Another one bites the dust in the Republican Party. Thursday, Charleston, West Virginia mayor Danny Jones announced he would leave the party and become an “unaffiliated” voter.
According to the Charleston Gazette-Mail, Jones pointed to a number of factors developing within the Republican Party as of late, including the rise of presumptive presidential nominee Donald Trump and the social conservatism of his own state’s elected party officials.
Jones told the Gazette that, for the first time in his 45 years as a member of the party, he simply could not support the Republican nominee for president. Jones did add, however, that he is not a “Trump hater,” trying not to make his decision too exclusively correlated with the billionaire’s recent insurgence to the top of the party’s presidential ticket. The mayor also stated that he intends to vote for the Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson for president.
Jones was also highly critical of his party’s representation and leadership within the West Virginia House of Delegates, which he characterizes as being obsessed with a brand of far-right social conservatism that he simply couldn’t bring himself to support or enable any longer.
In February, many conservatives in the state’s House pushed to pass a controversial “Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” which was struck down by the state senate. The bill was met with strong opposition by activists and officials who derided it as an excuse to allow institutional discrimination against the state’s LGBTQ community.
Jones stated about this bill:
‘The fact that the House speaker came down to the floor to talk, not about the budget which is in crisis, he came down to talk about RFRA. I’m basically a city guy, and I believe [in] live and let live and stay out of each other’s bedroom.’
Jones also criticized the overall “partisan” nature of the nation’s politics as they’ve been developing during his long political career, stating:
‘A whole lot of things make me uncomfortable about partisan politics, and I do not want to be identified with the political partisanship that is shaping so much of the debates nationally and in West Virginia.
I plan to complete my current term, and have no plans to run for any office ever again. I am not trying to pick a fight with anyone and, in fact, I am proud about how we’ve made so much progress in Charleston, where partisan politics has been non-existent in the 13-plus years I’ve been mayor.’
The Charleston mayor has always maintained a more moderate or liberal position when it comes to social issues. Many within the party’s more conservative wing have held this against him and will likely be saying “good riddance” upon his departure. Last year, the mayor had to campaign against a more conservative opponent during the election’s primary phase, whom he defeated before going on to win the general election.
Jones’s departure is yet another example of the growing divide emerging in the Grand Old Party, one rooted not just in Trump’s insurgency, but in the many ideological divisions that have fractured its voting base in recent years. This may very well play into the advantage of Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson, whose fiscal positions may appeal to many Republicans dissatisfied with the far-right social conservatism that has latched itself onto the party’s platform for decades.