Steven Roberts column: Heeding the GOP defectors

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 2, 2020


battalion of brave Republicans, including key figures from President Trump’s own administration, have abandoned their party and endorsed Democrat Joe Biden. Defectors in the opposite direction, Democrats backing Trump, are practically nonexistent.

Trump’s base remains solid: about 37% to 40% of the electorate. But the prominent Republicans who are rejecting the president, especially those who have served at his side and watched him up close, are casting a devastating vote of no confidence. They deserve to be heard. And if anything, Trump’s bullying and blustering performance during his debate with Biden could well encourage other Republicans to join the rebels in declaring the dangers of a second Trump term.

“The amount of criticism Trump has faced from former aides is unprecedented in the modern presidency,” writes The Washington Post.

Adds Time magazine: “Never in recent history have so many senior former U.S. officials publicly attacked the commander-in-chief they served, or the decisions he’s made.”

These defectors insist that many other administration officials share their dismay, but are reluctant to risk the wrath of a vengeful president and his ardent backers. Olivia Troye, a former senior adviser to Vice President Pence who now backs Biden, insists: “There were a lot of closed-door conversations I have had with a lot of senior people across the administration where they agree with me wholeheartedly.”

The core of their criticism is that Trump always places his personal interests ahead of every other consideration, including the health of the American people. Troye, who was frequently pictured at White House meetings on the COVID-19 pandemic, cites the refusal of the president and his aides to wear masks, even though their own scientific experts “repeatedly begged” them to do so.

“The mask issue was a critical one,” Troye told the Post. “If we could have gotten ahead on that and stressed the importance of it, we could have slowed the spread significantly. It was detrimental that it became a politicized issue. It still lingers today.”

Another area bothering a lot of GOP rebels is the president’s hostility toward immigration, especially policies that separated families at the border and deprived asylum-seekers of their legal rights. Miles Taylor, former chief of staff at the Department of Homeland Security, said in a campaign video promoting Biden: “The president said to the senior leadership of the Department of Homeland Security, behind the scenes, ‘We should not let anyone else into the United States.’ And even though he’d been told on repeated occasions that the way he wanted to do it was illegal, his response was to say, ‘Do it. If you get in trouble, I’ll pardon you.’”

National security experts have been particularly critical of Trump, and almost 500 of them from both parties signed a letter condemning his record: “He cannot rise to meet challenges large or small. Thanks to his disdainful attitude and his failures, our allies no longer trust or respect us, and our enemies no longer fear us. Climate change continues unabated, as does North Korea’s nuclear program.”

One of the most damning indictments came from Jim Mattis, a retired Marine general who served as Trump’s first Secretary of Defense and was appalled at the president’s use of force to dispel peaceful protesters: “Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people — does not even pretend to try. Instead, he tries to divide us.”

Many Republicans are also alarmed at Trump’s determination to raise doubts about mail-in ballots and undermine public confidence in the election. Ben Ginsberg, long the GOP’s chief election expert, wrote in the Post that the president’s claims were “unsustainable” and concluded, “The truth is that after decades of looking for illegal voting, there’s no proof of widespread fraud.”

“The president’s rhetoric,” Ginsberg added, “has put my party in the position of a firefighter who deliberately sets fires to look like a hero putting them out.”

Anthony Scaramucci served only briefly as the White House communications director, but it was long enough to sour him on his boss. “As a citizen, all I’ve tried to do is provide a surgeon general’s warning,” he told the A.P. “This guy is a threat to the institutions of democracy, and I think it’s important to send a signal to other people,” urging them to speak out as well.

There’s still time for all those Republicans who despise Trump in private to voice their fears publicly. And after his debate debacle, it’s their patriotic duty to do so — now more than ever.

Steven Roberts teaches politics and journalism at George Washington University. He can be contacted by email at