At first, she chalked up his insulting, coarse rhetoric and personal attacks on his rivals to political showmanship as he sought to shake up the GOP establishment and shatter hidebound “political correctness.”
But Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine explained in a Washington Post op-ed that over time, she became alarmed by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s “complete disregard for common decency” and his willingness to degrade almost anyone. That included Sen. John McCain of Arizona, a highly decorated Vietnam War veteran who spent nearly five years as a prisoner of war.
Trump’s mocking of a disabled New York Times reporter, his callous contempt for a federal judge of Mexican heritage who was presiding over a case involving the defunct Trump University, and – most recently – his criticism of the grieving parents of Army Capt. Humayun Khan, who was killed in Iraq in 2004 by a suicide bomber, put Collins over the top.
On Tuesday, she joined a fast-growing list of prominent Republican politicians, senior policy advisers, state officials and conservative media pundits who have disavowed the GOP presidential nominee. Scores of Republican luminaries, from Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Gov. Charlie Baker of Massachusetts to former Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson, Jr. and 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, have come out against him with more likely to follow.
“With the passage of time, I have become increasingly dismayed by his constant stream of cruel comments and his inability to admit error or apologize,” Collins wrote. “But it was his attacks directed at people who could not respond on an equal footing – either because they do not share his power or stature or because professional responsibility precluded them from engaging at such a level – that revealed Mr. Trump as unworthy of being our president.
She was not alone in making the painful decision to break from the GOP’s standard bearer and either support Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton or some other third party candidate -- or simply sit out the November presidential election. Collins says she is not sure of what she will do but has ruled out voting for Clinton, her one-time Senate colleague.
Just in the past day, a group of 50 former national security officials who served in previous Republican administrations reaching back to Richard M. Nixon and Ronald Reagan, signed a letter denouncing Trump and declaring he would be “the most reckless President in American history.”
The letter, which also said that Trump “lacks the character, values, and experience to be president,” was signed by two former homeland security secretaries, Michael Chertoff and Tom Ridge; former CIA director and National Security Agency chief Michael Hayden, and John Negroponte, a former director of national intelligence and deputy secretary of state.
Meanwhile, two former Republican administrators of the Environmental Protection Agency endorsed Clinton on Tuesday, explaining in a joint statement that Trump – who claims that climate change is a “hoax” -- has shown “a profound ignorance of science and the public health issues embodied in our environmental laws.”
One of the environmentalists, William D. Ruckelshaus, was the first administrator of the EPA, appointed by President Richard M. Nixon. He returned to the same post during the Reagan administration. The other former official, William K. Reilly, was the head of the EPA during the administration of President George H.W. Bush.
The defections started as a trickle during the primary season, grew as Trump opponents feverishly looked for a way to block his nomination and then turned into a torrent since the July Republican and Democratic national conventions. The sharp contrasts between Trump and Clinton during the conventions – and mounting fear that Trump lacked the temperament and knowledge to lead the country -- gave Clinton an important boost over Trump in the polls.
The former secretary of state currently holds a 10 percentage point lead over Trump, 51 percent to 41 percent, according to the latest NBC News/SurveyMonkey Weekly Election tracking poll. A new NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll also shows Clinton leading Trump in the battleground states of Iowa, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Collins is one of seven Republican senators who have parted company with Trump, including Lindsay Graham of South Carolina, Ted Cruz of Texas, Ben Sasse of Nebraska, Jeff Flake of Arizona, Dean Heller of Nevada and Mark Kirk of Illinois. Graham and Cruz ran unsuccessful campaigns for the GOP presidential nomination, and Cruz famously urged delegates to “vote their conscience” during a speech at the Republican National Convention.
On the House side, Republican Reps. Scott Rigell of Virginia, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania, Richard Hanna of New York and Reid J. Ribble of Wisconsin have broken with Trump, among others. Hanna and Ribble are retiring at the end of the year.
After Trump appeared to suggest during a rally in North Carolina on Tuesday that “Second Amendment people” fearful of Clinton appointing anti-gun justices to the Supreme Court take matters into their own hands, other Republicans might follow Collins’s lead and dump Trump.