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Republicans mull Clinton amid repeated Trump stumbles
[WASHINGTON] For US Republicans, the taboo of voting for Democrat Hillary Clinton in the presidential election has been lifted, as party dignitaries reject Donald Trump amid one of the deepest controversies of his troubled campaign.
While "dump Trump" calls have continued since the 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney raised the alarm about the brash billionaire's candidacy early this year, it is unclear whether the trickle of defections to the Clinton camp will become a flood.
But a nightmare 36 hours for the embattled Republican nominee - he refused to end his public feud with the parents of a fallen Muslim American soldier, declined to back House Speaker Paul Ryan's re-election bid and used crass language while accepting a supporter's Purple Heart as a gift - has highlighted Republicans' concerns with Mr Trump's inability to stay on message.
"He has not made the transition to being the potential president of the United States," Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker who had been considered for Trump's running mate, told Fox Business Network on Wednesday.
"He's thrown a series of interceptions in the last week that really do not bode well for his campaign."
Prominent tech executive Meg Whitman became the latest high-profile conservative to throw her support behind Mrs Clinton, as she branded Mr Trump a "dishonest demagogue" in the New York Times on Tuesday and said she would make a "substantial" contribution to Mrs Clinton's campaign.
Ms Whitman is chief executive of Hewlett Packard Enterprise and used to be CEO of eBay. She spent some US$140 million of her own money in an unsuccessful run for California governor in 2010.
Her defection comes amid deep concerns at the top of the Grand Old Party about Trump, after a seemingly never-ending stream of controversies that include the nominee urging Russia to hack into Mrs Clinton's emails.
Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus backs Mr Trump, but on Wednesday CNN reported Mr Priebus was "incredibly upset" that the New York real estate mogul refused to endorse Mr Ryan's congressional re-election campaign.
Mr Trump's running mate Mike Pence sought to assuage concerns, but his Wednesday endorsement of Mr Ryan for re-election suggested he and Mr Trump were not on the same page.
"I talked to Donald Trump this morning about my support for Paul Ryan and our longtime friendship," Mr Pence told Fox News. "He strongly encouraged me to endorse Paul Ryan in next Tuesday's primary and I'm pleased to do it."
Meanwhile Ms Whitman joins other key Republicans who have announced their backing for Mrs Clinton, the former secretary of state.
Richard Armitage, who served as deputy secretary of state for George W. Bush and deputy secretary of defense under Ronald Reagan, defected in June.
Brent Scowcroft, respected national security advisor to two Republican presidents, endorsed Mrs Clinton, as did former Republican senator Larry Pressler of South Dakota, who cited Mrs Clinton's support for stricter gun laws.
Bush Treasury secretary Hank Paulson, a former CEO of Goldman Sachs, announced in a Washington Post column that he will vote for Mrs Clinton in the hope she can "do the things necessary to strengthen our economy." "To my Republican friends: I know I'm not alone."
Richard Hanna on Tuesday became the first Republican member of Congress to cross the aisle and publicly back Mrs Clinton.
"For me, it is not enough to simply denounce his comments: He is unfit to serve our party and cannot lead this country," Mr Hanna wrote in a column for Syracuse.com.
While Mr Hanna said he disagrees on many issues with Mrs Clinton, "she stands and has stood for causes bigger than herself for a lifetime. That matters."
One Republican, Reagan administration official Doug Elmets, went so far as to announce his support for Hillary Clinton at last week's Democratic National Convention, where he told delegates: "I knew Ronald Reagan, I worked for Ronald Reagan. Donald Trump, you are no Ronald Reagan."
Other Republican stalwarts, while stopping short of endorsing Mrs Clinton, are shunning Mr Trump or the party itself.
Top Jeb Bush advisor Sally Bradshaw said she is leaving the Republican Party to become an independent.
Mr Bush, trounced by Trump in the Republican primaries, has said he will vote for neither Mr Trump nor Mrs Clinton, while the two Bush presidents are abstaining from the 2016 race.
Mr Trump, accused by critics of being vindictive, was hardly the magnanimous statesman during a Tuesday interview with the Washington Post.
He threatened to "maybe" launch political action committees against Senator Ted Cruz, who refused to endorse Mr Trump at the Republican convention, and Ohio Governor John Kasich, a former rival who has also not backed Mr Trump.
"Nobody has gotten rich betting against Donald Trump," the nominee warned.