After Hanna supports Clinton, will other Republicans in Congress follow?

Rep. Richard Hanna (R) of New York wrote in an op-ed that he will vote for Hillary Clinton, saying he had to do more than only denounce Donald Trump's comments.

Andrew Harnik/AP
Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, shown here on July 30, has received support from Rep. Richard Hanna (R) of New York.

In November, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton will receive a vote from a once-unlikely source: Congressman Richard Hanna (R) of New York. Representative Hanna announced Tuesday that he will vote for Mrs. Clinton, making him the first sitting Congressional Republican to support Clinton. 

Many current and former Republican lawmakers and officials have spoken out against Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, saying they will not vote for him. But in saying he will cast his vote for Clinton, Hanna, who is not running for re-election, sets himself apart as a Republican who has moved from only speaking out against Mr. Trump to openly supporting Clinton.

"While I disagree with her on many issues, I will vote for Mrs. Clinton," Hanna wrote in an op-ed for "I will be hopeful and resolute in my belief that being a good American who loves his country is far more important than parties or winning and losing."

A number of Republican lawmakers have spoken out against Trump, most prominently Sens. Ben Sasse of Nebraska, Jeff Flake of Arizona, and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. In the House, Reps. Bob Dold of Illinois, Carlos Curbelo of Florida, Scott Rigell of Virginia, and others have said they will not vote for Trump. Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker also has said he will not vote for Trump. 

"You have a number of Republicans in Congress, as well as a fair number of the people from the Republican foreign policy establishment who are opposing Trump," says Wayne Steger, a professor of political science at DePaul University in Chicago who studies the presidency, in an interview with The Christian Science Monitor. "It's not really precedent-setting, but it's one more in this ripple of kind of elite-level cue-giving to the general public that Trump is not acceptable to them." 

The opposition to Trump stems from two fundamental sources, Dr. Steger says: personality and policy. The Republican foreign policy establishment's opposition to Trump is more ideological, while the opposition of many others, including Hanna, stems from being appalled by Trump's personality and the statements he has made, Steger says.

"In his latest foray of insults, Mr. Trump has attacked the parents of a slain US soldier. Where do we draw the line?" Hanna wrote. "For me, it is not enough to simply denounce his comments: He is unfit to serve our party and cannot lead this country."

Republican members of Congress who are running for seats in contested areas will try to distance themselves from Trump, predicts Steger. Hanna's congressional district leans Democratic, and he has taken liberal stances on some issues, such as same-sex marriage. 

"For members of Congress, It depends on the district in which they live," Lauren Copeland, an assistant professor of political science at Baldwin Wallace University in Ohio, tells the Monitor. "I would suspect if there are other Republicans out there who are in Democratic-leaning districts, then it makes the likelihood of them coming out in support of Hillary Clinton more likely."

Trump needs to expand his support to highly educated independents and Republicans, a group he has struggled with, to win the election, Steger says.

And they are the group most likely to pay attention to such endorsements and anti-Trump messaging from the Republican establishment, he adds.

For a Republican in Congress, distance from Trump could appeal to independents but alienate members of the base, Steger says. On the whole, however, the base will support a Republican candidate, even one who plans to vote for Clinton, he says. 

So far, the moderate position appears to be denouncing Trump without endorsing Clinton. Sen. Mark Kirk (R) of Illinois, for example, is running an ad saying he "bucked his party" to oppose Trump. Senator Kirk, however, has said he does not support Clinton either, and is planning on writing in former CIA director David Petraeus. 

Hanna's position of taking the step past opposing Trump to supporting Clinton is notable, Dr. Copeland says, as crossing the aisle to this extent is uncommon, especially in this polarized election year. 

"From my experience at the Republican National Convention, people weren't so much united around Trump as they were united against Hillary Clinton," she says. "Both candidates are extremely polarizing figures, and for more Republican leaders to come out in favor of Clinton would actually be quite surprising." 

Following Hanna's lead may be a good idea for Republicans in swing states, Steger says. 

"For members who come from very close, marginal districts that may lean Democratic and agree with Democrats on social issues, I think this is a net plus for them," he says. 

[Editor's note: The original story misspelled David Petraeus.]

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