(Daily News) — Republican officials are jumping ship from the turbulent Donald Trump campaign in unprecedented numbers, political experts say, as the party’s unhinged nominee pivots from one outlandish point to the next — but the mogul will likely make it through choppy waters through Nov. 8 unless GOP leaders like Paul Ryan swim for shore, too.
More than 200 current and former Republican elected and administration officials, as well as figures from the party apparatus and the conservative media, have said in recent weeks that they simply cannot support Trump, citing his increasingly erratic statements, his lack of policy specifics and his recklessness on the international stage, with many of them saying they’d vote for Hillary Clinton instead.
On Sunday, just days after upward of 70 Republicans signed an open letter to party boss Reince Priebus urging him to not spend any cash on Trump’s bid, senior officials at the Republican National Committee reportedly began discussing cutting all support to Trump, according to Politico.
While a lawmaker or two has occasionally cast his ballot for the opposite party’s presidential nominee — in 2004, then-Sen. Zell Miller (D-Ga.) supported George W. Bush’s reelection campaign — the extraordinary number of GOP turncoats in the current cycle is not only “unusual,” according to politics watchers, but “unprecedented.”
“You can feel his sense of legitimacy dribbling away with each pained withdrawal of support,” David Birdsell, dean of the Public Affairs School at Baruch College, told the Daily News about the ongoing defections from Trump, adding that he’d “never seen anything like it.”
By any account, Trump’s last few weeks have been disastrous. Since the end of the Republican National Convention last month, the businessman has insulted Gold Star parents, encouraged Russian hackers to find Hillary Clinton’s deleted emails and proposed that the U.S. not uphold its NATO obligations. He topped the staggering stretch off by, just this past week, suggesting Second Amendment supporters turn their weapons on Clinton as a way to prevent her from nominating her preferred judges if elected.
Trump campaign chairman said Sunday that the mogul’s team is “very strong” and “moving forward” despite the fact that, amid the nominee’s constant missteps, his polls numbers have fallen nationally and in swing states and a trickle of defections turned into a flood.
As of this weekend, at least 21 current Republican office-holders, 22 former GOP office-holders, 43 GOP Republican National Committee officials and prominent non-officer holders and 54 national security officials from prior Republican administrations had all publicly said they would not vote for Trump.
Even the donor and media classes have gotten in on the action, with dozens of notably conservative commentators and traditionally right-leaning fund-raisers having saying “enough is enough.”
Donors who gave at least $200 to former Republican candidates like Jeb Bush, John Kasich and Chris Christie, have — since the general election began in earnest in June — given $2.2 million to Clinton, compared with only $1.6 million for Trump, a recent New York Times analysis of FEC filings found.
Countless other lawmakers, like Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Kasich, have consistently signaled their frustration with Trump but have held off on saying definitively they wouldn’t vote for him.
While party desertion may have not ever occurred on such a large scale ever before, experts say that it could still take the defection of a major Republican heavyweight — such as Ryan, the highest-elected Republican in the land, or even Trump’s running mate Mike Pence — to truly put a dagger in Trump’s bid.
But such a possibility remains remote.
“It’s very unlikely Pence would disavow his running mate,” David Caputo, president emeritus and professor of Political Science at Pace University, told The News. “Ryan still could, but it would take a lot more to do so,” he said. “And given that he didn’t after Trump’s Second Amendment snafu, I’m not sure what it would actually take.”
Ironically, Caputo added, there is an off-chance that a mass Republican migration to Clinton — so far, only a handful have said openly they’ll vote for the Democratic nominee — could actually hurt the former secretary of state.
“Her campaign must be careful,” he said. “Active support of Republican voters may raise issues with progressives and former Sanders supporters,” Caputo added, before hinting that an unforeseen event — perhaps a terror attack, a stock market plunge or, unlikely as it is, a Trump exit from the race — could still further shake up voters’ allegiances.
“Will something happen between now and Nov. 8 for those Republican voters to abandon Clinton for third party candidates, or to not vote or to even go back to the Republican Party?” he suggested.
“The only thing we really know about this race is that it’s unconventional,” Caputo added. “So expect the unexpected.”