The Anti-Trump Republicans Worried About the Biden Campaign

The Anti-Trump Republicans Worried About the Biden Campaign

Earlier this week, a couple of former Republican members of Congress sent an email to dozens of fellow G.O.P. retirees with a clear and urgent subject line.

“Join the Republicans for Biden,” it said. “PLEASE.”

The email invited the former lawmakers to a virtual meeting next week with members of President Biden’s campaign team — a meeting that, for many of them, would be their first official interaction with Biden’s re-election campaign since it kicked off last year.

Some recipients were quick to offer their help. But multiple people who received the email said it had kicked off a private airing of frustrations among Republicans who, despite publicly supporting Biden in 2020, and in some cases risking their political future to take on Trump, said they had been largely ignored by the campaign and an administration they didn’t always agree with.

“A lot of us are wrestling with, how can we support him when he’s gone so far to the left?” said former Representative Chris Shays, Republican of Connecticut, who endorsed Biden in 2020 but said he was “unlikely” to do so again.

Back in 2020, a steady stream of Republicans stepped forward and endorsed Biden, representing a narrow but important slice of the electorate: anti-Trump Republicans. That group took a hit this week when Nikki Haley, Trump’s last rival standing in the Republican primary, said she planned to vote for him — a man she frequently described as dangerous.

Now, even as Trump lays out a vision for a presidency that could be even more radical than his first, the Republican opposition is in an uneasy place. Some Republicans blame the Biden campaign, saying they’ve heard practically nothing from an operation they think could use their help. And they worry that the omission represents a broader failure to bring moderate Republicans into the fold.

“The Haley endorsement of Trump is a blow,” said former Representative Adam Kinzinger, a Republican from Illinois who retired after serving on the House select committee that investigated the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol. “If you don’t have other Republicans out there creating a permission structure for those folks to vote Democratic, I don’t know how you expect to get many of them.”

Kinzinger said that he had heard from a Biden aide after airing a similar complaint late last year, but that he hadn’t been the target of formal outreach about how he could be helpful to the campaign. He plans to support Biden, he said. “If they don’t reach out, it’s fine. I don’t care. But to me, it’s political malpractice,” he said.

Trump has done little to reach out to moderate Republicans or Haley voters, and during the primaries, he promised to essentially blacklist her supporters. In 2020, Biden showed off his Republican support on the biggest possible stage: the Democratic National Convention, where those speaking on his behalf included the likes of former Gov. John Kasich of Ohio and former Gov. Christine Todd Whitman of New Jersey.

It was an important moment that helped the Biden campaign frame the threat they said Trump posed as bigger than any political party. And while it’s impossible to know exactly how much any one surrogate moved the needle, Biden did make important gains with moderate and conservative voting groups.

Some of those Republican surrogates, though, say that during Biden’s presidency his outreach to them essentially stopped as he focused on shoring up his left flank. Former Representative Susan Molinari, a Republican from New York who gave a short speech at the 2020 convention, said she had heard little from the White House or Biden’s campaign.

“I’m concerned about the state of the campaign, that there has been little to no outreach to almost every Republican that I know who wants to help,” Molinari told me. She said the silence seemed out of character for the Biden she knew as a backslapping, aisle-crossing colleague when they both served in Congress.

“I think everyone’s just sort of scratching their head,” Molinari said, although she added that, all the same, she planned to help Biden in any way she could.

The Biden campaign said that it was doing extensive work to reach out to Republican voters and officials alike, but that some of that necessarily happened behind the scenes. In 2020, many key Republican endorsements were not rolled out until August or September.

The campaign spent seven figures on an ad buy aimed specifically at voters who supported Nikki Haley, and plans to deploy campaign staff members for an outreach program specifically aimed at her primary voters in battleground states. This week, it convened a meeting for Haley supporters. And some bipartisan campaigning is already in the works.

Olivia Troye, a former aide in the Trump administration, said Biden campaign officials reached out to her starting a few months ago. “I think there’s more of a push as this year gets going,” she said.

“Yes, I’m supporting Biden and have been working with his campaign team,” the former defense secretary Chuck Hagel, a Republican who served in the Obama administration, said in an email. “Will be campaigning for him this year.”

It was former Representatives Jim Greenwood of Pennsylvania and Claudine Schneider of Rhode Island who took it upon themselves, Greenwood told me, to convene their fellow Republicans by email this week.

“No matter how you are feeling about Joe Biden, we think we all understand that our democracy and the future of our nation are on the line!” their email said. “We need to support President Biden now, buying time to rebuild our party.”

Former Representative David Jolly of Florida, who left the Republican Party in 2018 and is now an independent, received the email. He said he was surprised at the level of invective expressed by the other congressional retirees in response to it.

“My eyes were opened at the level of anger and disgust at Biden, truly,” Jolly said. “There is a real disappointment in Biden’s policy direction.”

Greenwood, who said he has personally told Biden about the disappointment among his Republican allies, suggested he thought people would come around. “My response to them is: ‘Look, I’m a Republican. I’m not 100 percent aligned with the Biden administration’s policies. I just think the alternative is unthinkable,’” he said.

It’s possible that the chorus of Republican Biden supporters will be different in 2024. A spokeswoman for former Gov. Rick Snyder of Michigan, who endorsed Biden in 2020, said Snyder planned not to make an endorsement in the presidential election this year and focus instead on Michigan House races. Kasich and Whitman did not return requests for comment.

Other 2020 Biden supporters say they haven’t decided what to do. Former Representative Bob Inglis, Republican of South Carolina, said he was still holding out hope that somehow Biden would drop out of the race and be replaced with someone “normal,” as he put it. (His humble suggestion? Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, the Rhode Island Democrat.)

As for Shays, the iconoclast from Connecticut, he said he was looking at the third-party candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

I have been to a lot of Trump rallies. Yesterday, Sam Dolnick, a deputy managing editor for The New York Times, attended his first, in the Bronx. In an editor-writer reversal, I asked him to tell us what stood out to him.

The crowd was diverse. Trump’s crowds normally skew heavily white, but in the largely Black and Latino Bronx, I spoke to a Black grandmother from Queens who had voted for Obama, young Dominican men outraged over immigration and a Black architect from Harlem attending her first rally. She wanted to be sure that the news media, whom she made clear she did not trust, did not describe the gathering as an all-white affair. “Does this look like a Klan rally?” she said to me. Several told me that Democrats hadn’t done enough to improve their daily lives. “Diversity is a word that has gotten us nowhere,” Z. Jackson, a Harlem architect, said. “The South Bronx is 20 years behind. And Donald Trump is the one who showed up.”

It’s a party. It was a perfect summer evening, and the crowd was thrilled, even joyful. At the park’s entrance, a vendor had set up a loudspeaker blaring clips of Trump speeches, like a greatest-hits album. Strangers in line high-fived and took selfies together. People started impromptu chants and admired one another’s MAGA gear. It felt like a rock concert, or a playoff game. Several people told me that they felt like they were part of something important and exciting. Yet what was being celebrated included Trump’s calls for the mass deportation of migrants, which prompted jubilant chants of “Send them back.”

Conspiracy and lies. Up close, Trump’s capacity for unfurling untruths and seeding them into his crowds was startling to witness. Speaking of the migrants, he said, “If you look at these people, did you see them? They are physically fit. They’re 19 to 25. Almost every one is a male, and they look like fighting age. I think they’re building an army. They want to get us from within.” Later, I asked a woman what she thought of the secret-army claim, which is false. “How do you know they aren’t?” she countered. Many voters I talked to cited YouTube, TikTok or X as their main sources of information.

Criminal case: So what? Closing arguments in Trump’s criminal case will begin next week in a courtroom just a subway ride away from the rally’s site. Everyone I spoke to shrugged off the trial as a witch hunt, inconsequential or both. Many complained about the judge. Others pointed to previous presidents who had affairs. No one cited what Trump is actually accused of: falsifying business records as part of a cover-up. “We all make mistakes,” a young man from the Bronx told me. “I promise I made a lot of mistakes. So we all need to be forgiven.”

To this crowd, Trump’s ideas didn’t sound so radical. His proposed solution to the migrant crisis is to create mass detention facilities and deport millions of immigrants. Nearly everyone I spoke to complained about how Democrats have handled the migrant crisis. One woman, resentful that migrants were being put up in local hotels, said she never heard of a New Yorker getting a free hotel room. Another complained about a migrant center that she said had overrun her Queens neighborhood. Many in the crowd said they did not believe that Trump’s border plans were racist. “Immigration control is not racism,” said Andres Brock, 27, a YouTuber from the Bronx. “That’s every country in the world.”

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