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In a new article for Axios.com, journalists Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen assert that in the Trump era, the Republican Party is suffering an acute “identity crisis”—one in which the GOP has become, in effect, “the Trump Party” and “traditional conservatives” are feeling increasingly out of place. And VandeHei and Allen cite plenty of examples, from the recent defections of big-time GOP donors like hedge fund manager Seth Klarman and L Brands founder/CEO Les Wexner to the vehement anti-Trump stands of prominent right-wingers like Steve Schmidt (a campaign advisor/strategist for Sen. John McCain’s 2008 presidential run), MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough (a former Florida congressman), columnist George Will and neocon journalist Max Boot.
Certainly, a political party can take a big tent approach; President Ronald Reagan, in the 1980s, famously said that he considered someone who supported him 70% of the time to be a 70% ally and not a 30% enemy. But under Donald Trump’s presidency, Republicans are expected to be faithful, obedient servants who bow down to him 100% of the time.
Here are five long-time Republicans who are feeling very uncomfortable in the GOP in the Trump era.
1. Christine Todd Whitman
The late Rev. Jerry Falwell, Sr. was furious when President George W. Bush added Lt. General Colin Powell, former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge and former New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman to his administration. The Moral Majority founder and far-right fundamentalist theocrat insisted that Republicans who were pro-choice on the abortion issue had no place in the GOP—and in 2005, Whitman decried the way religious extremists had hijacked her party in the book “It’s My Party Too: The Battle for the Heart of America and the Future of the GOP.” These days, Whitman is a staunch NeverTrump conservative, and the former EPA head and New Jersey governor voiced her disdain for Trump’s presidency and the 2018 GOP in a blistering July 22 article for the Los Angeles Times. Lambasting Trump for everything from foreign policy to his response to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia-related investigation, Whitman declared that Trump is “not fit to remain in office.”
2. Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse
Right-wing Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse has admitted that he “regularly” considers leaving the GOP, stressing that ideas are more important to him than party affiliation. And much of Sasse’s discomfort with Trump has to do with foreign policy. In July, Sasse was highly critical of the way Trump handled his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Finland, stressing, “Right now, the president isn’t leading. We negotiated from a position of weakness yesterday, and Vladimir Putin walked away from Helsinki with a win. It’s a disaster.” And Sasse has asserted that “this White House is a reality-show, soap-opera presidency.”
3. House Speaker Paul Ryan
Paul Ryan, speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives and worshipper of Ayn Rand, sent shock waves through the GOP when, in April, he announced that he would not be seeking reelection in the 2018 midterms. The reason Ryan gave was that he wanted to spend more time with his family, but that’s nonsense—if Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio or Carly Fiorina were president, Ryan would no doubt be more than happy to seek another term and stay on as House speaker. Ryan has been reluctant to criticize Trump publicly—so reluctant, in fact, that MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace (a frustrated NeverTrump Republican) has denounced him as spineless and gutless. But actions speak louder than words. Ryan wasn’t happy about Trump’s nomination in 2016, and his decision to resign from the House shows how uncomfortable he’s become with Trumpism.
4. Florida Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen
Like Ryan, 66-year-old Florida Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen shocked long-time Republicans when she announced her decision to leave the U.S. House of Representatives and not seek a second term. Ros-Lehtinen’s departure is a bombshell: the Havana, Cuba-born congresswoman has been in the House since 1989 and is a fixture in right-wing Florida politics. But unlike Ryan, Ros-Lehtinen isn’t expressing the lame I-want-to-spend-more-time-with-my-family nonsense. Ros-Lehtinen has been an outspoken NeverTrump Republican and hasn’t been shy about calling out the president’s overt racism, and she has made it crystal clear that she’s leaving the House because she is fed up with Trumpism.
5. Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake
Most of the Republican establishment has become incredibly passive and submissive where Trump is concerned. But Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, on the other hand, is a hard-right Republican who candidly states that he is retiring from the Senate because of Trump’s effect on the GOP. When he announced his retirement on the Senate floor in 2017, Flake candidly declared, “Reckless, outrageous and undignified behavior has become excused as telling it like it is when it is actually just reckless, outrageous and undignified. And when such behavior emanates from the top of our government, it is something else. It is dangerous to a democracy.”