CINCINNATI -- They’re longtime Republicans who never imagined missing a chance to cast their ballot for a GOP candidate in a presidential election year – until now.
They’ve knocked on doors to ask for votes, engineered wins for local candidates, volunteered for the county GOP party, and even voted for Republican candidates who they were less than enthusiastic about in years past.
But this year, some ardent Republican supporters say nothing – not even the prospect of a Democratic takeover of the White House – could convince them to vote for Donald Trump.
“I cannot see one reason why any conservative would vote for Donald Trump,” said Matt Byrne, a 34-year-old Cincinnati lawyer who has voted for the Republican nominee in every presidential election since 2000. “I want what is best for our country, our party and for the conservative movement. Because I care about those things, I will not vote Donald Trump in November.”
Byrne, pointing to Trump’s history as a registered Democrat and his political donation history, said he’s skeptical the GOP front-runner is actually a Republican. He doubts Trump could ever accomplish any of the things he promises to do, like building a wall on the Mexican border. And, even if he were to get a few of his policy plans passed, Byrne thinks it would only further drive the country into debt.
Byrne is not alone. Republicans across the region – and country – are vowing not to vote in this year’s election if Trump is the nominee.
Ohio Auditor Dave Yost, a Republican, announced earlier this week he would not vote for Trump if he’s the party’s nominee. Yost said he’s voted for the Republican candidate his entire life.
“This stand will be personally costly,” Yost wrote in a Facebook post. “If Mr. Trump becomes the GOP nominee, I won’t be welcome in Cleveland (for the Republican National Convention) when my party holds its convention. If he wins the Presidency, he will be certain to use his power to punish those he views as his enemies.”
Others say they would have an internal struggle at the polling booth if they checked Trump’s name on the ballot box.
Make no mistake: Trump’s support is sweeping. He won seven states on Super Tuesday, far more than any of the other four remaining GOP rivals.
Still, despite his success, some Republicans are vowing not to support Trump if he’s crowned the Republican nominee in July.
This year will be the first time University of Cincinnati student Brad Johnson planned to vote in a presidential election. But Trump, he said, might derail those plans.
“I would never vote for him,” Johnson said. “If he’s the nominee, I can’t vote for my party’s candidate in my first-ever election. That would be awful.”
Johnson is the president of the College Republicans chapter on campus. If Trump wins the Republican nomination, Johnson might end up campaigning for him. But there’s one thing he won’t do for the billionaire businessman: cast a vote for him.
This could be the first year Pat Maloney, 31, of Hamilton won’t vote for a president in an election cycle since he started voting in 2004.
He’s voted for a Republican presidential candidate every year since then. He’s volunteered for the Butler County and Hamilton County GOP chapters. But if Trump is the nominee he won’t vote Republican. He’d consider voting for a third party candidate, if one made it on the ballot.
“Under no circumstances, no,” Maloney, 31, said when asked if he would vote for Trump.
Maloney, like many interviewed for this story, questioned if Trump is really a Republican. He also takes issue with his comments about squashing freedom of speech with lawsuits aimed at the press.
“I don’t think this guy knows a thing about the Constitution,” Maloney said. “I don’t think he’s read it.”
If Republicans fail to vote for the nominee on Election Day, Hillary Clinton, the likely Democratic nominee, could win the presidency thanks to lower voter turnout.
“If Donald Trump is the nominee, Hillary Clinton will win,” said Doug Moormann, a Kasich supporter who works for Cincinnati-based Government Strategies Group. “I do think Republicans realize that. And, a lot of people who are casual observers and those who are deeply embedded in the party are really struggling with that right now.”
A Clinton presidential win would be an awful scenario, said 29-year-old Andrea Kozakewich.
She’s a Cincinnati resident who’s been volunteering for the Republican Party since she was in high school. She started making phone calls for George W. Bush in the 2004 election.
But Kozakewich said she would rather hand the White House to a Democrat than be cornered into voting for Trump.
“I would rather sleep at night knowing that I didn’t vote for someone who doesn’t represent me as a person, rather than just voting against Hillary Clinton,” Kozakewich said.
She said if Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders were elected, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives might still be able to stop some of their policies from becoming law.
“I could rest easy with that,” Kozakewich said.
Lori Viars isn’t so convinced Republicans will hold out on Trump come November.
Viars, who is involved with the Warren County Republican Party, doesn’t like Trump but will likely vote for him if he’s the nominee and picks a running mate she can get behind. She said she is particularly concerned about Trump’s past pro-rights stance on abortion issues and his support for Planned Parenthood.
“I would have to vote for him over Hillary,” Viars, 55, said of Trump. “I would have to. I would have to hold my nose and vote for him.”
Tyler Hermann, a Republican and law school student at University of Cincinnati, doesn’t support Trump – yet. Instead, he early-voted for Kasich in the Ohio primary. But, he is a Republican who would likely cast a ballot for Trump if he becomes the nominee. He said most Republicans would do the same to defeat Clinton in the election.
“If he is the nominee, I will vote for him,” Hermann said of Trump. “I’ve heard a lot of talk one way or another. (But) I think most Republicans will vote for him if he is the nominee.”
Hamilton County Republican Chairman Alex Triantafilou said Republicans need to unite and rally behind whomever the voters select to be the nominee.
“I disagree with the Republicans who are doing that, not because of a love for Trump, but a love of our party,” Triantafilou said. “I think that our party is a great party and we ought to respect the voters.”
Some fear a Trump nomination might be so divisive, though, that the reality TV star might split the party in two.
“I think it’s the death of the party,” Maloney said. “(Trump) will blow up the electorate. If Trump takes over, it’s effectively the end of the Republicans.”