Donald Trump’s presidential campaign has put extraordinary strain on the Republican Party, and the cracks, long apparent to anyone paying attention, are starting to widen. Early Monday morning, freshman Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse posted a lengthy open letter to Trump voters on his Facebook page explaining that even if Republican voters nominate Trump for the presidency, he will refuse to vote for him.
Sasse posted his letter several hours after Trump declined multiple times to disavow the support of former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke and other white supremacist groups, and vowed that as president he would crack down on the press for reporting he disagrees with.
“If Donald Trump becomes the Republican nominee, my expectation is that I will look for some third candidate – a conservative option, a Constitutionalist,” he wrote. “I do not claim to speak for a movement, but I suspect I am far from alone.”
He continued, “Conservatives understand that all men are created equal and made in the image of God, but also that government must be limited so that fallen men do not wield too much power. A presidential candidate who boasts about what he’ll do during his “reign” and refuses to condemn the KKK cannot lead a conservative movement in America.”
Last week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell reportedly told Republican Senators that if Trump is the nominee, they should feel free to run on a platform opposing him in the general election in order to preserve Republican control of the Senate.
Influential voices in conservative circles are attacking Trump more and more loudly. Commentators like Erick Erickson and Ben Howe have said that they refuse to support him in the general election. Weeks ago, the National Review published an entire issue dedicated to taking down the billionaire former reality television star.
But nobody has been more vocal about Trump’s threat to the GOP than Republican consultant Rick Wilson, whose angry, impassioned article, “With God as My Witness, I will Never Vote for Donald Trump” went viral last week.
Wilson has been speaking hard truths to the GOP since The Donald entered the race last June, and in an interview Monday, he dished out more: The Republican Party, he said, has to recognize that it may have lost hardcore Trump voters for good.
“Trump voters are informed by fury and alienation,” he said, a lot of which has been manufactured by a hard right conservative talk radio media establishment that, according to Wilson, has “monetized” the creation of outrage.
“They’ve been sold on ‘the stab in the back’ – the idea that the evil elites are betraying you over and over again,” he said.
“They’re a lost cause and may be lost forever,” he continued. Trump supporters, he said, “assertively reject” key conservative principles like limited government and checks on executive authority. “They want a strongman, they want a caudillo.”
He added, “They may be gone for good in terms of being part of the coalition.”
At this point, the Republican candidates that are left in the race, Wilson said, are not even trying to take away Trump’s voters anymore, but rather to consolidate the remainder behind a single candidate. That includes Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who Wilson, a Floridian himself, supports.
To a longtime GOP activist like Wilson, watching Trump tear the party apart is obviously painful.
“This election, up on the debate stage we had two Cuban-Americans, an African-American, a woman,” he said. “This could have been a year when people were looking at the Republican Party as the aspirational mirror of what America is.”
Instead, he said, Trump has “distorted” the face of the party with appeals to bigotry, fear, and a sense of betrayal.
“I got in so much trouble last year when I said there is a ‘whiff of fascism’ about Trump,” Wilson says with grim humor. “Now, when people ask, ‘Is Trump a fascist?’ everyone says, ‘Of course he is.’”