Anti-Trump Republicans wonder if they still have a political home

Trump supporters, who often skew working class, have said they feel mocked by elites of both parties and see in Trump someone who has heard their anger, including over immigration

Reuters
Published : 25 Feb 2024, 03:19 AM
Updated : 25 Feb 2024, 03:19 AM

As Donald Trump comes close to clinching a third presidential nomination, anti-Trump Republicans are facing a sobering reality: Their party is unlikely to revert to what it was before the MAGA wave rolled in, and they now have no obvious political home.

For Ken Baeszler, who consistently voted Republican until Trump and his Make America Great Again movement transformed the party, that political scenario is disconcerting.

"The Republican Party part of me that's left is hoping Ronald Reagan jumps out from the grave and saves us all," said Baeszler, a 65-year-old retiree, as he attended a rally for Trump challenger Nikki Haley on a recent sunny afternoon in Georgetown, South Carolina.

"It leaves me in a quandary," he added of Trump's likely victory over Haley for the Republican nomination, including an expected win in Saturday's South Carolina primary. Baeszler said he may ultimately vote for No Labels, referring to the third party seeking to field another option in the November presidential election.

Baeszler's sense of being unmoored was echoed widely in interviews with 15 other Republican or Republican-leaning Haley supporters in South Carolina this week.

Six of those Haley supporters said they also would likely vote for a third-party option if the choice is between Trump and Democrat Joe Biden in November. Four said they would back Trump given his conservative values. Four others said they would support Biden because they saw Trump as unfit for office. One said she wasn't sure.

The voter snapshot highlights how Trump has alienated part of the Republican Party in a way that could hurt him in his likely rematch against Biden. Haley supporters cited a litany of reasons for not wanting to vote for Trump, including his repeated lies about having won the 2020 election against Biden and the Jan 6, 2021, riot at the US Capitol.

A Suffolk University/USA TODAY poll released this week found that majorities of Haley supporters polled - both Republicans and independents - had unfavorable opinions of Trump, suggesting a portion would vote for Biden, a third party or stay at home, according to David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Centre.

Nationally, some 18% of respondents in a Reuters/Ipsos poll published in January said they would not vote if Biden and Trump were their choices.

"I've had enough of Trump," said David Cyr, a retired pharmacist, at the Haley rally in Georgetown. "I drank that Kool-Aid twice before. Anybody who can't respect the election process and abdicate – can't trust them."

Cyr, 67, said he would likely vote for Biden in November but cautioned that doesn't mean he is no longer a Republican. "I don't see that as betraying the Republican Party when they can't put up the right nominee," he said.

Before Trump's 2016 election, Republicans were dogged advocates of free markets, foreign intervention and a smaller state. Trump flipped the script when he came to power promising to withdraw from foreign entanglements and crack down on immigration at the US-Mexico border. His speeches often focus on his personal grievances, and the former reality TV star frequently goes off teleprompter to crack jokes and mock opponents.

Kirk Randazzo, a political science professor at the University of South Carolina, said the Republican Party had moved away from policies and principles to become personality-centric.

"And that personality is Donald Trump," Randazzo said.

Underscoring his grip on the party, Trump has endorsed his daughter-in-law Lara Trump as co-chair of the Republican National Committee.

MAKING SENSE OF MAGA

While waiting for Haley to take the stage in Georgetown, conservative Jay Doyle, a retired contractor, indulged in what has become something of a national pastime for political junkies: Analysing how the Republican Party came to be so infatuated with Trump.

"The people that are strongly supporting Trump really do not have a grasp on the facts," said Doyle, 66.

Stephen Porter, a former welder sitting nearby, interjected: "They're stupid!"

Doyle, sheepishly, said he didn't want to say that. "I believe the term is easily duped," he said.

But Porter, 59, insisted: "Stupid."

Trump supporters, who often skew working class, have said they feel mocked by elites of both parties and see in Trump someone who has heard their anger, including over immigration. Trump critics say he has stoked anger in his base to reap political benefits and sell merchandise ranging from red MAGA hats to his new $399 gold-topped sneakers with American flag logos.

The Trump campaign and RNC did not respond to requests for comment.

To be sure, Trump has also engaged Americans who previously had little interest in politics. And Haley events have drawn Democrats displeased with Biden, 81, often citing the president's age as a turnoff.

Several Republican-leaning voters at Haley events said they would ultimately come around to Trump. Jewelry business owner Mary Davis, 48, would like to see a woman in the White House, but doesn't dislike Trump. "I would vote for Trump again," Davis said.

Some other attendees, though, were appalled at the turn their party had taken.

Kim Shattuck, a 65-year-old insurance wholesaler, said she was livid that Trump pressured Republicans in Congress to kill a bipartisan immigration bill this month, believing the move was a ploy by Trump to improve his chances in November.

After voting for Trump twice, she and her husband said they planned to back Biden.