AP — Less than four years ago, the Republican Party tapped a few respected party officials to help the GOP find its way forward. This week, one of them says she's leaving the party — driven out by Donald Trump.
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While not a household name, Sally Bradshaw's decision to leave the GOP rocked those who make politics their profession. The longtime aide to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush was one of the five senior Republican strategists tasked with identifying the party's shortcomings and recommending ways it could win the White House after its losing 2012 presidential campaign.
Now, she says, she'll vote for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton if the race in her home state of Florida appears close come Election Day.
"Sally is representative of an important segment of our party, and that is college-educated women, where Donald Trump is losing by disastrous margins," said Ari Fleischer, who worked with Bradshaw on the GOP project and was a senior adviser to President George W. Bush. "Trump has moved in exactly the opposite direction from our recommendations on how to make the party more inclusive."
Fleischer still supports Trump over Clinton. But Bradshaw is among a group of top Republican operatives, messengers, national committee members and donors who continue to decry Trump's tactics, highlighting almost daily — with three months until Election Day — the rifts created by the billionaire and his takeover of the party.
This past weekend, the billionaire industrialist Charles Koch told hundreds of donors that make up his political network that Trump does not embrace, nor will he fight for, free market principles.
That's one reason Koch's network, which has the deepest pockets in conservative politics, is ignoring the presidential contest this year and focusing its fundraising wealth on races for Congress. Donors and elected officials gathering at a Koch event in Colorado said they accepted the Koch brothers' decision, even if it hurts the GOP's White House chances.
Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin, among the high-profile Republicans on hand, refused to endorse Trump and referenced now defunct political parties, such as the Whigs, when asked about the health of the modern-day GOP.
"The party is not really what matters. It's the principles," Bevin told The Associated Press.
Another of those in attendance, House Speaker Paul Ryan, didn't even mention his party's presidential nominee during his speech to the group. Yet he referenced an election he called "personality contest" devoid of specific goals or principles.
Liberals and those on the political left are hardly fully united around Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, whose convention was interrupted on occasion by supporters of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.
But after beating Sanders in the primaries, Clinton took steps to win over Sanders and his supporters — including agreeing to changes to the party's platform. Trump has shown little such inclination, pushing ahead instead with the approach and policy proposals that proved successful in the GOP primary.
Among the key recommendations of the post-2014 report that Bradshaw helped write was for the party to be more inclusive to racial and ethnic minorities, specifically Latino voters. One of Trump's defining policies is his call to build a wall on the U.S. border with Mexico, and forcibly deport the millions of people — many of whom are Hispanic — living in the country illegally.
Bradshaw told The Associated Press her decision to change her voter registration in her home state of Florida was "a personal decision," with the tipping point being Trump's criticism of the Muslim mother of a U.S. soldier killed in Iraq in 2004. In an email to CNN, Bradshaw wrote that the GOP was "at a crossroads and have nominated a total narcissist — a misogynist — a bigot."
Her decision to leave the party isn't "a good sign, given the role she's played at the national level with the RNC and the high esteem in which she's held," said Virginia Republican Chris Jankowski, among the nation's leading GOP legislative campaign strategists.
Another member of the panel that examined Mitt Romney's 2012 loss is Henry Barbour, a Republican National Committee member from Mississippi.
In a message to the AP, he joined the many Republicans who called on Trump to apologize to the family of the late Capt. Humayun Khan, a suggestion the billionaire has rejected to date.
Like Fleischer, he does not plan to follow Bradshaw out of the party, but insisted that Trump must work harder to unify it.
"If we are to gain anything by this, Donald Trump must show he wants to unite Americans so he can win in November and the best way to do this would be to apologize," Barbour said. "There's no excuse, particularly for his comments about Mrs. Khan."