George Meagher of Charleston, South Carolina, is a veteran and lifelong Republican who, by his own admission, put his “heart and soul” into working for George W. Bush in 2000.
Meagher organized veterans and once proudly displayed pictures of him and his wife with Bush.
No more. Meagher may vote Democratic this fall because he’s fed up with what he sees as lies and deceit by President Bush and the Republican leadership in Washington.
“I should be all choked up at not supporting the President,” says Meagher. “But when I think about the 500 Americans killed in a war, with what we’ve done to Iraq and with what we’ve done to our own country, I can’t see any other way. Look at it. We’re already $2 trillion in debt. Something has to be done.”
Meagher is not alone when it comes to Republicans who are having serious second thoughts about George W. Bush.
John Scarnado, a registered Republican and sales manager from Austin, Tex., voted for Bush in 2000 but now says he will vote for John Kerry if the Massachusetts Senator wins the Democratic nomination.
Scarnado cites Iraq and Vice President Dick Cheney’s ties to scandal-scarred Halliburton as two reasons he can’t vote for Bush again.
“It’s just too much old boy politics with the Bush administration,” Scarnado says. “I don’t like that.”
Neither does Londonderry, New Hampshire farmer Mike Cross, who voted Republican in 2000 and who says he doesn’t care much for John Kerry but has “had enough of George W. Bush.”
In travels around the country in recent weeks, I’ve found many Republicans who feel betrayed by their own party. They say the President lied about his reasons for going to war with Iraq, has abandoned basic Republican principles like a balanced budget and now ignores states’ rights.
“He acts more like Bill Clinton every day,” says one state GOP chairman. “How am I expected to rally our party to support someone like that?”
Some say they may stay home on Election Day. Others say they will hold their nose and vote Democratic.
“I’ve had with George W. Bush’s lies and his fat cat buddies,” says Sandra Waterson, a banking executive in St. Louis. “He’s a disgrace to the Presidency and the Republican Party.”
Tim Blevins, a Vietnam veteran from Waterloo, Iowa, isn’t fond of John Kerry’s antiwar activities after he came back from Vietnam but says “Kerry went to Vietnam and fought like a man. He didn’t use his daddy’s connections to hide in the Air Guard and avoid fighting for his country like Bush.”
Publicly, Republican strategists say they are not worried about dissension in the GOP ranks but privately they admit real concern.
“The fallout is significant,” admits one GOP pollster. “We could be seeing as much as 15 percent of Republicans who won’t vote for the President’s reelection.”
This jives with a recent nationwide CBS News poll that shows 11 percent of those who voted for Bush in 2000 now say they will support the Democratic candidate. Another poll by Princeton Survey Associates finds 19 percent of Republicans and 56 percent of independents say they can’t support Bush’s re-election.
Bill Flanagan, an Ohio Republican, is one of those.
“The lies and our boys coming home in body bags are reasons enough,” he says. “I can vote for John Kerry. I can vote for just about any Democrat over George W. Bush.”
The defections aren’t limited to voters. In the last two months, a dozen Republican members of Congress have told me they will distance themselves from Bush in their reelection campaign.
At a recent GOP retreat, House Speaker Dennis J. Hastert faced hostile Republican conservatives, led by Rep. Chris Cox of California.
At one point during a heated closed-door debate, one angry GOP house member told Hastert: “We might as well have a Democrat in the White House. At least we know what to expect from a Democratic President.”