For the first time in his life, when he votes on election day next month, James Simpson will be casting a ballot for a Democrat.
Barry Donnelly/Global News
James Simpson’s been voting Republican ever since he was old enough to cast a ballot. In the 1980s, he even volunteered for the Ronald Reagan campaign.
And yet, for the first time in his life, when he votes on election day next month, Simpson will be casting a ballot for a Democrat.
The lifelong Republican from Middletown, N.Y., can’t bring himself to vote for Donald Trump.
“I would love to be voting Republican,” he says. “This Republican Party isn’t my Republican Party.”
Simpson is one of hundreds of Americans supporting a political action committee called Republican Voters Against Trump, which is trying to convince Republicans it’s OK to vote against the party many have supported their entire life.
RVAT has been collecting videos from Republicans across the U.S. who say they won’t support Trump in the election. The group uses those videos on YouTube and other social media platforms and in TV ads.
Simpson’s submission was shot with his phone at home.
Connor Metz has been working on videos for RVAT since this spring, when he left a job in Washington working for a Republican senator.
Metz says he quit after reading former defence secretary Jim Mattis’s letter to the Atlantic magazine criticizing Trump.
“Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people — does not even pretend to try,” Mattis wrote. “Instead he tries to divide us.”
Metz says that letter was the final straw.
“I quit that day,” Metz says. “I said, ‘I can’t really do this.’”
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The goal of RVAT, Metz says, isn’t to turn hardcore Trump supporters to Biden’s camp. They’re targeting disgruntled or hesitant Trump supporters, trying to show them they’re not alone — There are other people like them feeling the same way and it’s OK to vote Democrat in this election.
“We like to say we’re setting up a permission structure for Republicans — to show them it’s OK to vote against the president,” Metz says.
In one of the videos on the RVAT YouTube page, a man describing himself as Douglas from Florida says he’s been a registered Republican his “entire life,” but that he refuses to support his party’s candidate.
“I’ve never voted for a Democrat,” he says. “I never saw the need. Joe Biden is not my first choice for president. But Joe Biden is not Donald Trump.”
Many of the videos are blunt in their criticism of the president.
“He’s not just stupid and mean. He’s cruel and uneducated.” – Greg from Pennsylvania.
“I can’t look at my children and say I voted for this man.” – Sara from Tennessee.
“Honestly, I try not to think about (Trump). Because I get freaked out. I get so angry. So hurt. I feel so betrayed.” – John from Washington state.
There are two separate RVAT political action committees, both with staffs of about a dozen. One focuses on swing states, while the other targets Florida specifically.
Metz says the goal isn’t to destroy the Republican Party, it’s more of a house-cleaning. He hopes to remove Trump and rebuild.
RVAT isn’t trying to move the needle much. It’s targeting states where even small changes can make a difference. In 2016, Trump won Wisconsin by less than one per cent. Metz says this time around, RVAT is the single biggest advertiser in that state behind the candidates themselves.
“Republicans like us, voting for Joe Biden, could turn a narrow Trump victory into a Biden landslide.”
The two RVAT groups have a budget of about US$15 million. It’s money collected from donations and a parent super PAC, Defending Democracy Together.
The bulk of that money goes to buying TV commercials and targeted Facebook ads, but that may not be the only cost.
For many, turning their back on their party means turning their back on family and friends.
“I wouldn’t say I’ve lost friends,” Simpson says. “But I would say I’ve lost respect for friends.”
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