As Election Day nears, Biden picks up even more Republican backers

There's no modern precedent for one party's presidential ticket picking up so much support from prominent voices in the other party.
Image: Presidential Candidate Joe Biden Holds Campaign Event In Pittsburgh
Joe Biden speaks during a campaign event at Mill 19 on Aug. 31, 2020 in Pittsburgh, Pa.Alex Wong / Getty Images
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By Steve Benen

Former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) has an op-ed in the Detroit Free Press today, arguing that he's still a Republican who'll support GOP candidates up and down the ballot, but he's nevertheless endorsing Joe Biden's Democratic presidential candidacy.

The former governor's endorsement appears designed to coincide with the launch of a larger bipartisan effort. Reuters reported this morning:

Nearly 100 Republican and independent leaders will endorse Democrat Joe Biden for president on Thursday, including one-time 2020 Republican presidential candidate Bill Weld and the former Republican governors of Michigan and New Jersey, people involved in the effort told Reuters.... Called ‘Republicans and Independents for Biden’, the group is headed by Christine Todd Whitman, a former Republican governor of New Jersey who has become one of Trump’s fiercest critics and who spoke at the recent Democratic National Convention in support of Biden.

A full list of the organization's members is not yet available, though it appears to include at least three former Republican governors, including Bill Weld, who challenged Trump for the Republican presidential nomination earlier this year.

What I find especially notable, however, isn't just the existence of an initiative like this, but rather, the scope and scale of Biden's GOP support.

Circling back to our earlier coverage, it was just last week when the public was introduced to two prominent political appointees from Trump's Department of Homeland Security, both of whom are now Biden voters and prominent voices in Republicans Voters Against Trump.

Around the same time, former Republican Sen. Bill Cohen of Maine endorsed Biden, joining more than two dozen other former GOP members of Congress who've done the same thing.

Also making headlines, more than 100 former staffers for the late Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) recently threw their support behind Biden. Several veterans of Sen. Mitt Romney's 2012 presidential campaign did the same thing, as did dozens of officials from former President George W. Bush's team, including two former cabinet secretaries.

Politico also reported last week week, "A group of onetime Republican presidential appointees who served as senior ethics or Justice Department aides are endorsing Joe Biden for president, warning that Donald Trump has "weaponized" the executive branch and is putting in peril the legitimacy of the Justice Department."

This comes on the heels of the Democratic convention two weeks ago, when Americans heard from some prominent GOP voices -- former Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R), former Secretary of State Colin Powell, former Rep. Susan Molinari (R-N.Y.), et al. -- who threw their support behind the Democratic ticket. The day after Powell spoke, several dozen Republican national security officials -- from the Reagan, Bush/Quayle, and Bush/Cheney administrations -- also endorsed Biden.

To be sure, those who watched the Republican convention closely last week heard from a handful of Democrats supporting the incumbent president, including a small-town mayor in Minnesota and a state lawmaker in Georgia.

But to see any kind of equivalency here is ludicrous. As we recently discussed, every four years, voters will see a handful of partisan apostates throw their support behind the other party's nominee -- Georgia's Zell Miller, for example, delivered an unfortunate keynote address at the Republican convention in 2004 -- and these isolated voices are often exaggerated to make it appear as if White House hopefuls enjoy broad, bipartisan support.

But 2020 is qualitatively and quantitatively different. There's no modern precedent for the sheer volume of high-profile Republicans rallying behind the Democratic ticket.

Is it possible the electoral impact of this will be muted? Sure. As I've argued before, Trump's intra-party backing is relatively strong, and many far-right voters, if they hear about Biden's GOP backers at all, will simply assume they're a bunch of centrist RINOs who deserve to be ignored.

But let's not overlook another group of voters: traditional Republicans whose support for their party is soft. They reluctantly backed Trump in 2016, largely because of their contempt for Hillary Clinton, and every day since, they've grown weary of their president's tweets, failures, and scandals.

These voters aren't satisfied with the status quo, and while they're reluctant to back a Democratic ticket, they're open to change. This is a constituency basically waiting for allies to tell them it's OK to choose Biden over Trump.

And for this contingent, a whole lot of prominent Republican voices are now encouraging them to do exactly that.