A long-time state legislator from northwest Iowa is leaving the Republican Party because of what he calls Donald Trump’s “racist” rants about a federal judge.
“That was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” State Senator David Johnson of Ocheyedan told Radio Iowa this afternoon. “…This seems to be a very, very visceral, bigoted response from somebody who might be the next president of the United States.”
Johnson switched his voter registration to “no party” earlier today.
“There’s no room in the party of Lincoln, there’s no room in the party that freed the slaves for a bigot,” Johnson said. “And there’s no room for someone who questions the ethnicity of an American citizen.”
According to Johnson, Trump represents a “looming disaster” for the GOP and Johnson said he hopes his announcement triggers a response from party leaders.
“You can’t come out and say, as Speaker Ryan did, that it’s ‘textbook racism’ what Donald Trump has said and then say, ‘I’m going to vote for him,’ or ‘I’m going to support him,'” Johnson said. “You can’t do both. You can’t have it both ways. You’ve got to come out and say: ‘He isn’t fit to be president of the United States.'”
Senator Chuck Grassley said earlier today he disagrees with what Trump has said, but doesn’t know all the facts about the lawsuit and how the judge has dealt with the case. Johnson told Radio Iowa he’s “disappointed” by Grassley’s response.
“He, too, is trying to have it both ways by saying he doesn’t have enough information,” Johnson said. “And I find it difficult to believe that the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee has a problem getting information about what might be happening here.”
Johnson, who is 65, has served in the Iowa legislature for 18 years and currently represents the most-Republican district in the Iowa Senate. It has more than two times as many registered Republicans as Democrats. Johnson, who is not up for reelection to the state senate this year, says he cannot support a candidate who is unfit for the Oval Office.
“This is a dangerous, dangerous path that the Republican Party is going down and I know that this is going to trouble some of my constituents who support Mr. Trump,” Johnson said, “but I’ll put my state and my country ahead of my party any day when I feel that the threat is just too great.”
Johnson comes from a Republican family — his father was a prominent Iowa Republican in the 1960s and ’70s — and Senator Johnson said he will “never” register as a Democrat. He will not vote for Hillary Clinton in November either.
“Our political system, even at the state level, is breaking down and something has to change,” Johnson said. “I really would like to see people talk about returning to the days of (former Iowa Governors) Bob Ray and Harold Hughes. I mean, we at least had statesmen back in the ’60s and ’70s and they seem to be few and far between right now.”
On Monday, Governor Terry Branstad called Trump’s remarks ‘not smart,’ but Branstad said: “Most people who know Donald Trump know that he’s not a racist.”
Today, Johnson is calling on “state party leadership” to denounce Trump’s racism.
“If a state senator’s not afraid to change to a ‘no party’ affiliation, why can’t they come up and absolutely condemn, I mean absolutely condemn Mr. Trump and the things that he’s said?” Johnson asked.
Johnson is a former newspaper publisher and editor in West Branch, Iowa. He’s now a dairy farmer. Johnson riled some of his fellow Republicans over the past few months. He was a critic of Governor Branstad’s move to privatize the state’s Medicaid program and Johnson supports increasing the state’s sales tax by a fraction to finance water quality initiatives.
The Republican Party of Iowa has not responded to Johnson’s announcement. The Iowa Democratic Party called on Governor Branstad and Senator Grassley to follow Johnson’s lead.
“It’s not enough to call Trump’s remarks ‘inappropriate’ or ‘offensive’ and then say that you’ll be voting for him anyway,” IDP chair Andy McGuire said. “Trump’s racist rhetoric and divisive tactics have no place in our American political discourse.”