Longtime Republican strategist Cyrus Krohn of Issaquah is helping launch a national effort to convince GOP voters to abandon Donald Trump and vote Libertarian
Issaquah’s Cyrus Krohn is a lifelong Republican and veteran political strategist, tracing his GOP involvement back to his days as an intern for Vice President Dan Quayle.
But this year, for the first time, Krohn cannot bring himself to vote for his party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump.
With Democrat Hillary Clinton also an unpalatable choice for him, Krohn has joined other GOP activists and consultants to plug a third option.
They’ve launched a national effort asking disaffected Republicans to back the Libertarian Party ticket: former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson for president and former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld for vice president.
The “Republicans for Johnson-Weld” campaign, which kicked off this week, is a super PAC running digital ads urging voters to abandon Trump. Backers say given the choices in 2016, the Libertarian message of individual liberty and government restraint lines up best with traditional Republican ideals.
Krohn, who previously worked for the Republican National Committee as well as digital startups including Slate Magazine, said he began the 2016 election cycle like many — viewing Trump as an entertaining candidate who would quickly fizzle.
As Trump confounded expectations and marched to the nomination, Krohn realized his party’s presidential candidate was a “crass” and “demeaning” man he could not support.
In the past few weeks, Trump has drawn bipartisan condemnation for an array of controversial statements, including attacks on the parents of a Muslim American soldier killed in Iraq, and suggestions the U.S. could back away from long-standing commitments to NATO allies.
“I cannot fathom him representing our nation,” Krohn said. “Everything to me suggests that he is mentally unstable and politically incapable of knowing the boundaries that put our nation at risk, both domestically and internationally.”
State Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, Trump’s deputy Washington campaign director, dismissed the GOP defector effort.
“They know full well there is absolutely no chance Gary Johnson will be elected president,” he said.
Ericksen said establishment operatives are “in a very selfish personal protection mode” because they know they’d have no influence in a Trump administration, which would work for the American people instead of political elites.
As of Thursday, the Libertarian ticket was polling at about 7.3 percent support nationally, according to the political news site RealClearPolitics.
In the short term, Krohn and other GOP backers of the Johnson-Weld ticket want to see them reach 15 percent in national polls, which would qualify them for the upcoming presidential and vice-presidential debates.
Liz Mair, a Virginia-based Republican strategist who grew up in Seattle, is national director of the Republicans for Johnson-Weld campaign and a frequent Trump antagonist on cable news and social media. She said Washington is among the states where the Libertarian ticket could show strength this year.
“We do have a situation in Washington where we have quite a lot of Republicans who are unhappy with the nomination,” she said, pointing to Washington’s delegation to the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, which included a faction that vehemently opposed Trump.
Democrats faced their own dissension at their convention last week in Philadelphia, with some supporters of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders unwilling to commit to Clinton and considering votes for Green Party nominee Jill Stein.
Libertarians have a long way to go to rival the Democratic and Republican parties. Johnson received less than 1 percent of the national presidential vote in 2012 as the party’s presidential nominee. In Washington state, he received a slightly better 1.35 percent.
David Traynor, chairman for the Libertarian Party of Washington, said the goal this year is to reach at least 5 percent, which would make the party officially a “major political party” under state law, granting their candidates easier ballot access.
Ill feelings about Trump are shared by some prominent Republicans in Washington state. Those who have publicly disavowed him include former U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton, former Gov. Dan Evans and former Attorney General Rob McKenna.
Chris Vance, a former state GOP chairman challenging U.S. Sen. Patty Murray this year, also has publicly repudiated Trump.
Absent from the list of Trump critics is GOP gubernatorial candidate Bill Bryant, who faces an uphill fight in his challenge of Gov. Jay Inslee. Bryant won’t comment on Trump or even say whether he’ll vote for him, arguing his opinions about his party’s presidential candidate are irrelevant.
Krohn has known Bryant for years and was paid nearly $40,000 as a consultant to Bryant’s gubernatorial campaign in 2015, according to state Public Disclosure Commission filings. (He said he is no longer advising or working on the campaign.)
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Despite his own anti-Trump efforts, Krohn doesn’t fault Bryant’s stance.
“That race should be about the problems that Washington state has and not trying to bring it up the national level,” he said.
The GOP backers of the Johnson-Weld ticket remain supportive of qualified Republicans in down-ballot races, he added.
Mair and Krohn dismiss critics who say their efforts will only help put Clinton in the White House.
“I think Donald Trump is giving the election to Hillary Clinton by being Donald Trump,” Mair said. “That’s solely on Donald Trump and all the people who have enabled him …
“People like me and Cyrus are simply trying to do some salvaging here.”