'Never Trumpers' plan to hold their own GOP convention in Charlotte in August

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David Evan McMullin, former Central Intelligence Agency operations officer and independent 2016 presidential candidate, addresses the crowd at the Nobody is Above the Law Rally on Dec. 18, 2019, Washington, D.C. - Sue Dorfman/Zuma Press/TNS

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Bob Orr and Charles Jeter plan to join other Republicans at a convention in Charlotte this August — but not the one that will renominate President Donald Trump.

Instead they’ll join a group called “Republicans for a New President.”

Organized by Evan McMullin, a former CIA officer who ran an independent campaign for president in 2016, the gathering is expected to bring together groups disaffected by the president, including Republicans for the Rule of Law and The Lincoln Project.

“The Trump administration has failed, and that’s provided us with an opportunity to offer an alternative vision,” McMullin told The Washington Post.

The Convention on Founding Principles is scheduled to run concurrently with the Republican National Convention, which is scheduled to start Aug. 24 at the Spectrum Center. Much of it is now expected to be virtual, though organizers expect to have a presence in Charlotte.

Orr, a former North Carolina Supreme Court justice, said the group had been looking at a venue at Queens University of Charlotte, though the coronavirus crisis may change those plans.

“The pandemic has thrown a curve to preconceived ideas of doing it,” he said Saturday. “But we’re committed to making the effort. … Originally it was, like, how many people do we think we could attract? Now it’s, what’s the safest way to do this?”

Trump remains popular with most Republicans. Polls earlier year showed him with the support of 9 in 10 Republicans. But a survey last week by the conservative Rasmussen Reports found 23% of Republicans would prefer another candidate.

“It tracks on what we’re seeing nationally in terms of his handling of the virus and who trusts him,” Mindy Finn, who with McMullin co-founded a group called Stand Up Republic, said Saturday.

Last fall, Orr co-founded the National Republicans, a group that adheres to the politics of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush — not Trump.

Orr calls the convention “an effort to give a dramatically different perspective on what the Republican Party has been historically and what it should be in the future.”

“We all agree Trump has captured what used to be the Republican Party,” he said.

A spokesperson for the Trump campaign could not be reached Saturday.

Orr said the alternate convention would focus on principles such as limited government, freedom of the press and the separation of powers. Or, as organizers said in a news release, “The convention will be tasked with deliberating and ratifying a new vision for the future of Republican leadership and political renewal in America.”

“The Republican Party under Trump is simply not articulating or advocating on these really critical principles of government or liberty,” Orr said.

Jeter, a former GOP legislator, said he was contacted by McMullin Friday after an online column drew his attention.

“I am not a Never-Trumper or an Always-Trumper,” Jeter wrote in Cardinal & Pine, which bills itself as a progressive news site. “I just don’t understand how the party that I love has been hijacked by a huckster who cares more about personal power than he ever will about America.”

“I committed to do whatever I could to help him,” Jeter said Saturday.

The group said it plans to “invest heavily” in digital ads and grassroots organizing to urge GOP voters to oppose Trump.

Larry Shaheen, a Republican consultant from Charlotte, called the group and their donors misguided.

“These are just people throwing a temper tantrum because their chosen person didn’t win in 2016 or they’re not happy with (Trump’s) leadership style,” he said. “They have no chance of changing any outcomes in this election.”

But Orr and Jeter are trying to recruit other Republicans to the cause.

“It’s amazing to see the people who’ve come out now that they realize they’re not walking the plank alone,” Orr said.

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©2020 The Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, N.C.)