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Prominent Republican makes his case against voting for Trump

Peter Wehner
Peter Wehner

Peter Wehner, who served in the administrations of the last three Republican presidents (that’s two Bushes and one Reagan) and who says he has voted for every Republican nominee during his adult lifetime, was one of the first prominent Republicans to publicly declare that he would not vote for the Republican nominee in 2016 if that nominee is Donald Trump.

He made this announcement, rather prominently, in a Jan. 14 op-ed column in the New York Times, for which he writes frequently.

In a talk at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School Tuesday, he loaded up a fat paragraph describing Trump with strong adjectives, several of them less-than-flattering. It went like this:

“Mr. Trump is a toxic figure in American politics. If you want to know how toxic he is, he has a 70 percent unfavorable rating right now. And that would make the him most disliked nominee in the history of polling. Neil Newhouse, a veteran Republican pollster, said that ‘In the modern polling era since World War II, there has not been a more unpopular potential presidential nominee than Donald Trump.’ Mr. Trump is toxic for a reason. He is — in my estimation — nativist, xenophobic, cruel, vindictive, emotionally unstable, narcissistic, obsessive, and yet, he is without an economic agenda or a governing philosophy. He’s stunningly ignorant on issues and he seems to be a person who’s given over to profanity and demagogy…

“So count me neutral on Trump,” Wehner concluded to laughter from the Humphrey School audience.

Other than an unwillingness to support his party’s nominee, Wehner is a loyal Republican. He said he would support Sen. Ted Cruz if Cruz wins the nomination on the second or third ballot in Cleveland in July. He doesn’t prefer Cruz and expects Cruz would likely lose the election in November. But he’s a loyal enough Republican to go along with someone he disfavors, just not someone he detests.

And although he believes his party will, for the first time since 1948, lose a third consecutive presidential election, he made a pretty convincing pitch for the claim that on all but the presidential level, Republicans are the “governing party” of the United States. It went like this:

Republicans currently control the U.S. House by a large majority, the U.S. Senate by a smaller majority, the governorships of 31 of the 50 states and majorities in 70 percent of state legislative chambers around the country. Aside from the two victories of Barack Obama in the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections, Democrats have lost ground in the portion of government power they control at all other levels of government during the Obama years, Wehner said.

Looking ahead, however, Wehner sees danger for that “governing party” status because of the changing demographic of the United States. Republicans continue to get big majorities of white votes. In 2012, Mitt Romney carried the white vote by 20 percentage points, but lost because Obama carried the non-white vote by a 63 percentage point margin. In 2012, non-whites made up 26 percent of the electorate. By November’s election, he estimated, that could rise to 30 percent.

To sum up, he said, “Republicans are doing worse and worse among groups that are growing” as a portion of the electorate. The party needs a new agenda, new issues, new faces and a new message to non-white voters, which he described as “at a minimum, we don’t hate you. Even better: We like you and we want you.”

Comments (17)

  1. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 04/13/2016 - 09:09 am.

    Thank you for this profile

    of the epitome of the type of eastern establishment republican that caused the creation of the tea party and is directly responsible for the rise of Donald Trump, the man he so detests.

    As he will most likely vote for Clinton instead of Cruz, grass roots conservatives hold him in the same regard as they do real democrats.

  2. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 04/13/2016 - 09:24 am.

    Whatever works

    “. . . nativist, xenophobic, cruel, vindictive, emotionally unstable, narcissistic, obsessive, and . . . . without an economic agenda or a governing philosophy.”

    I think you could take most of those adjectives to describe the profile of the modern Republican Party. It seems to me that Trump appeals to many Republicans because he embraces these values which they share. They have also been exploited for the last 35 years or more to bring the Republican Party the power it now enjoys. Trump doesn’t behave any differently than the de facto leader of the Party, Rush Limbaugh, except he doesn’t pretend he’s just kidding around.

    Anyway, Mr. Wehner seems to be sending a mixed message for a lot of Republicans, who can point to the fact that whatever they’re doing, it’s working for them. They still control the House and Senate and most of the State governments around the country. I suspect that for more than a few Republicans, Mr. Wehner comes cross as a “glass half empty” kind of guy.

  3. Submitted by Tom Christensen on 04/13/2016 - 09:35 am.

    Who’s to blame?

    The Republicans are cooking in their own stew. The Republican Party isn’t being run by the party. It is being run by media personalities at Fox. Who’s to blame? The moderate Republicans have been drummed out of the party. Who’s to blame? Leaderless is a good way to describe the current Republican Party. If you have any doubt about leaderless, look at the slate of candidates that were and are running to be the Republican presidential nominee. Who’s to blame? Some Republican politicians have even apologized to the likes of Limbaugh because they didn’t speak Limbaugh’s brand of Republicanism. Who’s to blame? The Republican Party wasn’t sure who the tea party was when they showed up, but Republicans needed voters so they let them in and they have now taken over the leaderless party. Who’s to blame? The Republicans have an ongoing war with every demographic they need to win. Who’s to blame? Every three Republicans think they are the way forward. Who’s to blame? Being leaderless, the Republicans have done everything they can to bring the government to a snail’s pace until they figure out who the heck they are. Someone needs to tell them President Reagan hasn’t been president for nearly 30 years. The world has changed since Reagan and they need to change too. Who’s to blame? Some of the so called party elite aren’t even going to the Republican convention in Cleveland. Who’s to blame? It isn’t a hard question to answer. Republicans are to blame for their own stew. Turn up the heat. The stew isn’t done yet.

  4. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 04/13/2016 - 10:08 am.

    Ya know…

    I think it’s safe to assume to that Minnpost readers are mostly liberals. I don’t understand why we keep seeing soooooo many articles about Trump in this column while practically nothing gets written about the Clinton/Sanders campaign and current struggle between liberals and the party establishment? Why would one think that liberals are more interested in republican candidates than they are in democratic candidates? And why would one assume that dysfunctional fantasies of candidates with no chance of becoming president are MORE important and/or more interesting than the debates and conversations taking place among liberals and their candidates? Why would one assume that liberals are more interested in why Trump appeals to authoritarians than why Sanders appeals to progressives and liberals? Why would one assume that liberals are more interested in discussing and thinking about Trumps wall than they are Sander’s minimum wages or Medicare for All?

    And whats the point in discussing the media’s role in manufacturing the Trump phenomena if the media is just going to keep manufacturing it regardless?

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 04/13/2016 - 11:07 am.

      Same reason

      that fiction sells better than fact.

    • Submitted by Edward Blaise on 04/13/2016 - 11:44 am.

      Why sooooo much Trump?

      For the same reason we can’t take our eyes off a car crash.
      As noted above, today’s GOP senior leadership built the environment that has given us Trump or Cruz as the likely nominee, despite their both being despised by leadership. They made their dirty little deal with their masses: if you look the other way while we feather the bed of the 1%, we’ll look the other way as you rationalize the inclusion of racists, sexism, homophobes, xenophobes, what-have-you-phobes. With so much influence from the Christian right one would think someone, anyone, would have jumped up and said:

      “Stop, wait, let’s not forget Job 4:8”:

      “According to what I have seen, those who plow iniquity And those who sow trouble harvest it.”
      “By the breath of God they perish, And by the blast of His anger they come to an end.…”

      A word to the wise for our Republican friends: keep your eyes open for lighting bolts….

  5. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 04/13/2016 - 10:10 am.

    Years of dog-whistling the Republican voters to the polls and the donation envelopes have ultimately frustrated their voters who really thought that their leaders would act in accordance with their whistling.

    Now Trump makes the whistle entirely audible.

    Shock and disavowal by the people so formerly pleased by deniability factor of the whistling.

    Pleasure and excitement by those who believe Trump really means what he says (just wait until he gets to the general election phase of the campaign–will the Trumpeteers be as pleased with his style?).

    Can’t say there is any way that this will turn out well for the Republicans. They have glided by on a veneer of plausible deniability for years.

  6. Submitted by kay smith on 04/13/2016 - 11:07 am.

    MN Republicans

    Meanwhile back here in Minnesota, we apparently don’t have any pressing issues to deal with as the GOP starts talking about requiring a birth certificate for entry into a bathroom.

  7. Submitted by Jim Million on 04/13/2016 - 11:18 am.


    The RNC certainly opened their door to Trump by allowing him to run with “(R)” behind his name rather than the “(I)” he proclaims himself to be.

    Peter Wehner may be one of the door keepers who went missing.

  8. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 04/13/2016 - 01:09 pm.

    Loyalty undeserved

    You’d think “small government” Republicans with working brains would have noticed what has happened in recent years in Kansas and Louisiana, where Republican Governors, backed wholeheartedly by Republican-dominated legislatures, have enthusiastically implemented precisely the sort of Republican agenda that the national party has been crowing about since Paul Ryan first read Ayn Rand. The result has been unmitigated economic catastrophe in both states, except for the 1-percenters whose favors were so carefully cultivated by those Republicans running for office.

    Tom Christensen makes a good point. The looming Republican debacle – at least at the presidential level – is entirely of their own making.

    That said, Paul Udstrand’s point is also very well-taken. Entirely too much coverage by major (and not-so-major) media outlets has been, and continues to be, devoted to a candidate that even a Republican loyalist (he should know better by now) admits is among the most disliked candidates of ANY party to run for the office. There has been some coverage of both Sanders and Clinton in this space, but the Trump coverage seems disproportionately large by comparison, though I’m willing to stand corrected.

    Trump is all those negatives that Mr. Wehner listed. Cruz is most of those things, too, plus being a theocratic authoritarian. They’re both potentially disastrous for the country, but for different reasons. That doesn’t, or at least shouldn’t, exempt either Senator Sanders or Mrs. Clinton from similar close examination and criticism, especially from media outlets inclined to lean in their direction rather than Trump’s or Cruz’s. I’m looking forward to it.

    • Submitted by Joe Smith on 04/13/2016 - 04:12 pm.

      You would think after 7 yrs of Big Government Top Down Obama policies where middle class took a beating, credit unions and small banks disappeared, healthcare costs skyrocketed, national debt doubled that folks would realize that Top Down approach doesn’t work. The fact that Dems lost House, Senate and Governships by the boat load and GOP looks lost in Presidential race, should tell you why Trump and Bernie are getting support.. Both know the system is broken unfortunately for us, Bernie and Trump’s solutions are flawed or unrealistic.

      • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 04/13/2016 - 05:25 pm.

        I Wish

        That the middle class took a beating the last 7 years. We’ve been administered a beat down for decades now, not just seven years.

        For some reason, conservatives have only recently discovered it.

      • Submitted by Neal Rovick on 04/13/2016 - 06:49 pm.

        You would think that after decades of experience with the fallout, you would know that your that your friends are NOT the billionaires, big finance, multi-national corporations, CEO’s, big pharma, and the fossil fuel companies.

        Have you seen any of those sectorsi go bankrupt ?

  9. Submitted by Craig Johnson on 04/13/2016 - 06:33 pm.

    Needed to read it twice

    To understand was really being said was “don’t blame Republicans for the awful choices the party has presented to voters. Instead blame Donald Trump”. The party cannot turn its back on its utter failure of leadership. The party has allowed itself to be fractionalized by ultra conservative tea party members. The party has demanded a serious conservative litmus test of all its candidates, demanded respect for what ever the party decides to implement its changes and has ignored the candidates who have strayed away from the party line.

    If the parties alternative to Donald Trump were someone other than Ted “lets carpet bomb the middle east and kill all the families of suspected terrorists” Cruz. To choose Cruz over Trump is just simply the worst possible alternative

    Scoundrels have made a mess of the Republican Party. No need to blame Donald Trump. You’ve brought this on to yourselves and I for one am amused.

  10. Submitted by beryl john-knudson on 04/13/2016 - 07:37 pm.

    I suppose some are waiting with baited breath for Wehner’s

    public revelations…but probably Hubert H from his grave is not listening and or if he heard Wehner, he was surely rolling in his attendant heaven quietly chuckling?

    I suppose there should be credit given for being a Republican loyalist and speech writer in alliance with Reagan and two Bushes too ?

    That in itself reveals a most selective loyalty and downsizes his credibility for this reader… one who does not respect those past presidents whatever the speech; whomever the speech writer?

    And if only performer with the pen or more influential he must have swallowed the views in order to achieve speech writing acceptability to all three presidents or their handlers?.

    That in itself makes him suspect of initially and progressively following the party line which in reflecting on his past loyalties exposes so much more?

    Covering ones assets, whatever, and exchanging or clarifying ones rejection of Trump as a public statement says more of the same… says much of the man himself…better safe than sorry or don’t frame me with Trump when the party implodes…so who really cares? Nothing too noble in the telling…

  11. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 04/14/2016 - 11:04 am.

    All we can do is repeat ourselves….

    We will likely never get any kind of response with integrity from any republican at this point because they have spent decades playing debate games instead of doing any real intellectual work. Republican cannot explain or take responsibility for anything, let alone their parties demise, they simply don’t have the capacity nor even the inclination. They actually bragged about having soooooo many qualified candidates when 17 clowns walked onto their stage… and they meant it! Whatever. This is all irrelevant, the REAL issue, and the one that the media is almost entirely ignoring, is the showdown brewing among those who will actually win the election in this country (i.e. the democrats).

    While the media focuses on this clown show a contested democratic convention is forming on the horizon… and all the media can do is prattle on about Hillary’s “lead”.

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