Several Republicans crossed party lines and endorsed Joe Biden during the first two nights of the Democratic National Convention, calling on other GOP voters to turn their backs on Donald Trump in November.
Former Ohio governor John Kasich led the charge Monday, admitting his presence was unusual but insisting his status as a lifelong Republican “holds second place to my responsibility to my country.” Other notable Republicans followed with their own remarks Tuesday.
“In normal times, something like this would probably never happen, but these are not normal times,” Kasich said of his participation at the Democrats’ convention.
“We can all see what’s going on in our country today and all the questions that are facing us, and no one person or party has all the answers,” Kasich added. “But what we do know is that we can do better than what we’ve been seeing today, for sure.”
Kasich’s prerecorded video message, among several during the virtual convention forced online by the coronavirus pandemic, was hardly subtle. He delivered it from a fork in a rural, gravel road in his home state, while declaring that “America is at a crossroads.”
But he used the metaphor to draw a line between Trump and Biden, highlighting the latter’s “experience and his wisdom and his decency” despite their political differences.
“Yes, there are areas where Joe and I absolutely disagree,” Kasich said. “But that’s OK, because that’s America. Because whatever our differences, we respect one another as human beings, each of us searching for justice and for purpose.”
Kasich was among 16 people who battled Trump for the Republican presidential nomination during the 2016 primaries and was among the last to drop out, finishing fourth in earned delegates.
During the primary, he stressed his bipartisan work as a Republican member of Congress during President Bill Clinton’s administration. Biden, he said Monday, was also able to work with Republicans during his time in the Senate and as Barack Obama’s vice-president, and could “bring us together” in the same way if elected.
Other Republican elected officials set the stage for Kasich’s speech in their own, introductory messages.
Former New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, while recounting her and her family’s long history with the GOP, said America needs someone who can “get things done.”
“Donald Trump isn’t that person,” she said. “Joe Biden is.”
Former Hewlett Packard CEO Meg Whitman, who ran for governor as a Republican in California in 2010 but backed Hillary Clinton in 2016, was even more blunt.
“Donald Trump has no clue how to run a business, let alone an economy,” she said. “For me, the choice is simple: I’m with Joe.”
Former New York Republican Rep. Susan Molinari, who said she’s known Trump throughout her political career, called him “so disappointing, and lately so disturbing.” She said she’s supporting Biden after the work they’ve done together combatting violence against women and other issues.
Several other Americans who identified themselves as Republicans echoed the earlier speakers’ message following Kasich’s speech, encouraging other right-wing voters to reject Trump.
Republicans speaking at a Democratic convention is nothing new. In 2012, Charlie Crist, who once served as the Republican governor of Florida, spoke in favour of a second term for Obama at that year’s event. He now serves as a Democratic congressman.
Yet it’s also gone the other way: Joe Lieberman, who had been the Democratic vice presidential nominee eight years prior, delivered a speech at the 2008 Republican convention for his friend Sen. John McCain.
On Tuesday, Cindy McCain, the widow of the late Republican senator — who often clashed with Trump on several issues before his death in 2018 — spoke about her husband’s longstanding friendship with Biden, which stretched back to the 1970s.
“They would just sit and joke,” Cindy McCain said in a clip of the video about the Biden-McCain relationship released by convention organizers. “It was like a comedy show sometimes to watch the two of them.”
McCain, who planned his own funeral, had told his family to invite Biden to speak and to not invite Trump.
Although his wife did not explicitly endorse Biden, her involvement in the prerecorded video is her biggest public show of support yet for Biden’s candidacy.
Also on Tuesday, former secretary of state Colin Powell, who served Republican president George W. Bush, told the convention that he supports Biden for president because of the values they share.
“We need to restore those values to the White House,” he said in his own video message, which follows his endorsement of Biden in June. During that endorsement, Powell called Trump a liar.
Asked about Kasich’s participation in the Democratic convention earlier Monday, Trump called his former opponent “a loser” for both parties.
“John was a loser as a Republican. Never even came close. And as a Democrat he’ll be an even greater loser,” Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One while flying back from a day of campaigning in Wisconsin and Minnesota.
“People don’t like him. People don’t trust him. His health care in Ohio was a disaster,” Trump added. “He hasn’t done too well with Trump. He’s been easy pickings.”
Kasich’s presence even ruffled some Democrats’ feathers. According to a poll by CBS News, only 38 per cent of Democrats surveyed said they wanted to hear his speech, compared to 91 per cent for both Biden and his running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris.
Ahead of the speech, Kasich told Buzzfeed News that New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has received “outsized publicity” as a far-left member of the party, who he said doesn’t represent Democrats as a whole.
Ocasio-Cortez, a self-identified Democratic socialist who has aligned herself with Sen. Bernie Sanders, shot back on Twitter, saying “a Republican who fights against women’s rights doesn’t get to say who is or isn’t representative of the Dem party.”
Kasich has long stood against abortion, signing one of the country’s most restrictive bans against the practice in 2018 as governor.