What will it take to get Republicans — especially women, who gave Donald Trump the benefit of the doubt in 2016 — to dump him in 2020?
The jammed first night of the Democratic virtual convention featured four Republicans backing Joe Biden: ex-Ohio Gov. John Kasich; ex-New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman; ex-New York Rep. Susan Molinari; and Meg Whitman, the Quibi CEO and one-time head of eBay and Hewlett-Packard.
Those “unexpected voices” also served to pep up a convention program hamstrung by the limits of doing a virtual production.
Kasich, a “lifelong Republican,” said, “In normal times, something like this would probably never happen, but these are not normal times.”
With Trump calling Biden a “radical socialist,” a soothing Kasich vouched for Biden.
“I’m sure there are Republicans and Independents who couldn’t imagine crossing over to support a Democrat. They fear Joe may turn sharp left and leave them behind. I don’t believe that because I know the measure of the man. … No one pushes Joe around. Joe Biden is a man for our times, times that call for all of us to take off our partisan hats and put our nation first for ourselves, and of course for our children.”
Christine Todd Whitman said Biden can “work with everyone.” Meg Whitman said, “Trump has no clue how to run a business.”
Molinari, who has known Trump from New York politics, said she finds Trump “disturbing” as she endorsed Biden.
The “not normal” reference from Kasich is an acknowledgement of the pain and suffering the nation is going through now: the COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing health crisis, the economic collapse occurring at the same time as a renewed reckoning of systemic racism.
The comments of the four Republicans in featured slots were followed by a package of testimonials of folks — they were not named — saying they were Republicans backing Trump.
Kasich made clear in 2016 — after his failed GOP primary presidential bid — he couldn’t stomach Trump. He would not attend the Republican convention, even though it was in Cleveland. Trump got the last laugh on that one, beating Hillary Clinton in Kasich’s home state Ohio by some eight points.
Until the catastrophic COVID-19 pandemic, Trump easily shoved aside the never-Trumpers like Kasich.
He waltzed through his impeachment trial in the GOP-controlled Senate. Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell — up for reelection this November — enable Trump because they are afraid, with a main exception — Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah — to say the “emperor has no clothes.”
For Biden to win, he needs to jazz up the various Democratic constituencies, the reason convention planners included every faction of the Democratic family in the convention program and related activities.
And Biden also needs help from Independents and Republicans. The assistance can come in two forms: a vote for Biden or sitting out the vote for Trump.
Enter Kasich, Molinari, Whitman and Whitman (the two are not related), members of a shrinking breed of Republicans called moderates. The women all support abortion rights.
The four spoke in the part of the convention program titled “We the people putting country over party.”
I asked pollster Frank Luntz, who advises Democrats and Republicans, for his analysis about the Democratic strategy for GOP supporters.
Having them speak serves as “a bridge that some Republicans have been unwilling to cross. You don’t just go from Trump to Biden. They disagree on everything; they’re completely different people. And it’s very hard to get someone to make the leap,” Luntz said.
“And what’s interesting is who they chose. These are people who are likely to appeal to moms with school-aged children. … Because that’s the group that left Trump within the last few months,” Luntz said.
Douglas Heye, a former Republican National Committee spokesman, said it may be easier for Democrats to woo Republicans in 2020 because Joe Biden is not Hillary Clinton, who could never win the backing of some Republicans, even those with doubts about Trump.
With the four Republicans on the program, it gives GOP voters “permission” to cross the aisle, Heye said.
Alex Conant, who was communications director for Marco Rubio’s 2016 presidential bid, said, absent some Biden policy outreach or promise to hold the line on taxes — or some promise to put a Republican in his cabinet, “I’m skeptical that this will appeal to a lot of Republicans.”