Former Illinois Republican Gov. Jim Edgar and a pair of other prominent GOP moderates here broke ranks with President Donald Trump Monday and said they’d be voting for Democrat Joe Biden, just as Republicans opened their national convention.
The pronouncements by Edgar, former U.S. Rep. Ray LaHood and ex-Illinois Republican Party chair Pat Brady set a divisive tone for state Republicans and put on display the serious schism within the Party over whether Trump deserves another four years in the White House.
“He’s been more of a disappointment than I thought he’d be,” Edgar said in an interview with WBEZ. “I think he bungled the pandemic thing. He undercuts our allies. I don’t understand his relationship with [Russian President Vladmir] Putin. The list goes on and on.
“But I think the biggest thing is his character. He’s a bully. He doesn’t tell the truth. Just all kinds of things,” said the former two-term governor from downstate Charleston who served between 1991 and 1999.
Edgar’s statements came as current state Republican Party Chairman Tim Schneider and GOP National Committeeman Richard Porter were in Charlotte, N.C., for the formal nomination of Trump for another term.
The pandemic shortened the in-person portion of the GOP national convention to one day and kept Illinois’ Republican delegation home-bound, making for a low-key presence for the state Party.
But it didn’t diminish the enthusiasm for Trump for those who made the trip.
“I proudly cast 67 votes for our president and the next president of the United States, Donald J. Trump,” said Schneider during the ceremonial nomination process on Monday morning.
Schneider and Porter filmed an earlier video segment where they pledged the state’s delegates to Trump while standing atop what they characterized as the “most beautiful hotel in Chicago and the state of Illinois, the Trump International Hotel,” as the city’s skyline loomed behind them. The piece did not air during the state-by-state nomination process Monday morning.
Later, in a Facebook Live event, Schneider predicted that Trump could win reliably blue Illinois, partly as a result of voters getting fed up with “the lawlessness in Chicago, with the rioting and the protesters.
“That’s going on in Illinois [and] everywhere with a Democratic governor and a Democratic mayor,” Schneider said. “We need to make Illinois Republican again so we can institute policies that are positive for the people of Illinois and keep people from leaving our state.
“Or, as I always say, we’re going to need a wall around Illinois just to keep people in,” he continued.
One of Schneider’s predecessors as chairman of the state GOP, Brady, was on WBEZ’s Reset Monday morning and, like Edgar, said he intends to vote for the Democratic presidential nominee because he regards Trump as unfit for office.
“I’m voting for Joe Biden because I believe a more centrist Democrat … aligns with what I believe and what a lot of others believe — a guy who has actually spent his life trying to get things done, reaching across the aisle versus this scorched-earth policy we’ve seen in the last four years,” Brady said.
“It’s unacceptable,” he continued, citing Trump’s bellicosity and mishandling of the economy, pandemic and national security. “I care more about the country than I do about my party. I never in my life have voted for a Democrat in the general election, but I’m going to this fall.”
LaHood, the former Transportation Secretary in ex-President Barack Obama’s administration, said he believes Biden is better equipped to handle the vast problems confronting the U.S. LaHood’s son, U.S. Rep. Darrin LaHood, is a Trump delegate.
“I think [Biden] will really turn the country around, bring the country together and solve some of these enormous, enormous problems we have,” the former congressman told Illinois Public Radio.
Edgar, who had high approval ratings that once topped out at 73%, said he understands how Trump’s message resonates among downstaters. But it is a losing ideology for Illinois Republicans, he said.
“All the downstaters are going to vote for Trump, but it’s not going to matter because they’re going to get out-voted by the suburbanites and Chicagoans,” Edgar said. “For the Party to be able to win in Illinois statewide, we need to divorce ourselves from the Trump thing.”
Dave McKinney covers Illinois politics and government for WBEZ. Follow him on Twitter @davemckinney.