Donald Trump's march to the Republican nomination has forced a crisis in the party, as a growing list of GOP elected officials and top strategists are stepping forward to declare their opposition to Trump's candidacy. Some are even threatening to vote for his Democratic rival instead come November. On Twitter, #NeverTrump has become a way for party stalwarts to voice their dissatisfaction.
Opposition to the billionaire front-runner had been boiling under the surface for weeks before bursting open in recent days after Trump initially refused to denounce former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke in an interview with CNN. "If a person wants to be the nominee of the Republican Party, there can be no evasion and no games. They must reject any group or cause that is built on bigotry," House Speaker Paul Ryan said in a press conference Tuesday. While Ryan has stopped short of saying he would refuse to support Trump in the general election, other Republicans have shown no such hesitation.
Former GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney has arguably been the loudest voice against Trump, despite having accepted Trump's endorsement in 2012. After warning of a potential "bombshell" in Trump's tax records, Romney tweeted "#WhatIsHeHiding" to press Trump to disclose his summaries. Romney took an even more forceful tone after Trump said he had no knowledge about former KKK leader David Duke, who, along with other white supremacists, are publicly supporting Trump's campaign. Romney called Trump's response "disqualifying" and said that "his coddling of repugnant bigotry is not in the character of America."
These critiques only set the stage for Romney's most coordinated attack yet: a scathing, point-by-point take down of the candidate at the Hinckley Institute of Politics Forum in Utah two days after Trump dominated Super Tuesday, calling him a phony, a fraud, a misogynist and a bully who threatens America's future.
"I believe with all my heart and soul that we face another time for choosing, one that will have profound consequences for the Republican Party and more importantly, for the country," Romney said in his speech. "His domestic policies would lead to recession. His foreign policies would make America and the world less safe. He has neither the temperament nor the judgment to be president. And his personal qualities would mean that America would cease to be a shining city on a hill."
So far, more than 30 Republican lawmakers, strategists and commentators — who have had some strongly worded statements against Trump — have joined the resistance. MSNBC will continue to update the list.
1. Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.)
Sasse was the first Republican in Congress to announce he will never vote for Trump. On FacebookSunday, he wrote, "My current answer for who I would support in a hypothetical matchup between Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton is: Neither of them. I sincerely hope we select one of the other GOP candidates, but if Donald Trump ends up as the GOP nominee, conservatives will need to find a third option."
2. Rep. Scott Rigell (R-Va.)
Rigell, who plans retire at the end of his current term representing Virginia, sent a letter to his supportersMonday night urging them to vote for any candidate besides Trump.
"My love for our country eclipses my loyalty to our party, and to live with a clear conscience I will not support a nominee so lacking in the judgement, temperament and character needed to be our nation's commander in chief. Accordingly, if left with no alternative, I will not support Trump in the general election should he become our Republican nominee," Rigell wrote.
3. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), former 2016 presidential candidate
Graham continually voiced his opposition to Trump throughout his since-suspended presidential bid, and then offered his support to Jeb Bush before he dropped out. The senator has grim predictions for Trump's rise, insisting that the GOP is "gonna lose to Hillary Clinton" if he prevails in the primary. At the Congressional Dinner on February 26, Graham took hisassessment of Trump's success even further: "My party has gone bats**t crazy."
4. Susana Martinez, New Mexico governor
New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez won't commit to voting for Donald Trump if he is the Republican presidential nominee. But the chair of the Republican Governors Association and the nation's only Latina governor said Tuesday she's "definitely not" voting for Democratic hopefuls Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders.
5. Gov. Charlie Baker (R-Mass.)
The GOP governor of Massachusetts told Boston Globe reporters Wednesday that he did not vote for Trump on Super Tuesday and "I'm not going to vote for him in November." When journalists asked if Baker hoped that a worthy third-party candidate would rise to face Trump, Baker responded, "I'm not willing to concede that the Republican nomination is over and, frankly, you know, you guys shouldn't either."
Listen to Baker explain his views on Trump here.
6. Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.)
The Florida congressman said he would back a write-in or third-party candidate rather than Trump. "This man does things and says things that I teach my six- and three-year-olds not to say," Curbelo said in an interview. "I could never look them in the eye and tell them that I support someone so crass and insulting and offensive to lead the greatest nation in the world."
FORMER ELECTED OFFICIALS
1. Former Gov. Christie Todd Whitman (R-NJ)
"While I certainly don't want four more years of another Clinton administration or more years of the Obama administration, I would take that over the kind of damage I think Donald Trump could do to this country, to its reputation, to the people of this country," Whitman said Monday on Bloomberg's "With All Due Respect."
When asked if Whitman would explicitly support Clinton over Trump, she said that it's likely. "I will probably vote for her," Whitman said. "I don't want to. I can do a write-in. But I think that's where I'd go if those are my choices."
2. Former Sen. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.)
Martinez did not hold back when criticizing the GOP front-runner. "I would not vote for Trump, clearly" he said, according to reporting by the Wall Street Journal. "If there is any, any, any other choice, a living, breathing person with a pulse, I would be there."
3. Former Rep. J.C. Watts (R-Okla.)
The former Oklahoma congressman predicted "a tremendous setback for the party" if Trump wins. Watts also had harsh words for some of Trump's rivals. "All these guys who are beating him up now, if he asks them to be his running mate, they'll jump in in a New York minute," Watts said, according to the Wall Street Journal.
4. Former Sen. Norm Coleman (R-M.N.), Congressional Leadership Fund chairman
In an op-ed for The Star Tribune Thursday, Coleman called Trump a "misogynist," "bigot," "fraud" and a "bully" as he described why he would never vote for the real estate mogul.
"I won't vote for Donald Trump. I won't vote for Donald Trump because of who he isn't. He isn't a Republican. He isn't a conservative. He isn't a truth teller. He's not a uniter. Donald Trump isn't the leader America needs after eight years of a president who deliberately divided us and fanned the flames of racial and socioeconomic strife — and, by doing so, diminished America's standing in the world," Coleman wrote.
CURRENT AND FORMER CAMPAIGN AND PARTY STRATEGISTS
1. Tim Miller, former spokesman for Jeb Bush, part of anti-Trump super PAC
After Chris Christie, who ended his 2016 presidential campaign following disappointing results in New Hampshire, announced his support for Trump on Friday, Miller took to Twitter trashing the pair.
Miller also posted to Facebook on Super Tuesday, begging his followers to "please for the love of God go vote in the Republican primary against Trump," and pledged to stop Trump while speaking to MSNBC's Chris Jansing Wednesday.
"He's not looking out for the little guy, he's selling them out for his own benefit," Miller said. "He's not a conservative. This is a person who's flip-flopped on every major issue, and there is still time to stop him… I would never vote for Donald Trump."
2. Mark Salter, former aide and speechwriter for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.)
In a January Esquire piece titled "We Deserve Better Than Donald Trump," Salter wrote about his distaste for the front-runner.
"Are we in such dire straits that we must dispense with civility, kindness, tolerance and normal decency to put a mean-spirited, lying jerk in the White House?" Salter wrote. "Of course, were Trump to succumb to a rare bout of honesty, he would confess he thinks we're all just suckers. I hope we're both proved wrong. I really do. Because right now that a**hole is making us all look bad."
Salter reiterated his stance in a Facebook post Sunday: "I will vote for Marco Rubio in the VA primary Tuesday, and, of course, I will proudly and with enormous relief vote for him again if he's our nominee. I will vote for Hillary Clinton without hesitation if the Fascist quoting, friend of the Klan, Donald Trump is the GOP nominee."
3. Meg Whitman, Hewlett-Packard CEO and former national finance co-chair of Chris Christie's campaign
Two days after Christie surprised the Republican establishment by endorsing Trump during a press conference in Texas, Whitman strongly condemned both the man she formerly supported and Trump in astatement. "Donald Trump is unfit to be president," she wrote. "The governor is mistaken if he believes he can now count on my support, and I call on Christie's donors and supporters to reject the governor and Donald Trump outright. I believe they will. For some of us, principle and country still matter."
4. Peter Wehner, GOP strategist
"Beginning with Ronald Reagan, I have voted Republican in every presidential election since I first became eligible to vote in 1980. I worked in the Reagan and George H. W. Bush administrations and in the White House for George W. Bush as a speechwriter and adviser," Wehner wrote January 14 in an op-ed for The New York Times. "Despite this history, and in important ways because of it, I will not vote for Donald Trump if he wins the Republican nomination."
5. Liz Mair, GOP strategist
"I have repeatedly stated that if he is the GOP nominee, I will either vote third party or do a write-in, potentially of myself," Mair wrote in a statement about Trump to The New Yorker published Friday. "At least if I do the latter thing, I know I'm voting for someone I 100 percent agree with for once."
6. Eliot Cohen, counselor of the Department of State during President George W. Bush's administration
Cohen clarified he would vote for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton over Trump if those were his only options. He also organized a response via open letter that was signed by 60 members of the Republican national security community "united in our opposition to a Donald Trump presidency."
"Mr. Trump's own statements lead us to conclude that as president, he would use the authority of his office to act in ways that make America less safe, and which would diminish our standing in the world," the letter reads. "Furthermore, his expansive view of how presidential power should be wielded against his detractors poses a distinct threat to civil liberty in the United States."
7. Rick Wilson, Republican operative
Put bluntly in his own words: "I will never vote for Donald Trump, not even if he's the Republican nominee. I will never vote for Donald Trump, not even if Ronald Reagan and William F. Buckley rise from the grave and beg me to support him. I will never vote for Donald Trump, not even if it means he forms a third party and runs as the narcissist sociopath he truly is."
8. Stuart Stevens, top strategist, Romney 2012
A day later, he wondered about a "support group" for "those not threatened by thuggish trust funder" Donald Trump. "Getting to be a small group," he tweeted.
9. Kevin Madden, former Mitt Romney communications director
Madden, like some of his peers, said he could never vote for Trump. If Trump is the nominee, he said, "I'm prepared to write somebody in so that I have a clear conscience."
10. Karl Rove, Republican operative
Rove, a longtime skeptic of Trump, has downplayed his dominance in the polls and likened him to GOP Senate candidate Todd Akin in a July 2015 op-ed in the Wall Street Journal. "Mr. Trump could become the 2016 version of Missouri Rep. Todd Akin, who tarnished the GOP brand in 2012 with an offensive statement about rape," Rove wrote. "Republican leaders from Mitt Romney on down immediately condemned his words, but swing voters were persuaded that every Republican believed what Mr. Akin said."
Rove has continued to opine about the best ways to beat Trump in the Wall Street Journal.
11. David McIntosh, president of Club for Growth
The president of the conservative political advocacy group attacked Trump as "the worst kind of politician"and questioned his Republican credentials. "He's playing them for chumps," McIntosh said. "They'll believe anything he says, when in fact the record shows he's done just the opposite. He believes just the opposite."
McIntosh's Club for Growth has ramped up its anti-Trump advertising with million dollar buys in key states like Florida.
12. Ken Mehlman, former Republican National Committee chairman
Mehlman, who ran Pres. George W. Bush's re-election campaign, tweeted his scorn for Trump on Monday. "Leaders don't need to do research to reject Klan support #NeverTrump," he posted, linking to a New York Times article in which Pres. Ronald Reagan spurned the KKK.
13. Sarah Isgur Flores, former deputy campaign manager at Carly for President
The former RNC deputy communications director floated the idea of a convention showdown to MSNBC's Chris Jansing. "I will certainly hope for a contested convention, and if not I hope that someone will offer an alternative," she said.
14. Ben Stein, conservative economist, former speechwriter for presidents Nixon and Ford
Stein appeared on CNN on Wednesday and said that he was considering voting Democratic in the general election should Trump be the nominee. "I like him, but he's dangerously misinformed," he told CNN. He also said that Trump would "sink" the Republican party.
1. Glenn Beck, host of The Glenn Beck Program and founder of TheBlaze
On Sunday, Beck tweeted a photo next to Republican candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tx) while simultaneously denouncing Trump.
Beck has spoken out against Trump on the charge that the front-runner lacks true conservative bona fides. In a piece for The National Review titled "Conservatives against Trump," published in January, Beck wrote, "Sure, Trump's potential primary victory would provide Hillary Clinton with the easiest imaginable path to the White House. But it's far worse than that. If Donald Trump wins the Republican nomination, there will once again be no opposition to an ever-expanding government. This is a crisis for conservatism. And, once again, this crisis will not go to waste."
Recently, Beck told listeners of his radio program that a "pathway to victory" against Trump relies on convincing Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio to unite on one ticket — Cruz as president, Rubio as vice president with the promise of Cruz's full support after eight years.
2. Bill Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard
"Couldn't vote for Trump, couldn't vote for Hillary," Kristol told The Daily Caller in an email published December 1. Kristol later told The New Yorker on Friday that he would like to see another conservative candidate run against Trump if he becomes the nominee. "I've been Sherman-esque—and more!," he wrote to The New Yorker in an email, "since I've said I would try to recruit a real conservative to run as a fourth (Bloomberg being the third) party candidate."
3. Erick Erickson, conservative commentator, former editor of RedState, founder of The Resurgent
Erickson first criticized Trump last August after the businessman remarked that Fox News' Megyn Kelly "had blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever" when she questioned him during a debate about his treatment of women. Erickson, saying he was drawing a distinction between Trump's war on "political correctness" and "common decency," has not changed his opinion —if anything, it has hardened.
"I have become convinced that Donald Trump's pro-life conversion is a conversion of convenience. Life is the foremost cause in how I vote. Therefore I will not be voting for Donald Trump at all. Ever," Erickson wrote in a post on The Resurgent last month. "Frankly, if Trump is able to get the nomination, the Republican Party will cease to be the party in which I served as an elected official."
(Erickson served one term as a Republican member of the city council in Macon, Georgia.)
4. Steve Deace, conservative commentator and radio talk show host
"On national television Sunday morning, the current front-runner for the Republican Party's presidential nomination refused to disavow being publicly supported by racists not once, not twice, but three times," Deace wrote Monday in a post for the Conservative Review. "Just another in a multitude of reasons why I will #NeverTrump - even if he is the Republican nominee."
5. John Podhoretz, editor of Commentary
On Bloomberg's "With All Due Respect," Podhoretz said it was not possible for Trump to be a good or great president, and citing Trump's defense of Vladimir Putin and trade policies, Podhoretz added that "a man of his extraordinarily flawed character, and lack of principle and scruple… would be nothing less than a disaster" as commander-in-chief.
6. Thomas Sowell, senior fellow at the Hoover Institution
The libertarian economist referred to Trump as a "glib egomaniac" in a National Review issue that made the ideological case against Trump's nomination. Citing the stakes of the election, Sowell maintained that a "shoot-from-the-hip, belligerent show-off is the last thing we need or can afford."
7. L. Brent Bozell III, president of the Media Research Center
The conservative activist said of Trump on Fox News, "God helps this country if this man were president." He also labeled the businessman a "shameless self-promoter" and "huckster" before saying that conservative icon William F. Buckley would "never support his candidacy."
Editor's Note: A previous version of the story included Ken Cuccinelli, president of the Senate Conservatives Fund. The 2013 Senate candidate said he supports Ted Cruz for president, but plans to support the Republican nominee in November.