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GOP experts choose exile over Trump

GOP experts choose exile over Trump
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Throngs of GOP foreign policy officials remain unwilling to support Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump: 'I don't trust everybody in the White House' JPMorgan CEO withdraws from Saudi conference Trump defends family separations at border MORE as the party's presidential nominee, with many of them preparing for a self-imposed exile from presidential politics.

Many veterans of the Mitt Romney’s failed 2012 campaign, who had once hoped to propel a new GOP candidate to victory over likely Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonHillary Clinton on if Bill should’ve resigned over Lewinsky scandal: ‘Absolutely not’ Electoral battle for Hispanics intensifies in Florida Trump adds campaign stops for Senate candidates in Montana, Arizona, Nevada MORE, are now finding themselves on the outside and already looking ahead to the next presidential race in four years’ time.  

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“I have no intention of voting for Hillary Clinton, and I have no intention of voting for Donald Trump,” said Daniel Runde, who worked on Romney’s team four years ago. 

“I’ve been a lifelong Republican. I’ve never voted for a Democrat for president, and I have no intention of voting for a Democrat in my lifetime,” he added. “But at the same time, in my lifetime I’ve never been presented with a candidate who’s anti-free trade, who rubbishes our partners and allies, insults our friends and neighbors [and] has an irresponsible foreign policy.”

The angst over Trump is widespread among a group of former Romney advisers who stayed in touch following the 2012 election with the hopes of springing into action for the next administration. 

The group calls itself the John Hay Initiative, after a former secretary of State under Presidents William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt, whom the group praised as “the most able diplomat of his generation.”

Last September, the group released a policy blueprint that it said “points the way forward for the next president, regardless of party.”

The advice was predominantly written by prominent Republicans from Romney’s campaign who were hoping to play a big role in the 2016 campaign

“That’s the kind of organization that could’ve plugged into a presidential campaign quite easily,” Matthew Kroenig, a former Pentagon official and Romney campaign veteran, told The Hill in a recent interview.

In part, the goal was to keep a fresh bench of Republican foreign policy expertise at the ready. The group now boasts 250 volunteer members. 

“There’s always the prior administration of people and what they pass down to the next generation below them,” said one participant in the group. “This is a more routinized way of doing it and an intentional effort to try and do it.” 

But all that work has gone by the wayside in the face of Trump and his unorthodox views on U.S. foreign policy.

Many critics accuse the GOP front-runner of failing to paint a cohesive foreign policy vision, saying he has relied on platitudes and shallow promises about “winning.” The policies he has laid out — such as halting foreign Muslims from entering the country, renegotiating the U.S.’s role within alliances such as NATO and reinstituting harsh interrogations — have struck many as unwise and unjust.

One founder of the John Hay group, former Romney adviser and ex-State and Defense official Eliot Cohen, organized a letter now signed by 121 prominent GOP national security officials promising not to support Trump because he would “act in ways that make America less safe.”

Multiple participants in the John Hay Initiative have signed the letter, though not all of them have.

Some members of the group are likely to join a Trump campaign, especially as the general election draws closer.

But many are adamantly opposed to the businessman, likely depriving Trump of some of the expertise he will need when facing off against Clinton, a former secretary of State, in the general election. 

“I don’t think I could face my wife or my kids and say, ‘Well, I was just kidding,’” said Runde, who signed the letter against Trump but insisted he was speaking on his own behalf and not for the initiative as a whole.

Runde said he plans to focus his energies on Republicans candidates the House and Senate.

Other Republicans, such as Cohen, are continuing to hold out hope for a third party candidate, despite the surely long odds that he or she would face.   

“A Trump candidacy is a disgrace and has indeed already damaged us at home and abroad, but the longer-term question is larger than one demagogue, dangerous though he is,” Cohen wrote in a Washington Post op-ed on Wednesday, suggesting that the country needs to form a new third party to rival both Democrats and Republicans.

“It is whether the cause of free, limited and constitutional government will have someone to speak for it and to represent it now and for decades to come.”

Some appear simply resigned themselves to Clinton’s victory and are setting their sights on four years in the future.

At the very least, they say, their initiative will ensure that professional talent doesn’t atrophy.

“There's a lot of trust that needs to be rebuilt and we have our work cut out for us,” said Rebeccah Heinrichs, a John Hay Initiative member and former congressional aide, in an email.

“I'm confident we can maintain a solid bench of national security experts. And its looking like we'll have about four years to learn from this cycle, adapt and get ready for 2020.”