Republicans turned off by Trump still don't want to vote for Clinton, but her campaign keeps trying

The rebukes of Donald Trump from the holy order of the GOP are as relentless as they are brutal, extending from the party’s living ex-presidents to the descendants of Ronald Reagan — and Republican voters almost always respond to them the same way.

With a shrug.

Even in this unusual race, GOP voters are following their usual pattern of coalescing around their nominee. As they do, the giddy chatter has quieted among Democrats who once buzzed about a possible Hillary Clinton landslide aided by disaffected Republicans.

In a race in which party loyalty is being tested more than ever before, it is holding its own.

Nevertheless, the Clinton campaign is continuing to invest big in luring Republican converts.

Every week seems to bring a new Clinton ad campaign with GOP disavowals of their own nominee, or a rollout of another noteworthy endorsement from a conservative big shot. The messages to Republican voters span from warnings of the destruction Trump would wreak to reassurances that voting against him is not disloyal. 

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A new radio campaign features lifelong Republican voters talking about their decision to vote against Trump. President Obama, in his role as surrogate in chief, even speaks admiringly of the GOP as he reasons that the path to preserving it is rejecting the nominee.

If the Clinton campaign can’t orchestrate a mass defection, it will settle for a tiny subversion. Even that could be enough to tip the balance her way in some key swing states.

"When you're in a close race, particularly in some battleground states, you're definitely playing on the margins," Clinton campaign strategist Joel Benenson said. The campaign is pursuing wavering Republicans relentlessly, typically with the help of conservatives who have already crossed the line. "It's about letting folks who have a history of voting Republican know that you're not alone,” Benenson said.

College-educated women are targeted the most. Trump’s history of demeaning comments toward women and his loose talk about nuclear weapons and other national security threats are among the reasons they’re hedging. A mailer Democrats sent to suburban Republican women in Iowa, for example, features the Trump quotes “slobs,” “dogs,” and “fat pigs” printed on paper dolls. “His words make us feel worthless,” it says.

“We see a lot of Republican-leaning independent women and Republican women who are very bothered by Donald Trump’s rhetoric,” said Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook. 

Recent polls show college-educated whites are backing Clinton after decades of supporting GOP candidates.

But voters in some states may be more receptive than in others. In Ohio and Pennsylvania, the push doesn’t seem to be doing much. In some polls, Trump enjoys more loyalty from his party’s voters in those states than Clinton does with hers. 

But the situation is different in Michigan and New Hampshire, where polls published in the last week show Clinton’s lead buoyed by weakening support for Trump among Republicans. In Florida and North Carolina, where the race has been close to a dead heat, a Quinnipiac poll shows Clinton advancing as Republicans fail to line up behind Trump in the same numbers Democrats are lining up behind her.

“I am thrilled at the amount of Republican voter support I’ve gotten, I really am,” Clinton said on her campaign plane last week.

Her campaign said it’s creating a pathway for Republicans — some of whom may have viewed Clinton and her husband as political enemies for decades — to cross the aisle. Others are dubious.

Any bump in the rate of Republican refuseniks this year is Trump’s own making, said Neil Newhouse, who was a pollster for former GOP presidential nominee and now prominent Trump critic Mitt Romney, in an email. Those voters still deeply distrust Clinton, he said, and will probably cast ballots for Libertarian Gary Johnson. Newhouse is unimpressed by the Clinton messaging effort, which he suspects is repulsing more Republicans than it is recruiting.

For all her marketing to Republicans, Clinton has done little to pivot her agenda in their direction. She has been unapologetic about continuing the policies of Obama, which conservatives detest. She has vowed to nominate justices who would put the Supreme Court under liberal control for decades, filling Republican voters with dread. She would grow government, expand Obamacare and champion abortion rights.

“She hasn’t done much to throw conservatives a bone,” said Charlie Sykes, a conservative talk radio host in Wisconsin. A vocal member of the “Never Trump” movement, Sykes finds himself tangling with his listeners constantly. “They are lining up with their noses held to vote for him,” he said.

Sykes said he is still waiting for Clinton to reach out to Republicans with a “Sister Souljah moment” — a reference to the time Bill Clinton impressed social conservatives with a provocative remark before Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition. In the 1992 incident, Clinton repudiated a hip-hop artist’s take on black-on-white violence.

Hillary Clinton is unlikely to deliver such a moment. Instead, she is taking a far more cautious approach, one that avoids offending the progressive voters who were the backbone of President Obama’s electoral coalition and who rallied around her primary opponent, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. But Clinton’s effort to straddle her outreach between those starkly opposed voting blocs has created its own grief. Both have found the approach wanting at times.

The Clinton campaign, with its data-driven politics aimed at avoiding unnecessary risk, sees little reward in a bolder approach toward Republican recruitment. No matter what Clinton — or Trump, for that matter — does, few of those voters are likely to defect.

“People have really chosen a side, and once you identify with that ideological tribe, it is difficult to break the allegiance,” Sykes said. “The tendency is to find some way to rationalize that no matter how awful Trump is, Hillary is much worse.”

Twitter: @evanhalper, @chrismegerian

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UPDATES:

10:38 a.m.: This article has been updated with information about recent polls’ findings about whom college-educated whites are backing.

This article was originally published at 9:20 a.m.

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