More Republicans Back Biden in Unprecedented Rebuke of a Sitting President

A growing number of Republicans are abandoning their own party to publicly back Democrat Joe Biden for president in an unprecedented rebuke of a sitting president.

The coordinated efforts far surpass the high-profile defections that occurred during Donald Trump's candidacy in 2016 and come amid his plummeting public support and intense scrutiny of his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and police reform protests, both major domestic crises.

Peter Jeffrey Kuznick, a professor who specializes in 20th- and 21st-century presidents at American University, told Newsweek that the rejection of a sitting president by his own party is "unprecedented" in modern American history, and "extremely unusual" overall. Parties have rarely splintered in such a way, he said, citing Teddy Roosevelt running as a progressive as one example.

The latest super PAC of Republicans for Joe Biden, The Right Side PAC, includes short-lived former Trump communications director Anthony Scaramucci and launched Wednesday. Scaramucci told Newsweek he plans to go into swing states like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan, in predominantly white areas that voted for Trump, to spread his message of why it's against their interest to continue to support him. The group will use digital, phone, and mail to reach voters and rely on major donors.

Scaramucci said that while Trump's idea of leadership is "throwing Molotov cocktails," Biden wants to unite the country.

"Trump has hijacked this party, but there's going to be a reckoning," he said.

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The creation of that PAC follows the new 45 Alumni for Biden PAC of former Bush administration officials that began this month. Former President George W. Bush will not support Trump, and his spokesman Freddy Ford told Newsweek he is also not involved in the PAC. But the group, which will fundraise for Biden, quickly gathered close to 200 supporters.

The fundraising efforts come on top of high-profile GOP defections, like former Secretary of State Colin Powell, who said June 7 that Trump "lies" and he will vote for Biden. Cindy McCain, the widow of former Senator John McCain, plans to support Biden but may not be public about it because of her son's political career, The New York Times reported.

Then there are the groups like The Lincoln Project, started by veterans of past Republican campaigns, which spent $1.4 million against Trump through March and raised another $1 million after the president attacked the group in May for their ad on his coronavirus response. Bill Kristol's Republican Voters Against Trump is also stocked by GOP operatives and is releasing searing ads against him, like one featuring Senator Lindsey Graham. The ad received widespread media coverage and attention on social media after showing Graham slamming Trump during the 2016 campaign and then lavishing praise on Biden.

Trump, however, has been opposed by establishment Republicans before. In 2016, GOP leaders were more likely to say they weren't backing Trump, than to take the next step and say they were supporting Hillary Clinton. Trump lost support at various times—when he was slow to denounce former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke, when he attacked a Latino judge in the Trump University case, and when he attacked a Gold Star family. But many Republicans publicly abandoned him in October, just weeks before the election, after an Access Hollywood tape emerged of his lewd comments about women.

Jeffrey Lord, a former staffer in the Ronald Reagan administration, said he's seen it all before. In a 2015 op-ed, Lord wrote that Trump could win despite the Republican establishment rejecting him because they did something similar to Reagan when he was a candidate.

At the time, Vice President Nelson Rockefeller said Reagan "has been taking some extreme positions," while former president Gerald Ford called Reagan "a sure-loser in November." Senator Jacob Javits said Reagan's positions were "so extreme that they would alter our country's very economic and social structure and our place in the world."

"These are liberal Republicans," Lord said of leaders like Powell, who endorsed Biden. "It's just disguised as anti-Trumpism."

While polls are not predictive, they serve as a current snapshot of the race. Recent polls have shown Biden surpassing 50 percent majority support, like a CNN poll which showed the race at 55 percent to 41 percent. This indicates the problem Republicans' splintering can present for Trump—meaning the president needs to not only persuade voters already with Biden, but also keep his own. He can ill-afford to continue losing support: A Reuters/Ipsos poll Wednesday showed Biden winning 48 percent to 35 percent, with Trump's popularity dropping to a seven-month low.

Another aspect that has hurt Trump, sources said, is that his presidency "became real," something they said was never more clear than in the last five months as he faced a pandemic and protests that swept the country. A CBS News poll after the protests showed that 49 percent disapproved of Trump's handling, while 32 percent approved of it. A FiveThirtyEight analysis also showed that Trump's approval rating of the pandemic's management has slipped. About 54 percent of Americans now disapprove of his pandemic leadership.

Rosario Marin, who served as treasurer under George W. Bush and recently joined the super PAC supporting Biden, said that six months ago people weren't thinking about switching parties, but the coronavirus outbreak "shined a bright light on his deficiencies as a leader and as an administrator."

"But even worse, were the protests. It was something that has been brewing in people's hearts and they realized he's not going to be the healer we need at this time," she said, also chiding Trump for not mentioning racism during his executive order announcing limited police reforms.

The Trump campaign did not respond to Newsweek's request for comment.

GOP groups who are opposing Trump said that the high-profile defections also provide a "permission structure" for lifelong Republicans to support Biden, and say multiple factors have contributed to the early support for the former vice president. As president, Trump now has a record to critique and no longer has Hillary Clinton, deeply unpopular among Republicans, to use to deflect criticism.

Biden, on the other hand, is a much more respected and palatable candidate for Republicans to back, the groups said.

"Biden's brand positioning makes him a very safe choice," said Tim Miller, an advisor to Republican Voters Against Trump. "When they say 'He's an extremist in the pocket of AOC! He's an ANTIFA supporter!' Really? Joe Biden?"

Miller's group has courted Republican donors and held focus groups with Trump supporters and Republicans who have soured on the president. He told Newsweek that during the primary donors told him they were against Trump, but wouldn't be able to donate money to his group if Senators Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren were the Democratic nominees.

"He's not ANTIFA, he's not Bernie Sanders, he's not even Nancy Pelosi," Jennifer Horn a founder of The Lincoln Project, told Newsweek about how Republicans view Biden. Horn said she spent 10 years as New Hampshire Republican Party chairman using Nancy Pelosi as a boogeyman in her races, but Biden, she said, is "good guy," who works in a bipartisan manner.

Where many in the military gave Trump the benefit of the doubt in 2016, Miller said, there has been a cascade of former military leaders coming out against Trump, whom Republican groups see as the "most credible messengers" in their quest to see Biden defeat Trump.

"This fall, it's time for new leadership in this country—Republican, Democrat or independent," retired Navy admiral William H. McRaven, who led the Osama bin Laden raid told the Times. "President Trump has shown he doesn't have the qualities necessary to be a good commander in chief."

Former defense secretary James Mattis was joined by former chairs of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mike Mullen and Marty Dempsey, in criticizing and repudiating Trump's leadership.

"For lifelong Republican voters, military critiques of Trump are extremely persuasive and extremely valuable," Horn told Newsweek.

Lord said these high-profile efforts reinforce to Trump supporters that Washington elite don't like Trump, which he said fuels their support of the president.

Horn, however, disagreed. More high-profile Republican endorsements of Biden are coming, she said.

"It would be a relief that [Trump's] no longer going to be there," Marin said, envisioning a Biden victory on election night. "A sigh of relief that they no longer need to make excuses, they no longer need to cover for him."

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Barack Obama listens to Joe Biden (R) as former US Secretary of State General Colin Powell (L) speaks during a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, D.C., December 1, 2010, where they discussed a wide range of issues including education and the passage of the New START Treaty. SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images/Getty
More Republicans Back Biden in Unprecedented Rebuke of a Sitting President | U.S.