Former Gov. Whitman among 150 Republicans ready to ditch GOP for new political party over the ‘big lie’

Posted May 13, 2021

Former Gov. Christie Todd Whitman’s family farm in Hunterdon County, known as Pontefract, has been an epicenter of Republican politics for generations.

It’s where Whitman’s father lived as he headed the New Jersey Republican State Committee and became one its biggest benefactors. It’s where her mother served stints as president of the New Jersey Federation of Republican Women and vice chairwoman of the Republican National Committee.

It’s where Whitman planned her campaign to become New Jersey’s first female governor and where her daughter discussed her own unsuccessful campaigns for Congress and borough council.

But, on Thursday, sitting in her stately home in Tewksbury filled with GOP memorabilia, Whitman said it might be time to kill the Republican Party.

Her parents would feel the same, she said.

“It would be unrecognizable to my parents,” Whitman, 74, said of today’s Republican Party. “They would never have condoned or participated in a party that is centered around one person.”

Whitman was one of nearly 150 prominent Republicans and independents who released a plan Thursday threatening to leave the GOP and form a new political party because they say the Republicans have become too obsessed with former President Donald Trump.

The group is urging Republicans to break from Trump and reject his claims that the 2020 election was “stolen” — or risk losing the heart of their party and its fundamental principles.

“We, therefore, declare our intent to catalyze an American renewal, and to either reimagine a party dedicated to our founding ideals or else hasten the creation of such an alternative,” the group said in its “A Call for American Renewal” plan.

The other “founding signatories” of the document include former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, former Bush administration Transportation Secretary Mary Peters and former members of Congress, including Barbara Comstock of Virginia, Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania, Reid Ribble of Wisconsin and Mickey Edwards of Oklahoma.

In addition to Whitman, several other New Jerseyans also signed the document, including former Bergen County Republican County Chair Bob Yudin, former U.S. Rep. Dick Zimmer, former U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff and outspoken Trump critic George Conway, the husband of former Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway.

Despite her deep Republican ties, Whitman’s involvement with the group is no surprise. She has spent the last several years bashing Trump on social media, once comparing him to Hitler, and calling for the party to return to its moderate roots.

Whitman spent two terms as New Jersey’s governor, from 1994 to 2001, then served as President George Bush’s head of the Environmental Protection Agency until 2003. She has had an uneasy relationship with her party since leaving office.

Last year, she spoke at the Democratic National Convention and said she planned to vote for Joe Biden. In 2016, she endorsed Democrat Hillary Clinton rather than vote for Trump.

Still, Whitman said she held out hope the Republicans would steer back to the middle after Trump left office. But the ouster of Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming from her post as conference chair by her fellow Republicans earlier this week was the tipping point, she said.

Cheney was pushed out for continuing to speak out against Trump’s “big lie” that voter fraud cost him the 2020 election, she said.

“There was a hope that the party would move on,” Whitman said. “They haven’t. They have doubled down.”

The “A Call for American Renewal” plan lists 13 key principles, including truth, rule of law and ethical government. The next step is to hold a town hall-style online meeting next month, Whitman said.

The website is collecting emails and phone numbers and soliciting donations for the “American Renewal” movement.

Whitman says she sensed the Republican Party was changing decades ago.

“I wrote a book in 2005,” she said, referring to “It’s My Party, Too: Taking Back the Republican Party... And Bringing the Country Together Again.” “There’s no satisfaction in saying, ‘I told you so.’”

But, Whitman said she never anticipated Republicans would embrace Trump so fervently. She had a long and unpleasant history with the former casino magnate who publicly clashed with her when she was governor over the state’s plans to build a $330 million tunnel and roadway from the Atlantic City Expressway to Atlantic City’s Marina hotels and casinos.

She says Trump called her in the late 1990s during the Atlantic City tunnel controversy and threatened to leak information about her then-teenage son getting drunk at an event at the Plaza Hotel, one of Trump’s former properties, and ending up in the hospital.

Whitman said she was furious and told Trump to stay away from her children.

The pair continued to clash over the years and occasionally crossed paths. The Trump National Golf Club, where the Trump family spends weekends and summer vacations, is in Bedminster, a few miles from Whitman’s farm in the Oldwick section of Tewksbury.

They last came face to face shortly after the 2016 election, when Trump attended Sunday services at her Presbyterian church and the former governor and President-elect glared at each other over the pews, she says.

Whitman’s criticism of Trump has made her a target for critics. Fellow Republicans have called her irrelevant.

Last year, former Gov. Chris Christie said Whitman’s endorsement of Biden and Clinton over Trump had no impact.

“I mean they’re meaningless,” Christie said.

Whitman says she has not lost any good friends over her public criticism of Trump or her calls for possibly starting a new party. She’s heard from both Republicans and Democrats hungering for a more moderate party.

“There’s a lot of support out there. There’s literally millions of people who feel homeless,” Whitman said.

Still, Whitman says she believes the country operates best with two major political parties. If her group moves ahead with starting a third party, she does not think three political parties will last for long.

No party built around a single person or idea can last, she said. The Republican Party will start losing support when Trump is no longer around.

“It’s fading anyway,” Whitman said. “It’s not a formula for long term success.”

After a long day of television interviews and Zoom video calls talking about the “American Renewal” plan, Whitman said she plans to continue trying to bring back the style of moderate Republican politics her parents were proud to champion in her youth.

Nearing her 75th birthday, the grandmother of seven says she has no plans to slow down or stay quiet while the party she once knew slips away.

“I don’t want to look my grandchildren in the eye and have them say, ‘What did you do?’” Whitman said.

Do you like this post?

Showing 1 reaction


published this page in News and Politics 2021-05-14 03:37:27 -0700