Back in 2016, Eliot Cohen and Bryan McGrath published a letter signed by a hundred or so national security officials who were opposed to the election of Donald Trump. Included in the letter was the following:
Mr. Trump’s own statements lead us to conclude that as president, he would use the authority of his office to act in ways that make America less safe, and which would diminish our standing in the world. Furthermore, his expansive view of how presidential power should be wielded against his detractors poses a distinct threat to civil liberty in the United States. Therefore, as committed and loyal Republicans, we are unable to support a Party ticket with Mr. Trump at its head. We commit ourselves to working energetically to prevent the election of someone so utterly unfitted to the office.
That was four years ago, and as the kids say, it aged well.
This fall, we have another presidential election. And another such letter exists, put forward by Ken Wainstein and John Bellinger and Defending Democracy Together (our sister non-profit, where—full disclosure—I have also done work). This letter is a little more pointed, as we’ve now had nearly four years of Trumpism. Spoiler: Things have gotten way worse.
You can read more about it here, but the letter raises ten main points:
1) Donald Trump has gravely damaged America’s role as a world leader.
2) Donald Trump has shown that he is unfit to lead during a national crisis.
3) Donald Trump has solicited foreign influence and undermined confidence in our presidential elections.
4) Donald Trump has aligned himself with dictators and failed to stand up for American values.
5) Donald Trump has disparaged our armed forces, intelligence agencies, and diplomats.
6) Donald Trump has undermined the rule of law.
7) Donald Trump has dishonored the office of the presidency.
8) Donald Trump has divided our nation and preached a dark and pessimistic view of America.
9) Donald Trump has attacked and vilified immigrants to our country.
10) Donald Trump has imperiled America’s security by mismanaging his national security team.
The letter concludes with this: “We are firmly convinced that it is in the best interest of our nation that Vice President Joe Biden be elected as the next President of the United States, and we will vote for him.”
Not everyone who signed the 2016 letter was prepared to vote for Hillary Clinton. Everyone who signed this one has seen enough. They’re voting for Biden.
What’s really interesting is that, among the new signatories, there are people who actually worked for Trump on national security issues. Among them, Miles Taylor, the former chief of staff at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS); Elizabeth Neumann, formerly the assistant secretary of DHS; John Mitnick, the former general counsel of DHS; and Robert Shanks, formerly the general counsel of the Peace Corps.
I talked to Taylor about why he signed the letter and he tells me what impressed him is how the signatories really ran the gamut of the National Security professionals:
There’s freedom agenda folks on there. There’s super hardcore realists. There’s the whole group, interventionists, non-interventionist . . . it’s everyone. It represents the national security Conservative establishment and some non establishment types. And so I think it’s very telling that a diverse group would come together and say, “Really, the president’s a danger to our security.” . . . I can’t really think of similar precedent, except maybe when you had so many Scoop Jackson Dems flip sides.
So I really do feel like it’s quite unprecedented and it’s a damning, damning indictment of the president’s national security record and deservedly so. And look, Trump denies a lot of things and when something goes bad, he’ll try to always push responsibility off onto a different person. But look, Trump has owned his foreign policy. He has really owned his foreign policy, and he’s been proud to say that he owned his foreign defense policy decisions. So there’s no getting around this. There’s no saying, “Well, the things that they’re blaming Trump for in this letter aren’t necessarily all Trump and he’s had to change out his cabinet. There’s been some bad eggs.” No, Trump’s foreign policy is his own and so this indictment is of him personally and the decisions that he’s made or the decisions he’s failed to make.
Interestingly, Taylor tells me that he and the other former Trump folks found out this letter was going out and offered to sign it—they weren’t recruited. And had there been more lead time, more former Trump people would have signed the letter: “It’s certainly just the tip of an iceberg.”
Taylor has been making the rounds on cable and in print as he was the highest-ranking former Trump official to endorse Joe Biden. He did a video for Republican Voters Against Trump (another project of our sister non-profit, Defending Democracy Together).
But it’s not all just former officials who feel that way, Taylor tells me.
Before I went and did a TV hit, like 30 minutes before I went on, another person in the White House texted me, someone who’s a stone’s throw from the Oval, and basically said ‘You know how I feel and I’m so glad you’re out there doing this. I wish I could be doing the same thing right now.’ And I was like, man, does he not even realize that it’s down the hallway and up the stairs. You’ve got people that feel this way. So that’s telling, it’s not just ex-Trump officials, and of course, that’s what Trump’s going to want to paint it as: disaffected people, disgruntled people who’ve left. No, no, it’s people who come and sit with you at a meeting, Mr. President, and are there with you today.
The calls are coming from inside the house, Mr. President.
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the 2020 letter was organized by Eliot Cohen and Bryan McGrath. While both signed the 2020 letter, it was organized by Ken Wainstein and John Bellinger. The article also incorrectly identified Michael Leiter as the former general counsel of DHS, instead of John Mitnick.