The most divisive election campaign in recent American history has not merely split the nation along party lines, it has split the Grand Old Party itself. Unfortunately, most Americans are wholly unaware of the loud dissents against Bush that has begun to be heard in Republican circles.
If the United States had major media that covered politics, as opposed to the political spin generated by the Bush White House and the official campaigns of both the Republican president and his Democratic challenger, one of the most fascinating, and significant, stories of the 2004 election season would be the abandonment of the Bush reelection effort by senior Republicans. But this is a story that, for the most part, has gone untold. Scant attention was paid to the revelation that one Republican member of the U.S. Senate, Rhode Island's Lincoln Chafee, will refrain from voting for his party's president -- despite the fact that Chafee offered a far more thoughtful critique of George W. Bush's presidency than "Zig-Zag" Zell Miller, the frothing, Democrat-hating Democrat did when he condemned his party's nominee. Beyond the minimal attention to Chafee, most media has neglected the powerful, and often poignant, condemnations of Bush by prominent Republicans.
Former Republican members of the U.S. Senate and House, governors, ambassadors, aides to GOP Presidents Eisenhower, Nixon, Ford, Reagan and George Herbert Walker Bush have explicitly endorsed the campaign of Democrat John Kerry. For many of these lifelong Republicans, their vote for Kerry will be a first Democratic vote. But, in most cases, it will not be a hesitant one.
Angered by the Bush administration's mismanagement of the war in Iraq, record deficits, assaults on the environment and secrecy, the renegade partisans tend to echo the words of former Minnesota Governor Elmer Andersen, who says that, "Although I am a longtime Republican, it is time to make a statement, and it is this: Vote for Kerry-Edwards, I implore you, on November 2."
Many of the Republicans who are abandoning Bush express sorrow at what the Bush-Cheney administration and its allies in Congress have done to their party: "The fact is that today's 'Republican' Party is one that I am totally unfamiliar with," writes John Eisenhower. But the deeper motivation is summed up by former U.S. Senator Marlow Cook, a Kentucky Republican, who explained in a recent article for the Louisville Courier-Journal newspaper that, "For me, as a Republican, I feel that when my party gives me a dangerous leader who flouts the truth, takes the country into an undeclared war and then adds a war on terrorism to it without debate by the Congress, we have a duty to rid ourselves of those who are taking our country on a perilous ride in the wrong direction. If we are indeed the party of Lincoln (I paraphrase his words), a president who deems to have the right to declare war at will without the consent of the Congress is a president who far exceeds his power under our Constitution. I will take John Kerry for four years to put our country on the right path."
In the end, of course, the vast majority of Republicans will cast their ballots for George w. Bush on Tuesday, just as the vast majority of Democrats will vote for John Kerry. But the Republicans who plan to cross the partisan divide and vote for Kerry have articulated a unique and politically potent indictment of the Bush administration.
Here are a dozen examples of what Republicans are saying about George W. Bush -- and John Kerry -- as the November 2 election approaches:
"As son of a Republican president, Dwight D. Eisenhower, it is automatically expected by many that I am a Republican. For 50 years, through the election of 2000, I was. With the current administration's decision to invade Iraq unilaterally, however, I changed my voter registration to independent, and barring some utterly unforeseen development, I intend to vote for the Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. John Kerry."
-- Ambassador John Eisenhower, endorsing Kerry in an opinion piece published in The Manchester Union Leader, September 28, 2004.
"The two 'Say No to Bush' signs in my yard say it all. The present Republican president has led us into an unjustified war -- based on misguided and blatantly false misrepresentations of the threat of weapons of mass destruction. The terror seat was Afghanistan. Iraq had no connection to these acts of terror and was not a serious threat to the United States, as this president claimed, and there was no relation, it's now obvious, to any serious weaponry. Although Saddam Hussein is a frightful tyrant, he posed no threat to the United States when we entered the war. George W. Bush's arrogant actions to jump into Iraq when he had no plan how to get out have alienated the United States from our most trusted allies and weakened us immeasurably around the world... This imperialistic, stubborn adherence to wrongful policies and known untruths by the Cheney-Bush administration -- and that's the accurate order -- has simply become more than I can stand."
-- Former Minnesota Governor Elmer Andersen, a Republican, endorsing Kerry in an opinion piece published in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, October 13, 2004. Andersen argued in the piece that, "I am more fearful for the state of this nation than I have ever been -- because this country is in the hands of an evil man: Dick Cheney. It is eminently clear that it is he who is running the country, not George W. Bush."
"George W. Bush has come to embody a politics that is antithetical to almost any kind of thoughtful conservatism. His international policies have been based on the hopelessly naive belief that foreign peoples are eager to be liberated by American enemies -- a notion more grounded in Leon Trotsky's concept of global revolution than any sort of conservative statecraft."
-- Scott McConnell, executive editor, The American Conservative, endorsing Kerry in the November 8, 2004 issue.
"I am not enamored with John Kerry, but I am frightened to death of George Bush. I fear a secret government. I abhor a government that refuses to supply the Congress with requested information. I am against a government that refuses to tell the country with whom the leaders of our country sat down and determined our energy policy, and to prove how much they want to keep the secret, they took it all the way to the Supreme Court."
-- Former U.S. Senator Marlow Cook, Republican from Kentucky, endorsing Kerry in an opinion piece that appeared in The Louisville Courier-Journal, October 20, 2004.
"My Republican Party is the party of Theodore Roosevelt, who fought to preserve our natural resources and environment. This president has pursued policies that will cause irreparable damage to our environmental laws that protect the air we breathe, the water we drink and the public lands we share with future generations."
-- Former Michigan Governor William Milliken, from a statement published in the Traverse City Record Eagle, October 17, 2004.
"As an environmentalist who served as chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, I know that this administration has turned environmental policy over to lobbyists for the oil, gas and mining interests. On the other hand, I know first-hand of your commitment to a more balanced approach to environmental policy -- one where we can have both jobs and profit for industry as well as clean air and water. There is no stronger evidence of this than your outstanding leadership and support in the restoration of the Florida Everglades. John, for each of these reasons I believe President Bush has failed our country and my party. Accordingly, I want you to know that when I go into the booth next Tuesday I am going to cast my vote for you."
-- Former U.S. Senator Bob Smith, Republican from New Hampshire, from an endorsement letter sent to John Kerry, October 28, 2004.
"Nixon was a prince compared to these guys."
-- Former U.S. Representative Pete McCloskey, R-California, from an article in the Palo Alto Weekly, September 8, 2004. McCloskey, who is active with Republicans for Kerry, says of members of the Bush administration, "These people believe God has told them what to do. They've high jacked the Republican Party we once knew."
"The war is just a misbegotten thing that's spiraling down. It's a matter of conscience for me. After 9/11, the whole world was behind us. That's all gone now. That's been squandered. Now we've made the entire Muslim world hate us. And for what? For what?"
-- Former State Senator Al Meiklejohn, Republican from Colorado and World War II combat veteran, explaining his decision to support John Kerry in an interview with The Denver Post, September 19, 2004.
"We need a leader who is really dedicated to creating millions of high-paying jobs all across the country."
-- Former Chrysler chairman Lee Iacocca, who campaigned for George W. Bush in 2000 and appeared in television advertisements for the Republican Party of Michigan that year. Iacocca, who complains that under Bush deficit spending is "getting out of hand," endorsing Kerry on June 24, 2004.
"In a dangerous epoch -- made more so by a president who sees the world in stark black and white because simplicity polls better and fits into sound bites -- John Kerry may seem out of place. He is, in fact, in exactly the right place at the right time to lead our country."
-- Tim Ashby, who served during the Reagan and George Herbert Walker Bush administrations as director of the Office of Mexico and the Caribbean for the U.S. Commerce Department and acting deputy assistant Secretary of Commerce for the Western Hemisphere, endorsing Kerry in a Seattle Times, October 14, 2004.
"I have always been, and I still am, a registered Republican, but I shall enthusiastically vote for John Kerry for president on November 2... If the Bush administration stays in power four more years, it will pack the Supreme Court with neocons who reject the idea that the Constitution is a living document designed to protect the freedom of the citizens."
-- Anne Morton Kimberly, widow of former Republican National Committee chair Rogers C.B. Morton, Secretary of the Interior during the Nixon administration and Secretary of Commerce during the Ford administration, endorsing Kerry in a an opinion piece that appeared in the Louisville Courier-Journal, October 14, 2004.
"Mainstream Republicans believe in fiscal responsibility, internationalism, environmental protection, the rights of women, and putting middle-class families ahead of big business lobbyists. Moderate Republicans should not be asked to swallow the right-wing policies of George W. Bush."
-- Clay Myers, who was Oregon's Republican Secretary of State for 10 years and the state's Treasure, endorsing Kerry at a press conference for Oregon Republicans for Kerry, September 1, 2004.
"The current administration has run the largest deficits in U.S. history, incurring massive debts that our children and grandchildren will have to pay. Two and a half million people have lost their jobs; trillions have been wiped out of savings and retirement accounts. The income of Americans has declined two years in a row, the first time since the IRS began keeping records. George W. Bush will be the first president since Hoover to have a net job loss under his watch... President Bush wanted to be judged as the CEO president, it is time to say, 'you have failed, and you're fired."
-- William Rutherford, former State Treasurer of Oregon, endorsing Kerry as a press conference for Oregon Republicans for Kerry, September 1, 2004.
"I served 20 years in the Ohio General Assembly as Republican. People have asked me why I oppose George w. Bush for president. My first response is, 'He is incompetent.' His behavior, his bad judgment, his record, all demonstrate a failure as president. He certainly misled the country into a no-win war in Iraq. Following his preemptive invasion, he totally misjudged the consequences of his action. He made a bad situation worse, fomenting widespread terrorism, all done with a frightful loss of lives and money."
-- Former Ohio State Representative John Galbraith, a Republican legislator for 20 years, endorsing Kerry in a letter to The Toledo Blade, September 28, 2004.
"Before the current campaign, it might have been argued that at least in affirming the importance of faith and respecting those who profess it the administration had embraced traditional conservative views. But in the wake of the Swift Boat ads attacking John Kerry, even this argument can no longer be maintained. As an elder of the Presbyterian Church, I found that those ads were not at all in the Christian tradition. John McCain rightly condemned them as dishonest and dishonorable. The president should have, too. That he did not undermines his credibility on questions of faith.
Some say it's just politics. But that's the whole point. More is expected of people of faith than "just politics."
The fact is that the Bush administration might better be called radical or romantic or adventurist than conservative. And that's why real conservatives are leaning toward Kerry."
-- Clyde Prestowitz, counselor to the secretary of commerce in the Reagan administration and an elder of the Presbyterian Church, from "The Conservative Case for Kerry," published in the Providence Journal and other newspapers, October 15, 2004.
By John Nichols
Reprinted with permission from the The Nation