In the end, Sally Bradshaw tells CNN, she couldn’t stomach the thought of supporting Donald Trump any longer — literally. The longtime Republican Party activist and campaign manager for Jeb Bush says that the GOP nominee’s attack on Khizr and Ghazala Khan over the last few days made her “sick to my stomach” — and angry enough to go public with it. She has not yet decided exactly how she’ll vote in November, but she has changed her decades-long political affiliation from Republican to independent, in a state with closed primaries.
Bradshaw says she will consider voting for Hillary Clinton if the Florida election is close:
Bradshaw, who’s been close to the former Florida governor for decades and was senior adviser to his 2016 campaign, officially switched her registration to unaffiliated. She told CNN’s Jamie Gangel in an email interview that the GOP is “at a crossroads and have nominated a total narcissist — a misogynist — a bigot.” …
“This election cycle is a test,” Bradshaw said. “As much as I don’t want another four years of (President Barack) Obama’s policies, I can’t look my children in the eye and tell them I voted for Donald Trump. I can’t tell them to love their neighbor and treat others the way they wanted to be treated, and then vote for Donald Trump. I won’t do it.” …
“I’ve been considering the switch for months. Ultimately, I could not abide the hateful rhetoric of Donald Trump and his complete lack of principles and conservative philosophy,” she said. “I didn’t make this decision lightly — I have worked hard to make our party a place where all would feel welcome. But Trump has taken the GOP in another direction, and too many Republicans are standing by and looking the other way.”
Looks like there are a lot of people wondering what happened to both parties in this cycle. This one isn’t a media columnist, though. Bradshaw has worked for decades to get Republicans elected in Florida, a project that has largely succeeded. As I wrote in Going Red, “Republicans have won every gubernatorial election since 1998 … [and] have controlled both chambers of the state legislature since 1999” [page 23]. Their House delegation has 17 Republicans to 10 Democrats. The only real fly in the ointment has been the continuing presence of Bill Nelson in the US Senate. Otherwise, the GOP has significant control of Florida politics. It just hasn’t translated into presidential elections, for reasons I explore in the book.
Of course, it’s not too difficult to see this as a form of sour grapes, too. No other candidate took more of a sustained public beating from Trump than Bradshaw’s friend and client, Jeb Bush. Bush came to personify the “establishment” that Trump supporters and populists demeaned and demonized, on their way to transforming the GOP into a populist-based grievance movement. That may be either good or bad, depending on one’s perspective, but it makes hash out of this argument from Bradshaw:
She added: “If and when the party regains its sanity, I’ll be ready to return. But until Republicans send a message to party leadership that this cannot stand, nothing will ever change.”
The problem is that the party has already changed. It has become, at least temporarily, a populist movement against the very establishment to which Bradshaw appeals. For what it’s worth, the GOP leadership has made it plain that they object to Trump’s attacks on the Khans, but their range of options has been limited, thanks to voters who chose Trump by a wide plurality over several other candidates, including Jeb.
Still, there may be many more Sally Bradshaws who see the unnecessary and destructive Khan fight as a last straw. It’s one thing to ridicule one’s political opponents, but something much different when taking personal potshots at the families of those killed in action for days on end. Trump’s supporters may love this fight, but he’ll need people on the ground like Bradshaw to engineer victories in battleground states. Alienating them is a bad idea, especially over a fight that should never have taken place.
One more point: It might be difficult to look in the eyes of one’s children to explain a vote for Trump. For conservatives, however, it would be much more problematic to do so — and to look in the mirror — after voting for a Clinton restoration.