Steve Schmidt turned heads when he quit the Republican Party this week. After all, he had helped run George W. Bush’s presidential campaign, managed John McCain’s in 2008 and helped get John Roberts and Samuel Alito on the Supreme Court.
But there had been signs for a while that Schmidt no longer felt at home in the party of Donald Trump.
Since the tumultuous 2016 election, Schmidt has publicly blamed Trump for destabilizing the Middle East, likened his policies to those of the Nazi Party, blasted Trump for his attacks on Canada and criticized the idea that trade wars are “easy to win.” But it was Trump’s family separation policy that pushed him over the edge.
In tweets that went viral on Wednesday, Schmidt criticized the Trump Administration’s policy of separating parents and children caught crossing the border as “evil” and “immoral” and argued that Republican lawmakers who failed to repudiate the president were “feckless cowards who disgrace and dishonor the legacies of the party’s greatest leaders.”
In an interview with TIME Thursday, Schmidt said he was done with the GOP.
“I’ll have no part in it,” he said.
But Schmidt is clear that his ire is not with Trump alone. Though he frequently disavowed Trump in the months leading up to and since his election, once comparing his administration to monkeys, Schmidt’s main concern since Trump took over the Oval Office has been the failure of Republican leaders to stand up to him.
“What destroyed the Republican Party isn’t Trump. It’s the obedience to Trump from servile leaders like McConnell and Ryan who could have put a check on him,” Schmidt said. “They have gotten their place in political history. They’ll be remembered as vile.”
Schmidt cited many reasons for abandoning the party, including antiquated party positions on gay marriage, Trump’s verbal assault on Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his praise of North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un.
But most damning, he said, were the horrific images of parents being separated from their children at the border and the policies that led to their existence.
“We are looking at policies of profound cruelty that are reminiscent of the most disgraceful chapters in the history of the country,” Schmidt said, comparing the decision to jail and prosecute every illegal immigrant who crosses the border — which therefore separates families — to breaking up families being sold into slavery, marching Native Americans off their own land and harboring Japanese-Americans in internment camps in the 1940s.
“There is no redemption here,” he said of the future of the GOP.
Still, while he said he will be voting for Democrats in the near future in order to curb Trump’s power, he said he won’t pledge his allegiance to the Democratic Party and will instead register as an independent.
“[The Democratic Party] is an institution I respect. It’s an institution that has created many great leaders. But I’m not particularly aligned with the Democratic Party’s policy agenda,” Schmidt said. However, he is “absolutely aligned with the party’s commitment and fidelity to democracy.”
He argued that Democrats are the only way right now to protect American democracy.
“I profoundly believe that the Democratic Party is the only vehicle we have to put a check on Donald Trump,” Schmidt said. “If there is not a repudiation of Trumpism delivered this November, we’re going to be living in a very different America than the one that everyone has been living in for the previous 240 years.”
That’s why, at least for now, the Democrats will have his vote.
“I’ll be as supportive as I can to Democratic candidates who are running to displace this corruptive Republican majority,” he said.
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