The chairman for Ohio’s Belmont County Republicans was sitting in his law firm’s office on Monday when the press conference between President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin began.
At the time the local GOP official, Chris Gagin, an attorney with McCamic, Sacco & McCoid, was still satisfied with his political role in rural Belmont County: working to get Republicans who support the economic growth of southeast Ohio’s coal country elected to public office.
He’d turned on the coverage of the press conference to “see how the President handled himself” on the global stage, not necessarily expecting to feel particularly jarred or mobilized to leave the county position he has held since April 2016.
“When there was that final question that was directly posed to Trump, ‘Do you believe the intelligence community or Putin?’ and when he wouldn’t say that he believes our intelligence community over the Russian president and when he said that Putin had been ‘very strong’ and forceful in his denials, something just snapped,” Gagin told TPM Tuesday. “When (Trump’s) most fundamental obligation is to represent the security interest of the United States, that was my last straw.”
Gagin emailed a resignation letter to the rest of his committee “immediately” after the press conference, feeling that as a county party chairman, whose job is “purely political,” he couldn’t continue in the role, especially leading up to a midterm and presidential election cycle that’s bound to be dominated by Trump-aligned candidates.
“Heading into 2020, if you’re not fully committed to the President and his policy — I mean, our objective is to get candidates elected,” he said.
Trump unilaterally shocked the masses, including his own staff, on Monday when he went off the rails during the freewheeling presser with Putin. When asked point-blank “who do you believe” regarding the U.S. intelligence community’s sweeping assessment that Russian interfered in the 2016 election, Trump waffled. He said he didn’t see “any reason why it would be (Russia)” in the same breath that he touted his “great confidence in my intelligence people,” while seconds later praising Putin for being “extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.”
Trump’s behavior sparked immediate outrage. Current and former government officials and lawmakers reacted with disbelief. Former intelligence officials labeling Trump as Putin’s puppet. Even his most ardent supporters in conservative media were deeply critical.
Despite a staggering amount of calls for “patriots” to resign in objection to Trump’s performance at the summit Monday, Gagin said he might be “the only one in the country” who felt he couldn’t stay in his position with good conscience. One former Iowa state lawmaker — Ken Rizer — did announce in a Facebook post after the summit on Monday that he had left the Republican Party over Trump’s “misguided leadership” on the foreign policy front.
While he anticipates being “ostracized locally,” Gagin’s “pretty sure” he will be one of the few who quits in objection to what some are calling the darkest moment in American history, especially given he’s a more moderate Republican who switched to the GOP in 2013 after feeling that Democrats had “moved too far left.”
“Unless you have an attack of conscience, there’s nothing forcing you to do anything. … Unless someone in the intelligence community makes that decision, I don’t think you’ll see (more). There’s too many fearful of going against the President in the Republican Party and, quite frankly, there is nowhere else to go,” he said.