As last week came to a close, six members of George W. Bush’s White House cabinet had thrown their support behind Joe Biden’s 2020 candidacy: former Secretary of State Colin Powell, former EPA Administrator Christie Todd Whitman, former Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, former Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman, former Transportation Secretary Mary Peters, and former Transportation Secretary Norm Mineta.
Over the weekend, a seventh emerged. Tom Ridge, the former Pennsylvania governor and former Homeland Security secretary in the Bush/Cheney administration, wrote this op-ed for the Philadelphia Inquirer, announcing his support for Biden.
So much is at stake. For me, voting is not just a privilege, but a responsibility. And this year, I believe the responsible vote is for Joe Biden. It’s a vote for decency. A vote for the rule of law. And a vote for honest and earnest leadership. It’s time to put country over party. It’s time to dismiss Donald Trump.
Ridge, a lifelong Republican, added that the current GOP president “lacks the empathy, integrity, intellect, and maturity to lead. He sows division along political, racial, and religious lines. And he routinely dismisses the opinions of experts who know far more about the subject at hand than he does — intelligence, military, and public health.” Biden, meanwhile, “has the experience and empathy necessary to help us navigate not only the pandemic but also other issues that have fractured our nation, including social injustice, income inequality, and immigration reform.”
A day earlier, two former Republican members of Congress — Oklahoma’s Mickey Edwards and Hawaii’s Charles Djou — also announced their support for Biden. In a Roll Call op-ed explaining their decision, Edwards noted that he’s “a founding trustee of the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank and a former chairman of the American Conservative Union.” That’s not a background one expects from a supporter of the Democratic presidential ticket.
“Joe Biden is not a perfect man, but he is a man of humble decency,” they wrote. “America needs a restored sense of national unity, basic civility and true character in our president. After four years of reckless Trumpian chaos and division, we believe it is time for a new president and ask that you join us.”
In isolation, it might be easy to look past endorsements like these, but seen in context, an extraordinary pattern emerges. Circling back to our earlier coverage, there’s simply no precedent in the American tradition for so many members of one major party publicly throwing their support to the nominee of the other party.
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 — a list that includes former governors, senators, U.S. House members, cabinet secretaries, and even some Republicans who worked as a member of trump’s own team.
To the extent that there’s a group of discouraged GOP voters waiting for allies to tell them it’s OK to choose Biden over Trump, the message they’re now receiving couldn’t be clearer.