News & Politics

8 Former Republicans Who Ditched the Extremist GOP

Several politicians have decided the GOP is too extreme, too intolerant and too cringe-inducing to bother with.

With the Republican Party at historically low approval ratings, seemingly unable to win major national elections, and suffering a continuing string of embarrassing statements on women, some GOP figures are deciding that the R after their names is more a hindrance than a help.

Here are eight politicians who have decided the GOP is too extreme, too intolerant, and too cringe-inducing to bother with anymore (three of them left just in the past couple of weeks).

1. Jimmy LaSalvia:“Today, I joined the ranks of unaffiliated voters,” the founder of GOProud announced on his website two weeks ago. “I am every bit as conservative as I’ve always been, but I just can’t bring myself to carry the Republican label any longer.”

LaSalvia labored for years to preserve a space for LGBT conservatives within the GOP’s shrinking tent. But watching the Romney campaign tack right in the primaries only to flail about during the general campaign was too much for the Republican to stand.

Lambasting the party for its “tolerance of bigotry,” LaSalvia said he gave up hope that party leaders would ever be able to squash the intolerance in its ranks. Until it did, LaSalvia said, it stood no chance of winning elections.

“I am an independent conservative,” LaSalvia wrote, adding: “That sounds much better than ‘gay Republican.’”

2. Pablo Pantoja:LaSalvias not alone in objecting to the Republican Party’s “culture of intolerance.” That was exactly what convinced former Republican National Committee Florida Latino outreach director Pablo Pantoja to ditch the party only a year after attaining his position. Born in Puerto Rico and a veteran of the Iraq War, Pantoja rose quickly through the ranks of the Florida GOP before the immigration debate brought out a nasty streak in his compatriots.

“The discourse that moves the Republican Party is filled with this anti-immigrant movement and overall radicalization that is far removed from reality,” he wrote in a letter to the Florida Nation, referring in all but name to Jason Richwine’s Heritage Foundation study that connected conservative immigration policy to claims about Hispanics’ lower IQ rates.

“Republican leaders have blandly (if at all) denied and distanced themselves from this but it doesn’t take away from the culture within the ranks of intolerance. The pseudo-apologies appear to be a quick fix to deep-rooted issues in the Republican Party in hopes that it will soon pass and be forgotten…When the political discourse resorts to intolerance and hate, we all lose in what makes America great and the progress made in society.”

It wasn’t just party leaders, either. Pantoja said his average conversations as outreach director were turning ugly. “I did have conversations about immigration where increasingly I had to defend the fact that the people most affected were human beings,” he said in an interview with Salon.

Pantoja joined the Democratic Party, and commemorated his departure from the GOP with a contribution to the ACLU.

3. Sue Wagner:Former Nevada state senator and gaming commissioner Sue Wagner was a Republican for 73 years before she decided last week she’d had enough. The first woman in Nevada ever elected to lieutenant governor changed her registration to “no party” after the GOP charged too far to the right.

“I did it as a symbol, I guess, that I do not like the Republican Party and what they stand for today,” Wagner told the Reno Gazette-Journal. “I’ve been a Republican all my life. My dad was active [in the GOP] in the state of Maine where I was born. It was more of a moderate, liberal Republican Party.”

“It’s grown so conservative and Tea Party-orientated and I just can’t buy into that,” she said. “I’ve left the Republican Party and it’s left me, at the same time.”

Wagner was a vocal opponent of the GOP’s 2010 senatorial candidate Sharron Angle, whose campaign torpedoed the party’s chances of taking out Senator Harry Reid (D-NV), and with it control of the Senate. After Angle said pregnant teens could “turn a lemon situation into lemonade” by declining to get an abortion, Wagner called the comments "the most extreme anti-abortion position I've ever heard."

4. Neena Laxalt:Coming to your senses must be contagious. Just days after Wagner ditched the GOP, Neena Laxalt, a lobbyist and daughter of a longtime Nevada Republican family, changed her registration to non-partisan.

The daughter of Paul Laxalt, who served as Nevada’s governor and then for two terms as a U.S. senator, Laxalt was a Republican for 30 years before Wagner’s move encouraged her to drop the party.

“Nevada is traditionally a crossover state anyway,” she told the Associated Press. “People tend to look at individuals often and not just party…My father could not have won some of his races without crossover voters.”

If this keeps up, Nevada’s not going to have any Republicans left.

5. Carlo Key:Wagner isn’t the only Republican to feel the party has left her rather than the other way around. That same sentiment was voiced by Texas Judge Carlo Key when he quit the party last October.

“For too long the Republican Party has been at war with itself,” Key said in a video announcing his exodus. Citing “pettiness and bigotry,” Key blasted the GOP for demeaning his constituents based on race, economic status and sexual orientation. He made no bones about the fact that the driving voice for this ideological extremism was his fellow Texan, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX).

“I will not be a member of a party in which hate speech elevates candidates for higher office, rather than disqualifying them,” Key said. “I cannot place my name on the ballot for a political party that is proud to destroy the lives of hundred of thousands of workers over a vain attempt to repeal [the Affordable Care Act] a law that would provide healthcare to millions of people throughout our country.”

Key will run for reelection as Democrat in 2014, joining Wendy Davis and the Castro brothers as part of a rising tide of young, competitive Texas Democrats.

6. Jim Campbell:The GOP’s stalwart opposition to healthcare reform has lost it legislators before. When both of Maine’s senators signaled opposition to what was still called the Affordable Care Act, it was the last straw for Maine State Rep. Jim Campbell. “Nobody has all the answers, but the Republican Party has none when it comes to healthcare reform,” he said at the time.

“I became a Republican because I believed the party stood for something,” he continued. “I hope to send a message to the Republican Party — and the Democratic Party — that enough is enough; it is time to stop blocking progress in the hope of partisan gain.”

7. Chad Brown:The former co-chair of the Polk County Republican Party of Iowa resigned from his post and left the party last August. Brown said he was put off by everything from Republican figures’ oft-repeated desire to eliminate the Department of Education to the party’s response, or lack thereof, to Representative Steve King’s (R-IA) hateful comments about immigrants.

Calling the Republican Party the “party of subtraction,” he wrote last week that “the GOP was founded on the ideas of expanding the rights and freedoms of Americans, but today it seems only interested in protecting the interests of rich, white men.”

“My opinion is the ‘Duck Dynasty Wing’ of the Republican Party has taken over the GOP, and they're not about to retreat in their war on science and common sense,” he continued.

The Iowa GOP’s loss is very much the Democrat’s gain: Brown has taken his talents straight to the Polk County Democratic Party of Iowa Central Committee.

8. Roger Stone:The youngest member of Richard Nixon’s Campaign to Re-elect the President and the National Director of Youth for Ronald Reagan (he was appointed to the latter by Paul Laxalt, Neena Laxalt’s father), Roger Stone left the party for which he’d worked so hard last year, after he found it had irrevocably changed.

“Sadly, Eisenhower, Nixon, and Reagan wouldn't recognize today's Republican Party,” Stone wrote in a Huffington Post guest op-ed. “The GOP went from being a Main Street party under Ronald Reagan to being the Wall Street Party again under both Bushes… Meanwhile social conservatives in the party demand litmus tests on issues like abortion and gay marriage equality from those who share their conservative economic and foreign policy views, making a cohesive coalition of social and economic conservatives ultimately impossible.”

Deflated by Mitt Romney, embarrassed by Newt Gingrich and creeped out by Rick Santorum, Stone found nothing in the modern Republican Party to inspire him. Now based in Florida, Stone dumped the GOP and registered as a libertarian.

The parting words of his post would be seconded by everybody in this list: “Goodbye, Grand Old Party.”