These Republicans won’t vote for Trump. But what options do they have?

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DENVER ‒ Becky Edwards is sick of “the ick” surrounding former President Donald Trump. Krista Kafer says the path toward his coronation “grosses” her out. And Jennifer Horn considers him a “grotesque” threat to democracy.

All three Republican women ‒ and millions of other voters like them ‒ are facing a crisis of faith as Trump grows closer to locking up the GOP’s presidential nomination, drawing endorsements from challengers he only recently was insulting.

The sudden coalescing of support following the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primaries has driven most of the former president’s serious challengers out of the race. Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, his sole remaining serious competitor, is now sharpening her attacks on Trump, but some of her would-be supporters fear it may already be too late.  

Trump’s nearly unprecedented early path to party dominance is driving some Republicans to consider what once would be have unthinkable: voting for incumbent President Joe Biden. Others say they may just not vote for president at all.

Trump has secured early and strong support from party leaders and influential Republican lawmakers, although he’ll need votes from moderate conservatives and independents to beat Biden. And while Biden has his own issues with voter enthusiasm, Trump is such a polarizing candidate that some members of his own party created the “Never Trump” movement in 2016 to support his opponents ‒ even if they’re Democrats.

Some Republicans feel Trump isn’t a real conservative

“This is an all-hands-on-deck moment for every American,” said Edwards, a mental health counselor and former Utah state legislator. “Trump is the emperor with no clothes, the Republican with no clothes.”

She added: “Frankly, we deserve better.”

Edwards, 63, recently launched the Governing Group, a Utah-focused political action committee dedicated to supporting GOP and unaffiliated candidates who explicitly commit to constructive and collaborative governance.

Like some other Republican voters, Edwards wants to see her party return to the days of Ronald Reagan’s “Big Tent,” where everyone was welcome to share conservative values of law and order, fiscal restraint, morality and civility.

Trump, she said, has swayed millions of her fellow Republicans to his side despite his penchant for big spending, questionable morals and behavior that’s opened him up to multiple criminal prosecutions.

“To see people just ignore that for policies, and then ignore policies because they’ve decided he’s a candidate they are going to support?” Edwards said. “It’s extremely disappointing. It just shows a real lack of backbone.”

Disappointing isn’t the word Horn would use.

As former chairwoman of the New Hampshire Republican Party, Horn very early on became a “Never Trump” campaigner, working with the anti-Trump Lincoln Project to oppose his candidacy. She said the events of Jan. 6, 2021, and the 91 charges pending against him indicate he’s not worthy of being president again.

“I will not vote for Trump and I will not vote for a Republican unwilling to denounce Trump,” said Horn, 59. “He is a grotesque, narcissistic, emotionally ill criminal who has already made it clear he is willing to toss aside the Constitution and incite an insurrection. That goes completely against everything I used to believe the Republican Party was about.”

Check out the calendar: When is the next Republican primary? A guide to the 2024 election schedule

Can Trump win without moderate Republican support?

Trump easily won the Jan. 23 New Hampshire primary, but Fox News reported that exit polls raised signs of concern: While Trump won a lion’s share of “very conservative” voters, large numbers of independent voters who participated backed Haley, and 35% of Republican primary voters said they wouldn’t back Trump in the presidential election.

According to the Pew Research Center, Trump in 2020 received the votes of 97% of conservative Republicans and leaners, but only 79% of those Republicans describing themselves as moderate or liberal. In contrast, Biden won 98% of the vote among liberal Democrats and leaners, and 91% among those who are moderate or conservative.

Trump lost the 2020 presidential election by failing to broaden his coalition significantly beyond the GOP’s base, experts say, adding that the same could happen again this fall.

A Washington Post/Monmouth University poll released this week shows that Trump enjoys a strong lead over Haley in the next major Republican primary race in South Carolina. He is predicted to beat her 58% to 32% among potential GOP voters. That poll showed Haley winning 56% of potential Republican voters who considered themselves “moderate” or “liberal” conservatives, but Trump winning 80% of voters who consider themselves very conservative.

“Trump can’t win by losing that many Republicans,” Horn said of a general election.

She would back Haley if the former governor would more forcefully denounced Trump. “She has been unwilling to show that she’s ready to go to battle for democracy. And history and the future of democracy demand that she go down fighting.”

In a statement, the Trump campaign boasted about voter support in Iowa and New Hampshire, and rejected any suggestion he should worry: “It’s never been more clear: The stronger President Trump gets, the more desperate and deranged the Fake News becomes,” campaign spokesman Steven Cheung said.

Horn said that unless Haley gets much tougher, she’ll do what many older Republicans would consider unimaginable and vote for Biden.

“Right now, the only thing that matters is that America continues to exist in some form of democracy for generations. And that won’t happen with a guy who says he’ll be a dictator on Day One,” Horn said. “Joe Biden is not my first choice for anything. But he’s my choice when it comes to Donald Trump.”

Kafer, a Republican from Colorado, said that’s not an option for her.

Kafer, 53, supported Trump in 2020, in large part because he vowed to help overturn Roe vs. Wade and ban abortion. But last year she sued to keep him off the ballot in Colorado in a case that’s now pending before the U.S. Supreme Court. She said the Jan. 6 insurrection was where Trump lost her vote, although she’s also “grossed out” by how many Republican politicians are supporting Trump after he repeatedly insulted them.

“I think a lot of regular Trump supporters, the average grandma in Iowa, they really feel like they’re bullied by the left and they think they need a bully to protect them,” she added.

What role might third-party candidates play in the 2024 election?

Kafer said she hopes Haley stays in the race, but she’d also be willing to vote for a third-party candidate like former Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan if he got in. She said a write-in vote would be a waste, and she can’t stomach the idea of simply not voting.

“A lot of people out there think Trump’s not great but he’s still better than Biden,” said Kafer. “At some point, I think there has to be a line.”

A 2021 report by the Pew Research Center found that while third-party candidates in 2016 drew a relatively high 6% of votes, that dropped to just 2% in 2020. Further, those 2016 third-party voters overwhelmingly supported Biden during the 2020 election. That swing helped Biden win the White House.

Regardless of what happens this fall, Edwards said she’s committed to helping elect Republicans willing to commit to civility and respect. She’s hopeful the Republican Party she grew up with can find its way back to its core values, and she sees Haley as the best chance. Edwards voted for Biden in 2020, but she hopes Haley sticks it out, despite Trump’s promise to “get even.”

“She is our only hope against this, and that’s where I’m focusing my energies,” Edwards said. “We’re expecting Nikki Haley to do something that very, very few people in elected in office have done ‒ and we’ve seen what happens when they’ve done it.”

Elections expert Dan Lee, an associate professor of political science at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said he’s heard some Republicans indicate they won’t support Trump if he’s the eventual nominee or that they support the Never Trump movement. But he pointed out that most of the prominent anti-Trump Republicans have faded away, including Utah Sen. Mitt Romney and Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, as the former president’s support within the party grows.

And he pointed to statistics from the past two presidential elections as a reality check on the idea that anti-Trump Republicans would secretly support Biden: “I think we’ve seen the answer from 2016 and 2020: They’re still just going to vote for Trump anyway.”


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