Dan Morain

Reagan Republican turns to Hillary

Republican-red blood runs deep in Doug Elmets’ veins.

As a kid, his father, Harry Elmets, taught tennis at a park in Des Moines, Iowa, called Birdland. There, he met another kid nicknamed Dutch, who worked as a lifeguard. In high school, Doug collected campaign buttons, prizes like a rare 1964 Goldwater lapel pin in the shape of Goldwater’s black glasses, and one from Dutch’s 1976 presidential run.

At the University of Iowa, Elmets was active with college Republicans. In 1981, he landed a job in the press office of Ronald Reagan’s White House and in Reagan’s Department of Energy. Pam, his wife, worked for President Reagan, too. They moved to L.A. and later Sacramento where he worked for an oil company before hanging out his public affairs shingle. And so I took notice when Elmets’ email arrived early Wednesday.

“It’s a bitter pill, but supporting Hillary Clinton is a much better alternative to the xenophobic Donald Trump,” Elmets wrote.

So begins what may be the first chapter of Republicans for Hillary Clinton, announced by a Reagan Republican, on the morning after Republican Party Chairman Reince Priebus tweeted that Trump is the presumptive nominee and urged all Republicans to defeat Clinton.

“The party is in the abyss, candidly,” Elmets told me by phone, having traveled to Des Moines to spend Mother’s Day with his mom, Charlotte, also a Republican. “It is not a party that I know and not a party that I registered with 42 years ago. Donald Trump is not a candidate I could ever or would ever support.”

In the coming weeks and months, many Republicans will pivot from their anybody-but-Trump stand and embrace Priebus’ #NeverClinton call. Trump himself began reaching out to his rival Ted Cruz on the night of the Indiana primary victory.

“I don’t know if he likes me or doesn’t like me, but he is one hell of a competitor. He is a tough, smart guy. And he has got an amazing future,” Trump said, this after slandering Cruz’s father, Rafael, by claiming he was somehow involved in the JFK assassination.

Cruz did not impress me until Tuesday when he responded to Trump’s allegation, reacting as a good son should. Cruz called his father his hero, recounted that he arrived in this nation all but penniless and made his way first by washing dishes. He was, Cruz said, the very sort of person Trump looks down on. The Texas senator proceeded to say what he thought of Trump: “utterly amoral,” a “pathological liar” and a “serial philanderer.”

“He doesn’t know the difference between truth and lies,” Cruz said Tuesday, too late in the campaign to make a difference. “He lies practically every word that comes out of his mouth. And in a pattern that I think is straight out of a psychology textbook, his response is to accuse everybody else of lying. ...

“I say pathological because I actually think Donald, if you hooked him up to a lie detector test, he could say one thing in the morning, one thing at noon and one thing in the evening, all contradictory and he’d pass the lie detector test each time. Whatever lie he’s telling, at that minute he believes it.”

And this: “Listen, Donald Trump is a serial philanderer and he boasts about it. I want everyone to think about your teenage kids. The president of the United States talks about how great it is to commit adultery. How proud he is. Describes his battles with venereal disease as his own personal Vietnam.”

That last point is one that gets under Elmets’ skin, as it should anyone who has daughters, or, for that matter, wives, mothers and sons.

“How can anybody who has a wife or a daughter or any respect for women consider supporting Donald Trump?” Elmets asked. There is only one right answer.

Priebus is asking Republicans to embrace a candidate who called illegal immigrants rapists and drug dealers, who promises to build a wall that Mexico will finance, who calls for banishing Muslims, and who derides women for bodily functions and for looking like women who aren’t plastic.

Elmets is one Republican who is declining Priebus’ invitation. There will be others.

Sacramento Republican consultant Rob Stutzman had been organizing a Stop Trump movement in California. That’s not happening, now. But the Republican Party faces an existential crisis in California, a state of immigrants.

“How do you build a Republican Party of the future?” Stutzman asked. With Trump at the top of the ticket, “I don’t know how you march into the next decade.”

When sanity returns to our politics, and it will, there will be a reckoning. Republicans who seek to lead this year, and 10 and 20 years from now, will be asked a basic question: Where did they stand on Trump? Elmets and Stutzman are two who will be able to say they took a stand, proudly.