Many Pennsylvania drivers navigating the state's highways this week will start happening upon billboards featuring messages from Republican voters such as, "I’m a conservative. I’m a gun owner. I’m voting Josh Shapiro”—the Democratic nominee for governor.
That message, from a grizzled bearded man named James of Farmington, Pennsylvania, is part of a $10 million campaign by the Republican Accountability PAC (RAP) to create a permission structure for conservative voters to vote against anti-democratic Republicans this cycle.
The Keystone State's GOP gubernatorial nominee, state Sen. Doug Mastriano, is a Trump-endorsed Christian nationalist who attended the Jan. 6 insurrection and called for "a full and independent audit" of the state's 2020 presidential vote count. Mastriano, a Big Lie champion who would have the power to certify or decertify elections, is a poster-child GOP threat to democracy.
Thus RAP, led by Executive Director Sarah Longwell along with board chair Bill Kristol, sunk $2 million of the group's $10 million budget into backing Mastriano's Democratic rival, Lt. Gov. Josh Shapiro. RAP also plans to take on Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake, Wisconsin gubernatorial candidate Tim Michels, and U.S. Senate candidates Herschel Walker in Georgia and J.D. Vance in Ohio.
But the group is just one part of a larger constellation of Republicans working to give conservative voters an off-ramp from voting for GOP seditionists who would gladly overturn a democratic election if they didn't like the results.
Last week, Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, who has arguably become Trump's most prominent GOP detractor, told a crowd of Arizonans she would "absolutely" vote for the state's Democratic nominees for governor and secretary of state, who are current Secretary of State Katie Hobbs and U.S. Marine Corps. vet Adrian Fontes respectively.
“For almost 40 years now I’ve been voting Republican. I don’t know that I have ever voted for a Democrat," Cheney said during a McCain Institute event at Arizona State University. "But if I lived in Arizona now I absolutely would … for governor and for secretary of state.”
The state's GOP nominees for governor (Lake) and secretary of state, Mark Finchem, are both avid election-deniers who have backed Trump's baseless lie that the 2020 election was stolen from him.
“We cannot be in a position where we elect people who will not fundamentally uphold the sanctity of elections, and I think that’s got to be, you know, more important than anything else,” Cheney said.
Cheney has been very consistent on this point since she lost her Republican primary in August by a whopping 37-point margin. At the Texas Tribune Festival in Austin last month, Cheney was asked if she would advise reality-based conservative voters to boycott the midterms if the GOP candidates on the ballot are election deniers.
"No, I would advise them to vote against the election deniers," Cheney responded. "The most important obligation, not just elected officials have, but every single American is to do your part to make sure that people who believe in what the election deniers are saying, the people who would tear the Republic down, don’t get power."
This week, Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, the only other Republican who serves alongside Cheney on the select committee investigating Jan. 6, joined his GOP counterpart in endorsing Democrats running against election deniers.
Specifically, the outgoing congressman who, like Cheney, cast a vote to impeach Trump for Jan. 6 has endorsed four Democratic secretary of state candidates: Steve Simon of Minnesota, Jocelyn Benson of Michigan, Adrian Fontes of Arizona, and Cisco Aguilar of Nevada.
The Washington Post found that a total of 299 Republican election deniers are on the ballot this cycle, with 173 favored to win, 52 competitive races, and 74 that are expected to go Democratic.
"A badly placed, bad-faith secretary of state can really throw the whole country into chaos," Kinzinger told Politico. Kinzinger also threw his weight behind Democratic gubernatorial candidates Shapiro in Pennsylvania and Hobbs in Arizona.
Alongside these efforts on the federal and national levels to clear the way for GOP defections in November are more localized campaigns from former GOP officials and erstwhile Republicans who have since left the party.
Last month, a coalition of conservative Michiganders unveiled a "Republicans for Whitmer" group in support of Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's reelection campaign.
Whitmer's GOP rival, Tudor Dixon, has indulged Trump's baseless conspiracy theories about the 2020 election being stolen, suggesting that it's impossible to know who really won.
Jeff Timmer, former executive director of the Michigan Republican Party, told MLive.com that he might differ with Whitmer on certain policies.
"But I view the choice before us as much more existential,” Timmer added. “[Dixon is] fueling the lies that have weakened our democracy and brought us to this point where were the faith in our elections is hanging by a thread due to propaganda by people like Tudor Dixon.”
In Ohio, a group of current and former Republicans have coalesced around Democratic senatorial nominee Rep. Tim Ryan, who is running against Trump-endorsed J.D. Vance. They are touring the Buckeye State in coordination with a Democratic group called Welcome PAC, which has raised $2 million for the effort, and are encouraging Ohioans to "Think for Yourself."
“J.D. Vance is lined up with the crazies, with the traitors. He has lined up with the people who tried to overthrow this government, the people who tried to overturn a legitimate election,” said Phil Heimlich, a former Cincinnati City Council member and Hamilton County Commission member who identifies as a staunch conservative. “We are supporting Tim Ryan because we’re putting country first."
A prominent group of Pennsylvania Republicans have similarly lined up behind Shapiro, including former Rep. Charlie Dent, former state Supreme Court Justice Sandra Schultz Newman, former state House Speaker Denny O’Brien, and former Lt. Gov. Robert Jubelirer.
The dynamic of a party at war with itself in such a visible way is unusual if not exactly unprecedented. Perhaps the most prominent conservative rift in modern American politics came in the '60s, when William Buckley sought to cast out the conspiracy-laden John Birch Society from Republican circles.
Whether these pro-democracy Republicans—who are widely viewed as traitors by the MAGA faithful—will have any practical effect on the midterms remains an open question.
But in an election where key statewide races and control of Congress could be decided by the slimmest of margins, every Republican defection, every GOP nonvote, has the potential to shift the balance of power away from the anti-democratic forces dominating the Republican Party.
UPDATE: Even in ruby-red Idaho, “nearly 50 longtime Republicans” endorsed the Democrat running for attorney general.
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