John McCain’s former chief of staff, Mark Salter, recently endorsed Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton, the woman who was once expected to run against the Arizona senator in the 2008 presidential election. Hours before Donald Trump was declared the presumptive nominee by Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus, Salter tweeted: "the GOP is going to nominate for President a guy who reads the National Enquirer and thinks it's on the level. I'm with her.”
Salter wasn't the only member of the Republican establishment who was looking across the aisle for presidential options. Speaking to Jonathan Karl of ABC News in late April, the billionaire CEO of Koch Industries, Charles Koch, said “it’s possible” having Hillary Clinton in the White House could be better for the country than electing a Republican in 2016. (In an even more recent interview, Koch described the chances of his supporting Clinton in the general election as “highly remote.”)
For Democratic skeptics of Clinton, like myself, the quasi-Koch support confirmed some of our worst fears: That a conservative big donor like Koch was unwilling to declare war on Clinton and, in fact, might vote for her called into question for me and many others her stated commitment to championing the interests of working people and the environment. Clinton’s campaign understood this and reacted accordingly, tweeting that the former Secretary of State is:
I’m glad Clinton rejected Koch’s support, however hypothetical. But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t want Republican voters. As is vividly depicted in Clinton’s recent attack ad, plenty of Republicans loathe their party’s presumptive nominee, so much so that some may be considering voting for Clinton.
All of which makes me wonder if peeling Republican votes away from Trump is a viable part of Clinton’s election strategy — and what it means if it is.
Suzanne Chod, assistant professor of political science at North Central College in Naperville, Illinois, tells me in an email that Salter's endorsement of Clinton speaks to "a broader trend that voters who support the platform of the pre-Trump Republican Party face a serious dilemma." Namely, Chod says it shows that "Trump’s rhetoric and style turn off what we term ‘mainstream’ or ‘establishment’ Republicans.” Or as New York City-based political operative Michael Embrich tells Bustle in an email, “Moderates hate Trump; they will never vote for him.”
Neither Clinton nor Trump's campaign responded to my request for commentary for this article.
A young Washington D.C. delegate to the Republican National Convention, Rina Bharara said publicly she’d consider supporting Clinton in an April article for Bold if Trump became the GOP nominee. (After announcing her hypothetical support of Clinton, Bharara said she was stripped of her delegate status by the District of Columbia GOP because of it; the latter said it was because Bharara was a Virginia resident and, thus, ineligible.) Conservative commentator Carrie Sheffield thinks we’ll start seeing more Clinton Republicans. “Three out of four women generally don't like Trump,” she tells Bustle in an email, so “there is an opening for some Republican women to vote for [Clinton].”
Clinton’s fan club includes some Republican Jews who see her as stronger or at least more consistent than Trump on Israel. Journalist Karol Markowicz argued in The Forward in March that Jewish Republicans shouldn’t support Trump because he has described himself as “neutral” on Israel, and, in Markowicz’s view, “a neutral position on Israel is an anti-Israel position.”
However, some of the latest polls suggest Clinton has her work cut out if she wants to win Republicans. A Public Policy Polling report released Tuesday notes: "Although much has been made of disunity in the GOP, it is actually just as unified behind Trump as the Democrats are behind Clinton." According to its survey:
72 percent of Republicans now say they're comfortable with Trump as their nominee to only 21 percent who they aren't. Those numbers are little different from the ones among Democrats that find 75 percent of them would be comfortable with Clinton as their nominee to 21 percent who say they would not be.
Still, there's definitely some potential for Clinton to make inroads with Republicans come November, according to some political science experts. At the very least, she could potentially benefit in other ways from the anti-Trump sentiment.
Tammy Frisby, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, tells Bustle in an email that if “good Republican campaign strategists and advisors make the decision not to work for [Trump],” his weakened campaign will be a boon to Clinton’s. She also notes that “when it comes to policy, Trump … is not consistently to the right of Hillary, so some Republicans might prefer her policy positions.” That Hillary is a “known quantity” and “a relatively moderate candidate with a well-established track record” leaves open “the possibility that Republicans will vote for her.”
Lilly Goren, a professor of political science at Carroll University in Waukesha, Wisconsin, points out that at least one anti-Trump group consists of over 100 Republican foreign policy experts, some of whom have worked for Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush. The former Secretary of State may seem like a better alternative to Republicans of this ilk because Clinton has been seen as hawkish when it comes to foreign affairs. "For all their bluster about bombing the Islamic State into oblivion, neither Donald J. Trump nor Senator Ted Cruz of Texas has demonstrated anywhere near the appetite for military engagement abroad that Clinton has," Mark Landler wrote in the New York Times magazine in April.
While this quality in Clinton has long been considered a liability on the left, it “might actually be more attractive to some Republicans who are engaged in foreign policy,” Goren tells Bustle. This point is echoed by Embrich: “Hillary has a lot in common with Republicans," and that "her hawkish demeanor … might be enough to win some over."
However, Meredith Conroy, assistant professor of political science at California State University, is skeptical of the notion that Clinton can win over Republicans. She thinks that hating Trump isn't enough to make these Republican like (or vote) for Clinton. She tells Bustle in an email that “Working against Clinton's ability to attract Republicans is the fact that … those most dissatisfied with a Trump nomination are not independents" or "those who identity as weak Republicans." Rather the anti-Trump GOP movement "seems to be much of the core of the Republican party (if Lindsey Graham, Mitt Romney, and conservative blogger Erick Erickson are any indication of core Republican sentiment).”
Another factor working against Clinton's ability to win dissatisfied Republicans: the Berners.
Conroy believes Bernies Sanders' success in the primaries will ensure that Clinton will “have her hands full making appeals to this group, which won't help her attract core Republicans." Clinton's potential attempts to woo anti-Trump Republicans could cost her the Sanders' supporters. "If [Bernie voters] weren’t so mobilized, energized, and loud, Clinton could get away with pivoting to the center/more moderate ground in the general, and thus be more appealing to Republicans," Conroy says. "I am not so sure this will be her move, given the success of Sanders, the self-identified socialist.”
Ultimately, she is dubious that Republicans will come out in support for Clinton in a substantial way. Conroy tells me she is “not so sure that core Republicans are willing to defect to Clinton" and cautions against expecting Republican dissatisfaction with Trump to drive Republicans into Clinton’s arms.
Simply put, Conroy says, "There may be nowhere to go for Republicans.” Instead, she "would predict they would stay home and just not vote."
Image: Bustle/Dawn Foster