2020 election: George W Bush, Mitt Romney, and other GOP establishment figures refuse to support Trump

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ARLINGTON, TEXAS - OCTOBER 06: Former President George W. Bush attends the NFL game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Green Bay Packers at AT&T Stadium on October 06, 2019 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
ARLINGTON, TEXAS - OCTOBER 06: Former President George W. Bush attends the NFL game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Green Bay Packers at AT&T Stadium on October 06, 2019 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Several longtime Republicans who have held political and military offices as high up as secretary of state and even the presidency will not vote for Donald Trump in 2020, as criticism of the 45th president’s handling of anti-police-brutality protests intensifies in the wake of the death of George Floyd and other black Americans.

Former President George W Bush will not vote for Mr Trump this November, The New York Times has reported. His brother, former Florida Governor and 2016 GOP presidential candidate Jeb Bush, is still deciding who he’ll vote for, the Times said.

Retired four-star US Army General Colin Powell — who served in senior military and diplomatic positions during the Ronald Reagan, George HW Bush and George W Bush administrations — has announced he will support presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden.

The Times story, which cites “people familiar with [the Bush brothers’] thinking,” was published after a rough week for Mr Trump where a handful of sitting Republicans senators rebuked his militant response to the recent wave of Black Lives Matter protests, including one, Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski, who openly admitted she is “struggling” with whether she’ll back her party’s incumbent president.

Ms Murkowski did not endorse Mr Trump in 2016.

Despite her hesitance to support Mr Trump politically, Ms Murkowski said he is still “our duly elected president” and that she “will continue to work with him.”

Meanwhile, Utah Senator Mitt Romney, the only Republican who joined Democrats in voting to convict Mr Trump in February for abusing the power of his office, will not vote for Mr Trump in November, the Times reported.

Mr Romney, along with Ms Murkowski and Nebraska Republican Senator Ben Sasse, were highly critical of the president’s staged photo op before St John’s Episcopal Church in Washington last Monday after the administration had ordered US Park Police protecting the White House to widen the perimeter around it, even if that meant clearing out peaceful protesters.

The park police subsequently fired tear gas, rubber bullets, and flash bang grenades on peaceful demonstrators to clear a path for the president's walk to the famed church.

"There is a fundamental — a Constitutional — right to protest,” Mr Sasse said in a statement to Politico last week, “and I’m against clearing out a peaceful protest for a photo op that treats the Word of God as a political prop.”

The recent onslaught from current and former Republican lawmakers and advisers began after Mr Trump’s own former Defence Secretary, retired Marine general James Mattis, penned a letter last Wednesday to The Atlantic denouncing the president.

"Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people — does not even pretend to try. Instead he tries to divide us. We are witnessing the consequences of three years of this deliberate effort. We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership," Mr Mattis wrote in his letter.

The former defence secretary, one of the most highly respected military veterans and US defence thinkers among Republican lawmakers, also pilloried the president for the photo op at St John’s.

"When I joined the military, some 50 years ago, I swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution. Never did I dream that troops taking that same oath would be ordered under any circumstance to violate the Constitutional rights of their fellow citizens — much less to provide a bizarre photo op for the elected commander-in-chief, with military leadership standing alongside," Mr Mattis said, taking a dig at current Defence Secretary Mark Esper for his participation in Monday's procession.

It is unclear whether the lack of support from traditional Republicans from the party’s so-called establishment will have any meaningful impact on Mr Trump’s prospects for reelection this fall.

The president was swept into office on a largely populist, anti-establishment message in 2016, which he has continued to push in the 2020 cycle despite being the incumbent.

Mr Trump took aim at Mr Powell on Sunday with a tweet denigrating his record on the US’ wars in the Middle East.

“Colin Powell, a real stiff who was very responsible for getting us into the disastrous Middle East Wars, just announced he will be voting for another stiff, Sleepy Joe Biden,” Mr Trump tweeted.

“Didn’t Powell say that Iraq had ‘weapons of mass destruction?’ They didn’t, but off we went to WAR!” Mr Trump wrote.

The Republican National Committee and the joint authorisation committee of the Trump campaign have jointly raised $677m since 2017. The Trump campaign has nearly a quarter of a billion dollars in cash on hand. Meanwhile, the president has maintained his mixed but mostly antagonistic rhetorical posture towards the protesters, tweeting on Saturday, simply, “LAW & ORDER!” and jabbing organisers for the “much smaller crowd in D.C. than anticipated.”

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