Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah was the first major Republican to un-endorse Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump after the "Access Hollywood" video from 2005 surfaced containing lewd comments by Mr. Trump about women. Less than three weeks later, Mr. Chaffetz has stayed true to his un-endorsement of a candidate he said acted immorally. But he plans to vote for him anyway.
Chaffetz is one of a handful of prominent Republicans whose ballots will stay loyal to the party, even as their hearts and mouths don’t. In Chaffetz’s case, some analysts suspect politics are a driver behind his actions. He said earlier Wednesday he plans to continue to investigate Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and her private email server. He also could be eyeing House Speaker Paul Ryan’s job. But the disconnect between Chaffetz’s vote and his conscience is emblematic of a trend among many Republicans: separate their morals from Trump’s first, and vote for him second.
"The distinction between supporting and voting for a candidate is not a gimmick. There is a real difference," writes James Campbell, a political science professor at the University of Buffalo, SUNY, and author of "Polarized: Making Sense of a Divided America." "Support implies a positive assessment. A vote is a choice. I suspect the overwhelming majority of Republicans disgusted by Trump are even more appalled by the prospect of a Clinton presidency. So declaring a distinction between their support and their votes is the right and honest thing for them to do."
Chaffetz made that distinction 19 days ago. Soon after the 2005 video of Trump making inappropriate and sexist comments to then-host of "Access Hollywood" Billy Bush, Chaffetz withdrew his endorsement of Trump.
"I’m out," the congressman told Utah’s Fox 13 news. "I can no longer in good conscience endorse this person for president … my wife and I, we have a 15-year-old daughter, and if I can’t look her in the eye and tell her these things, I can’t endorse this person."
At the time, Chaffetz wouldn’t answer for whom he would vote instead. He made that clear Wednesday night, hours after he told The Washington Post he plans to conduct a long, drawn-out probe of Mrs. Clinton.
"It’s a target-rich environment. Even before we get to Day One, we’ve got two years’ worth of material already lined up. She has four years of history at the State Department, and it ain’t good," the Republican said in the interview. "She’s not getting a clean slate."
It wouldn’t look good if Chaffetz, the chair of the House Oversight Committee, led an investigation into Clinton after voting for her, analysts have pointed out.
Chaffetz could be eager to replace Mr. Ryan, too. Chaffetz threw his name into the ring to replace former Speaker John Boehner, only withdrawing when Ryan got the gig.
"Chaffetz is already in a high-profile job, but he clearly has bigger ambitions," writes The Washington Post’s Amber Phillips. "And no matter how much members of Congress may dislike their party's presidential nominee, voting for that nominee is a minimal requirement to move up the hierarchy. Especially when Chaffetz's route includes going after the Democratic nominee."
Whatever personal reasons Chaffetz may have to vote for Trump, he is one of six congressional Republicans who have doubled back on their un-endorsements of the candidate. They won’t endorse him, but they’ll vote for him. The others are Sen. Mike Crapo of Idaho, Sen. Deb Fischer of Nebraska, Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, Rep. Scott Garrett of New Jersey, and Rep. Bradley Byrne of Alabama, according to Politico.
This flip-flopping contrasts prominent members of the Christian conservative movement who, as Linda Feldmann wrote for the Monitor, "have stood by [Trump] even as they express revulsion over his actions."
Gary Bauer, founder of the Campaign for Working Families PAC, said in a statement said the "grossly inappropriate language" in the 2005 Trump video "does not change the reality of the choice facing this country."
"Hillary Clinton is committed to enacting policies that will erode religious liberty, promote abortion, make our country less safe, and leave our borders unprotected," said Mr. Bauer, a veteran of the Reagan administration and a GOP presidential candidate in 2000. Clinton will continue economic policies that are "destroying" the American working class and middle class, he added.
And there was Sen. Ted Cruz (R) of Texas. The former presidential candidate endorsed Trump only after he urged delegates at the Republican National Convention to "vote your conscience," effectively distinguishing himself morally from Trump.