GOP Senator takes the "off-ramp": "I cannot and will not support" Donald Trump

Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk is in a tough reelection battle and just took Sen. Lindsey Graham's advice to dump Trump

Published June 7, 2016 8:13PM (EDT)

Mark Kirk        (AP/M. Spencer Green)
Mark Kirk (AP/M. Spencer Green)

“If anybody was looking for an off-ramp, this is probably it,” South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham told his fellow Republicans via the pages of the New York Times on Monday, referring to the widespread backlash to presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump's wildly offensive comments slamming the federal judge presiding over a pair of Trump University scam cases as "inherently bias" because of his Mexican heritage.

“There’ll come a time when the love of country will trump hatred of Hillary,” Graham told the paper, calling on his fellow conservatives to either un-endorse the candidate who beat out 16 other Republican hopefuls or to simply refuse to ever back Trump against the eventual Democratic nominee, likely Hillary Clinton.

It appears as though Graham's assessment that Trump's attack on Judge Gonzalo Curiel was “the most un-American thing from a politician since Joe McCarthy,” may have been just the gentle nudge that at least one reluctant Republican needed to join the leaderless #NeverTrump brigade.

After earlier saying he would back the Republican nominee, Illinois Senator Mark Kirk rescinded his endorsement on Tuesday, withdrawing his support for the controversial candidate.

Citing his own military experience, the freshman senator enthralled in a tight reelection battle with Rep. Tammy Duckworth, tweeted that "Donald Trump does not have the temperament to command our military or our nuclear arsenal":

"While I oppose the Democratic nominee, Donald Trump's latest statements, in context with past attacks on Hispanics, women and the disabled like me, make it certain that I cannot and will not support my party's nominee for president regardless of the political impact on my candidacy or the Republican Party," Kirk said in a statement on Tuesday, hours after the Democratic Party of Illinois launched a website comparing the Republican senator to Trump.

Kirk's Democratic opponent also jumped on his silence during a speech Tuesday.

"To my opponent, Senator Kirk, I would simply say, as Dr. King did, there comes a time when silence is betrayal," Duckworth said at a Chicago luncheon:

Trump may be a clown, but he isn’t funny — he’s not a ‘riverboat gambler’ to be admired. He’s not a ‘net benefit’, to your campaign, or to the country. He’s a demagogue and he’s menace. Any politician who stays silent, or hopes to fly under the radar, is complicit in his campaign of hate and division — and deserves to be judged harshly. It may not happen immediately, but I fundamentally believe history will not be kind to those who stood by or shrugged off the shameful candidacy of Donald J. Trump. America is too great a country — a greatness which is derived from our diversity — to believe otherwise.

Kirk told CNN that he plans to write-in General Petraeus, who is not running for president, rather than vote for Trump or Clinton.


By Sophia Tesfaye

Sophia Tesfaye is Salon's senior editor for news and politics, and resides in Washington, D.C. You can find her on Twitter at @SophiaTesfaye.

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