News & Politics

Five Questions for a Former Republican Who Thinks Donald Trump Is Ushering in “Evil”

After running for vice president on a protest ticket, Mindy Finn is starting an advocacy group to fight back.

In 2008, Mindy Finn was the Republican party’s dream: a young tech-savvy woman from Texas with impeccable conservative credentials. She directed new media for Mitt Romney’s campaign, got written up by the Washington Post, and was named a “rising star” by Campaigns and Elections. By 2016, the party had moved so far right that Finn was running against its nominee, Donald Trump.

In October, Evan McMullin picked Finn as his running mate for an anti-Trump ticket that poured all its hopes into winning Utah and tying up the Electoral College. They ended up finishing in third with 21 percent of the vote, but Finn says she was encouraged by the results. During the campaign, she called Trump an “aspiring dictator.” Since his swearing-in, Finn says Trump’s moved closer to that label. Her Twitter feed, like her former running mate’s, also supplies a steady stream of anti-Trump invective. A tweet that ends with “Silence, the quiet enabler, kills” is pinned at the top of her profile.

Finn teamed up with McMullin again recently to launch Stand Up Republic, a nonprofit dedicated to defending the Constitution against what they see as Trump’s authoritarian tendencies. The group hopes to attract conservatives who no longer see a home for themselves in the Republican party. It plans to combine nationwide grassroots organizing with more traditional advocacy tools like filing amicus briefs. Finn says it will be a full-time project, though she’ll also stay on at Empowered Women, a nonprofit she founded in 2015 to encourage women to run for office and take leadership roles.

Washingtonian recently spoke with Finn about her new venture and Trump’s first weeks in office.

How did your campaign go compared to your expectations when you got into the race?

By all measures we believe it was a success. And the more that we look back it becomes apparent that we exceeded expectations given the resources that we had to work with. There were some aspects that we hoped would develop that didn’t such as the larger funding that would come in, and some support among members of Congress who saw both candidates as dangerous to the republic. There was an expectation some of them would come out and endorse. They were interested in doing so, but ultimately didn’t have the courage to endorse someone who wasn’t the Republican nominee. Those things didn’t develop, but given that we persevered. We put up the best results in a single state of any non-Clinton or Trump candidate, having only been in the race for three months, starting with no name ID, and really running a modest budget with a shoestring staff.

Who do you hope joins Stand Up Republic?

Stand Up Republic is a civic organization to stand for liberty, equality, and truth in this country. Very practically, we are a nonprofit organization. We are not a political campaign. This is not about us running for office. We will be dogged in our defense of the Constitution. In particular, free speech, freedom of the press, freedom of worship, freedom of assembly, Article I. Also just basic human rights and civil rights in the country. Decency. And dogged in our pursuit of truth and facts at a time when those are in dispute.

In our campaign we were largely focused on targeting people on the center right, constitutional conservatives, in Utah in particular. Those are people who were not being served, they felt. They didn’t agree with Hillary Clinton’s policy agenda and her approach to government. And they couldn’t vote for her. And they didn’t respect Donald Trump’s lack of decency and trampling on the Constitution. And so they supported us.

More specifically, while we hope that individuals across ages will connect to our organization, I think this is especially important among younger Americans whose views are still being formed. There’s some polling that was out recently that indicated how important Americans feel it is to live in a democracy. Among those over 65 and 70, a vast majority said it was critically important. Among those under 30, a minority said that it was critically important. Somehow along the way we’ve lost touch with the value and the critical importance of living in a democracy and a free and open society. So part of our goal is reeducating and instilling the commitment to democracy and the Constitution among a younger generation.

Does being Jewish affect how you view the refugee ban?

There are a lot of Americans that have in their background relatives and ancestors that experienced persecution. I personally have that. My great-grandparents had immigrated to America prior to the Holocaust, but their siblings and extended family were all killed. When it comes to refugees, but also to just basic freedoms and living in a free society, certainly that informs me. It’s felt personally and intimately: the danger of allowing a despot and a kind of tyrant to assume office and have absolute power. And it is recognizing that Donald Trump had authoritarian tendencies, even as early as the primary, is one reason why that I opposed him from the start.

Evan McMullin tweeted that Mike Pence is being Donald Trump’s “enabler in chief.” Is that a label you think could also apply to Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell?

Some would accuse us of being hysterical and it would be my greatest hope that that’s the outcome. That we are raising a red flag and what ends up occurring is more mild than what we unfortunately expect. But I truly believe that that this is a national and even global crisis in the rise of populism, and nationalism, and nativism. I do believe that there will be a time in the future that those who are in a position of power who remain silent, or who in their tacit or full-throated endorsement enabled it, will be viewed as complicit in enabling a crisis. I’m not going to point to individual members, but I am incredibly disappointed and think it lacks courage and even an understanding of the moment that we live in that members of Congress could go along with the kind of evil that Donald Trump is ushering in.

How has this affected your relationships with other Republicans, particularly those who are working in the Trump administration?

I think we’re at a dangerous place in society when we can’t be friends with people who disagree with us. I try not to base my friendships on that. But I will say that, the way that Donald Trump conducts himself where you’re either an enemy or a friend, you’re either a winner or a loser, it creates an environment of division. I’d like to believe that everyone is well intentioned, but it does make me feel less open to communication and conversation, and relationships with those who are close to the Trump administration.

I wouldn’t say that bridges have been burned, but it certainly takes  an unfortunate toll on relationships. People love to throw around the term “safe space.” It’s very much a safe space when you’re within a party or a certain ideology, those are your people. And the notion of who are my people, who are our people has certainly shifted.

Editorial fellow

Noah Lanard is an editorial fellow. Before Washingtonian, he freelanced for the Guardian, Fusion, and Vice in Mexico City. He was born in DC, grew up in New Jersey, and went to college in Montreal.