no longer represents their values."

Gift added that "it's obviously not a good sign for the Republican Party, but at the same time just because voters are de-identifying with the Republican Party formally, doesn't mean that they are shifting their opinions or shifting their values or even necessarily shifting the way they are going to vote."

While Rhinehardt described the Capitol riots as the final straw in her support for the Republican Party, Barry Burden, director of the Elections Research Center at the University of Wisconsin, explained to Newsweek that he sees the shift as a "two-stage process."

"Some walked away from the party soon after Election Day and then a more immediate reaction after the January 6 insurrection," Burden said.

Gift told Newsweek that he believes the shift away from the Republican Party has "been brewing for quite some time."

"But you kind of needed the trigger to put it over the edge and maybe the Capitol insurrection was that trigger," he said.

Despite the shift in voters away from the GOP, both Burden and Gift said that they don't believe the shift will lead to the emergence of a third party.

According to Burden, for the Republican Party to reverse this shift in voters they need to turn back to the unifying elements that all Republican and conservative voters agree on, such as "less regulations, fewer taxes, a smaller federal government and more emphasis on free enterprise and individual freedoms."

"So, I think turning back to those kind of fundamental principles is a way to hold to the coalition in place," Burden said.