Hillary Clinton's campaign and its allies are stepping up efforts to actively recruit dissident Republicans behind the scenes while publicly highlighting some conservatives’ misgivings about Donald Trump.
The unusually aggressive effort to make common cause with partisan foes reflects Democrats' effort to seek Republicans to validate their message that Trump is unfit to be president and their attempt to undermine Trump's support base in his own party.
After a week where Trump could not let go of criticism by the parents of a fallen soldier, made light of receiving the Purple Heart, refused to back House Speaker Paul Ryan and gave a distracted interview to the Washington Post, the Clinton campaign released a television ad Friday highlighting conservative national security experts concerned about the Republican nominee’s temperament and judgment on foreign policy.
“If he governs consistent with some of the things he said as a candidate, I would be very frightened,” former President George W. Bush CIA director Michael Hayden says in the ad.
Another longtime intelligence officer, former CIA deputy Director Michael Morrell went even farther in an New York Times op-ed, saying Vladimir Putin had made Trump “an unwitting agent of the Russian Federation.”
Those voices are just the tip of an iceberg that grown in recent days with new appetite for Republicans to support Clinton, according to a leaders of a new movement of Republicans who support Clinton.
Republicans in Formation
Ricardo Reyes, a former member of the George W. Bush administration who co-founded the nascent movement R4C2016 (Republicans for Clinton 2016) with an op-ed in the Washington Post the day after Trump’s nominating acceptance speech, said interest has “absolutely” grown in the past few rough days for Trump.
“We’ve communicated with a few hundred, closer to a thousand, Republicans” through email and phone who want to support Clinton, Reyes said. He said the supporters come from Republican voters to current and former elected officials and former cabinet officials.
Reyes said he and his co-founder, John Stubbs, also a former Bush administration official, will give cover to Republicans who can no longer sit on the sidelines against Trump and feel an obligation to come support Clinton. They will also work in battleground states to encourage Republican voters to vote Clinton and Republican down ballot.
Reyes said he has been in contact with the Clinton campaign through “a few informal conversations.” He said they are “very, very supportive."
Clinton begun her formal outreach to Republicans at the Democratic convention. She attempted to walk a difficult tightrope of coalescing the party and appealing to Sen. Bernie Sanders’ supporters while also welcome Republicans disconcerted with Trump.
“He's taken the Republican Party a long way from 'Morning in America' to ‘Midnight in America,’” Clinton said in Philadelphia, referring to a speech by Republican favorite former President Ronald Reagan.
“So whatever party you belong to, or if you belong to no party at all, if you share these beliefs, this is your campaign,” Clinton added.
Two Republicans spoke at her convention, including Jennifer Pierotti Lim who founded the group Women for Hillary. Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a independent and former Republican, endorsed her on stage in what was also a plea to not support Trump.
The United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce made an endorsement for the first time in its 38-year history for Clinton. It made the move in part because of concern with Trump and partly because the Clinton campaign worked extremely hard to get it.
“We held the door open for the Trump campaign to do the same. Donald did not (respond),” said Javier Palomarez, the president and CEO of the group, who said Clinton’s campaign contacted the organization almost daily.
Palomarez said the group has 271 business sponsors and only one expressed concern.
The Clinton campaign says Republican donors have been some of the quickest to jump Trump’s ship, including GOP billionaire Meg Whitman, who ran for governor of California.
Lanny Davis, a former Clinton White House aide, has been one of several top Clinton fundraisers courting Republican donors, though without specific instructions from Clinton’s Brooklyn headquarters.
“It has gone from a trickle to a torrent,” Davis said, estimating he’s received two dozen calls from Republican donors inquiring about giving to Clinton in the past two weeks. "We all are hearing the same thing. In dozens and dozens, not in ones and ones, Republicans have been calling me and asking me, 'what can I do?’” Davis said.
Many have expressed disgust with Trump’s comments on the Khan family, but mostly Davis said he hears concerns about Trump having control of nuclear weapons.
Davis declined to name names, aside from former U.S. Attorney and longtime GOP donor Dan Webb, whose flip was already reported, but said he’s heard from former top officials in GOP administrations and even one prominent national talk show host.
For every Republican who does decide to support Clinton, however, there are many who won’t – even if they don’t like Trump.
Bobbie Kilberg, a prominent Republican bundler from Virginia, backed New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie in the Republican primary. She said she doesn't know any donors willing to back Clinton.
“Most of my colleagues in the donor community – male and female - are not supporting either Trump or Clinton. I don’t expect they will change their minds and I don’t expect to change my mind,” Kilberg said.
And Chart Westcott, a Dallas bio-tech investor who attended a recent Koch donor summit and no fan of Trump, said he knows of “absolutely no other GOP donors that” are backing Clinton.
Still, some Republican support for Clinton is real.
Former New Hampshire Sen. Gordon Humphry, who was a delegate at the Republican convention and worked to deny Trump his party’s nomination, told NBC News that he’ll vote for Clinton if the race is close because he could never support a “sociopath” like Trump.
And new Friday is Frank Lavin, former director of the Office of Political Affairs under Ronald Reagan.
“Trump is temperamentally unfit to be president of the United States, and just the thought of him having access to nuclear codes is unnerving,” Lavin said in a statement explaining his plant to vote for Clinton. “That's why for the first time in my life, I am voting for a Democrat for President.”
Republicans for Her, a group founded by Republican lobbyist Craig Snyder, started a super PAC to attract others like him.
He said he’s “never been on the Trump train,” even though he works at the same firm as former and current Trump advisors Roger Stone and Paul Manfort. “I’ve had a lot of time to witness Trump and people around him and I’ve never been a fan.”
His goal is to raise $3 million to run ads in at least two swing congressional districts to target college-educated suburban women Republicans to help Clinton – a group that Clinton is dominating, according to the recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.
Snyder, a Washington, D.C. lobbyist, said the reaction from fellow Republicans has been mixed, with some praising him and others telling him, “You’re a trader and you’ll never work again in this town.”
He’s eyeing a district in Pennsylvania, and he has the support of Shanin Spector, a long-time Republican operative in the state and the son of the late Sen. Arlen Spector. He backed Ohio Gov. John Kasich in the primary
“There are going to be a lot of Republicans this year (backing Clinton),” Spector said. “And I think the reasons are well documented and obvious. Trump is simply unacceptable.”