In an effort to halt Donald Trump's momentum and also to preserve some self-respect, a growing number of Republicans are vowing never to vote for Trump, even if he becomes the GOP presidential nominee. As Megan McArdle reported for Bloomberg, the #NeverTrump faction represents "all segments of the party -- urban professionals, yes, but also stalwart evangelicals, neoconservatives, libertarians, Tea Partiers, the whole patchwork of ideological groups of which the Republican coalition is made."
Former New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman said she would consider voting for Hillary Clinton over Trump. At a funeral in Des Moines this past weekend, the daughter of the deceased (like Whitman a moderate Republican) struck a chord with some of the mourners when she joked during her eulogy that she was a little envious her mother would not have to vote in the presidential election now.
At the other end of the GOP ideological spectrum, staunch conservative U.S. Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska became the first member of Congress to take the #NeverTrump pledge, laying out his reasoning in a long Facebook post.
So far, the most prominent Iowa Republican to join the #NeverTrump camp is right-wing talk radio host Steve Deace, who explained his stance in a column for the Conservative Review website. Deace worked hard to persuade fellow Iowans to caucus for Ted Cruz. Meanwhile, Marco Rubio endorser and former Waukee City Council member Isaiah McGee described himself to me as a "founding member" of #NeverTrump.
Early signs suggest that few, if any, elected GOP officials in Iowa will join the club.
Let's start with members of Congress. Trump clearly is not unacceptable to U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley, who introduced the billionaire at a rally in late January. While not endorsing any candidate before the Iowa caucuses, Grassley told that Trump crowd in Pella, "We have an opportunity once again to make America great again."
U.S. Senator Joni Ernst has likewise stayed neutral in the presidential race, even though she appeared at a Rubio rally a week before the caucuses and has worked with several people who are involved with Rubio's presidential campaign. That Ernst would prefer Rubio for the nomination is highly likely. But don't expect her to rock the boat if the current front-runner prevails in the primaries. A staffer for Ernst commented today by e-mail, "Senator Ernst has stated that she is neutral in the primary, however, she will support the eventual Republican nominee in the general election."
Iowa's three Republican U.S. House members have not yet responded to my inquiries. Only Representative Steve King (IA-04) took a stand before the caucuses, becoming Cruz's leading surrogate in Iowa. He continues to advocate for Cruz and used his Twitter account to warn last week that republics are in danger of falling to "demagogues," especially when they are "in a state of moral decay." My hunch is that King will not go to the mat to stop Trump from becoming president, though, because of what likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton would mean for the future of the Supreme Court and any number of domestic policies. On a related note, Bob Vander Plaats has not yet responded to my request for comment on the #NeverTrump movement. A three-time candidate for governor, prominent figure in campaigns to unseat Iowa Supreme Court justices, and head of the FAMiLY Leader organization, Vander Plaats appeared alongside Cruz at many events after endorsing the Texas senator in December.
Meanwhile, Representatives David Young (IA-03) and Rod Blum (IA-01) are both seeking re-election in House districts that will be targeted by Democrats. The last thing they need is to alienate a large portion of the Republican base by urging party loyalists to leave the presidential ballot line blank or support a third-party alternative to Trump.
Though Governor Terry Branstad called on Iowans to defeat Cruz over his position on the ethanol mandate, Trump's appeals to racism or other forms of bigotry don't look like a deal-breaker for our governor. On the contrary, Branstad spent political capital against Cruz knowing that Trump was best positioned to benefit from any backlash over the biofuels issue. Speaking to reporters at his regular weekly press conference on February 29, Branstad expressed concern about personal insults between Trump and Rubio getting "way out of hand." But far from sounding worried about Trump's momentum, the governor described New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's endorsement of the businessman as a "brilliant move" that shifted the media narrative away from "Rubio's great performance at the debate [on February 25]."
Think about that for a moment. White nationalists continue to spend money on pro-Trump robocalls similar to the ones that reached thousands of Iowa households in January. Former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke told his white supporters that not voting for Trump would be "treason to your heritage." Trump's weak efforts to distance himself from his racist fans figured prominently in Deace's case for #NeverTrump and prompted a rebuke from Mitt Romney ("disqualifying" and "disgusting"). Iowa social conservative blogger Shane Vander Hart has been slamming Trump's misogyny, refusal to "stand up to the KKK," and apparent orders to have the Secret Service remove some black students from a campaign rally yesterday.
Yet Governor Branstad is concerned about Trump and Rubio trading insults over excessive perspiration and spray-on tans.
Count on Branstad to fall in line if Trump wins the Republican nomination. Our governor has a long history of accommodating well-off business leaders who make money off government policies.
Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds and Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey are likely candidates for governor in 2018. Where is the upside for them to become profiles in courage against what Trump represents for the Republican Party? The safe play is to quietly support the GOP ticket while keeping their distance from Trump when he campaigns in Iowa. The same goes for Secretary of State Paul Pate and State Auditor Mary Mosiman, regardless of whether they plan to seek higher office in the future.
At this writing, I have not heard of any Republican state lawmakers taking the #NeverTrump pledge. I will update this post as needed and am seeking comment from some who supported other presidential candidates before the caucuses. Scroll down for a full list.
Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread, especially tips about any well-known Iowa Republicans in the #NeverTrump camp. Depending on the local political environment, city or county-level GOP officials may have incentive to oppose Trump at all costs.
MARCH 2 UPDATE: Without explicitly saying so, Grassley signaled that he would support Trump as the nominee. Pat Curtis reported for Radio Iowa,
“I don’t know whether I ought to be making any comment on any of the three or four potential nominees...until they’re our nominee,” Grassley said. [...]
“I can assure you that I’m going to do everything I can to make sure Hillary Clinton is not President of the United States,” Grassley said.
MARCH 4 UPDATE: Republican Party of Iowa Chair Jeff Kaufmann put an end to any speculation that he might not back the likely GOP nominee, posting on Twitter on March 3, "Whoever the grassroots of our party chooses to be the nominee the @IowaGOP will support 100%," as well as, "Any of our candidates are light years better than Hillary Clinton #IAGOP."
Kaufmann was noticeably mild in reacting to Trump's proposal to bar Muslims from entering the United States three months ago--especially compared to the way the state party chair has described Republicans who displayed the Confederate flag or said disparaging things about the Iowans.
During the Republican presidential debate in Detroit on March 3, Trump faced harsh criticism from his remaining opponents, especially Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz. But Rubio, Cruz, and John Kasich all acknowledged that they would support Trump if he becomes the nominee, even though Rubio's campaign has been selling #NeverTrump gear.
Iowa Republican state legislators who endorsed presidential candidates before the 2016 caucuses
For Trump: State Senator Brad Zaun (which didn't seem to influence his constituents)
For Cruz: State Senators Jason Schultz, Randy Feenstra, Bill Anderson, Jake Chapman, Jerry Behn, Dennis Guth; State Representatives Terry Baxter, Greg Heartsill, Steve Holt, Sandy Salmon, Larry Sheets, Ralph Watts
For Rubio: State Senators Jack Whitver, Rick Bertrand, Tom Shipley; State Representatives Brian Best, Megan Jones, Bobby Kaufmann, John Wills
For Christie: State Representatives Kraig Paulsen, Chip Baltimore, Gary Carlson, Dave Deyoe, Norlin Mommsen, Jake Highfill
For Jeb Bush: State Senator Charles Schneider, State Representatives Rob Bacon, Greg Forristall, Dave Heaton, Ron Jorgensen, Linda Miller, Zach Nunn, Ken Rizer
For Carly Fiorina: State Senator David Johnson, State Representatives Lee Hein, Clel Baudler, Josh Byrnes, Ross Paustian, Mike Sexton
For John Kasich: State Representatives Mary Ann Hanusa, David Sieck
For Ben Carson: State Representative Rob Taylor
For Lindsey Graham: State Senator Tim Kapucian
For Rick Santorum: State Representatives Walt Rogers, Dean Fisher