Meghan Milloy grew up in southern Mississippi, in one of the deepest-red corners of a reliably Republican state. In high school, she founded the Teenage Republicans club and campaigned for George W. Bush in New Hampshire. In college, she interned in the Bush White House. Today, she works at a right-leaning nonprofit in Washington, D.C. during the day, but for the last several months in her spare time, she works toward a new goal: helping to elect Hillary Clinton as president.
“We just aired our concerns and said, ‘Let’s do this.’ And we’re just all in. It was just a very encouraging experience for so many of us to be on the same page.”
This week, a trio of high-profile Republican women offered their full-throated support to Clinton amid the continuing fallout from Donald Trump’s criticism of a Gold Star mom. On Monday, Sally Bradshaw, a top adviser to Jeb Bush, confirmed she formally switched her party affiliation from Republican to independent. The party, Bradshaw told CNN, is “at a crossroads and have nominated a total narcissist — a misogynist — a bigot.”
The next day, a second Republican operative, longtime Chris Christie aide Maria Comella, endorsed Clinton as well, echoing Bradshaw’s sentiments that the GOP is “at a moment where silence isn’t an option.”
Clinton’s most noteworthy endorsement this week, though, came from former Hewlett Packard chairwoman and eBay executive, Meg Whitman. Support from Whitman, a billionaire who once ran for governor of California on the Republican ticket, is a big deal because with it comes a substantial donor network she has previously leveraged on behalf of candidates like Christie. In an interview with the New York Times on Tuesday, Whitman said some portion of the donors she’s previously tapped were open to giving to Clinton.
The week of the Democratic convention, John McCain’s granddaughter, Caroline McCain, reckoned with her own decision to support Clinton, long-maligned by most of her party, in a Medium post. “I (and you) don’t have to buy into a demonized portrait that has been painted of her for years,” she wrote. “I can question her policy without questioning her character. I can criticize her past decisions, without reading corruption back into all of them. I can believe those closest to her when they say her faith is authentic, her character good, and her ambition animated by a heart of service.”
This week, however, may be a watershed moment for moderate Republicans – and moderate female Republicans in particular. It comes on the heels of a Democratic convention that featured explicit appeals to those Republicans: appearances from former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg (an independent), as well as former Reagan aide Doug Elmet and Jennifer Lim, a co-founder with Milloy, of Republican Women for Hillary Clinton.
Part support group, part grassroots political organization, Republican Women for Hillary was born over drinks one night at the St. Regis hotel in Washington, D.C. where a half dozen GOP women were commiserating about the man who was rapidly emerging as their party’s presumptive nominee.
“[She’s] pro-military. I think those things are appealing and, quite frankly, traditionally Republican ideals that Donald Trump has strayed from” –Meghan Milloy
A few months after that first meeting they held a second event. This time, almost 10 times as many people showed up, Milloy says, “some of whom were kind of in hiding” because they work for Republican politicians or for right-leaning organizations. She called the meeting “their ‘safe space’ for siding with Hillary Clinton.” Today, a Facebook group for the organization is approaching 2,700 members.
This is all very new for Milloy, who voted for John Kasich in the D.C. primary, but she explains her long history with the party actually made the decision to back Clinton easier.
Trump’s proposals to build a massive wall to keep out Mexicans and to ban all Muslims from entering the country — “Those aren’t really Republican ideals,” she says. “We’ve had the vision, as a party, that good immigration laws help increase the GDP and our production levels as a nation, and there have been several studies that have added up the [projected] cost of his building a wall and that have shown what a productivity decrease it would have if we cut off all of this immigration.”
She’s quick to add that those are just practical concerns, to say nothing of the “vile” and divisive sentiments that belie the policies.
Similarly divisive comments about women, Milloy says, helped drive many women away from Trump and into their group. “His snide comments about women turned Republican women off of Donald Trump but not necessarily onto Hillary Clinton,” she says. “I think as they started listening to Hillary, and learning about her past work on children and women’s issues, and equal pay for women — all of these sorts of things — I think that really turned them on to Hillary Clinton.”
Last week in Philadelphia, Bernie Sanders supporters both inside and outside the Wells Fargo arena criticized Clinton’s trade history and and her hawkish record, waving signs opposing the Trans Pacific Partnership and interrupting multiple speeches with chants of ‘No More War.’To Milloy, though, those attributes are attractive. “If you look at Hillary’s past and her record and her experience, you see a record of pro-trade, pro-business, pro-immigration, with strict immigration laws. [She’s] pro-military. I think those things are appealing and, quite frankly, traditionally Republican ideals that Donald Trump has strayed from,” she says.
Milloy expects the endorsements this week will help bolster her and Lim’s cause, and if her anecdotal experience talking to friends and family back home in Mississippi is any indication, more Clinton supporters may soon come crawling out of the woodwork.
“Since I’ve thrown my weight behind Hillary most folks have agreed with me, or if not agreed with me, they’ve at least respected me,” she says. “You look at south Mississippi: White, Southern Baptist families — these should be the people supporting Trump, and they’re not. This whole year, I’ve been like: Where are these people coming from? If they’re not my people then who are they?”