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‘I Didn’t Vote for President Trump’: Former Lawmaker’s Vote Reveals GOP Divide

Ousted former Rep. Denver Riggleman’s vote is another sign of an emerging battle for the soul of the Republican Party.

U.S. Rep. Denver Riggleman, a Republican from Virginia, speaks during a joint town hall meeting at Central Virginia Community College in Bedford, Virginia, on Oct. 9, 2019.
U.S. Rep. Denver Riggleman, a Republican from Virginia, speaks during a joint town hall meeting at Central Virginia Community College in Bedford, Virginia, on Oct. 9, 2019. Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call via Getty Images

Former Republican Rep. Denver Riggleman revealed he did not vote for former President Donald Trump in November in an interview that underscored the deepening fissures within the party after Trump’s presidency.

“I haven’t told many people this, and it will stop me from running in Republican politics for many years, decades, is that I didn’t vote for President Trump,” Riggleman said in an interview on a forthcoming episode of “Course Correction,” a Doha Debates podcast hosted by Nelufar Hedayat and produced by Foreign Policy.

Riggleman is the latest GOP figure to voice concerns about the direction of the party, amid a brewing battle between the more traditional flank of the GOP and the Trumpist acolytes: a battle that has the makings of a fully fledged existential debate about the future of the Republican party. 

While foreign policy is playing a part in that debate, it will shape whether the party returns to its traditional outlook on the world or fully embraces the “America First” agenda, with hostility toward free trade and long-standing U.S. alliances. 

The former congressman, who was defeated by now-Rep. Bob Good in a primary after facing blowback for officiating a same-sex marriage, also confirmed that he didn’t vote for President Joe Biden either.

But Riggleman, a one-time Air Force officer and National Security Agency contractor, predicted that the Republican candidates would continue to use Trump’s unfounded election integrity claims to try to make gains in the 2022 midterm elections. 

“I think the ‘Stop the Steal’ language is going to work to get a lot of people to the voting booths,” Riggleman told Hedayat, referring to Trump’s unsuccessful bid to overturn the 2020 election result with baseless claims of election fraud.

“I can disagree with people’s policies, but what I get angry about is when people misrepresent facts to control other people, to grift money or make money, or to cause an alternate reality that makes them look like a hero or where they mythologize themselves,” he said.

The arguments are only expected to sharpen ahead of the Senate’s post-hoc impeachment trial of Trump, set to begin next week. The trial will focus on Trump’s alleged role in inciting the mob that ransacked the Capitol.

In recent weeks, Trump allies such as Reps. Jim Jordan of Ohio and Matt Gaetz of Florida have ramped up their attacks on the group of 10 Republicans who voted to impeach the former president after a violent pro-Trump mob stormed Congress on Jan. 6 during a vote to certify the election results.

Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, the third-ranking House Republican and daughter of the former vice president, voted in favor of impeachment, calling it a “vote of conscience.” 

Gaetz himself traveled to Wyoming last week to rally a crowd of mostly maskless and MAGA-clad partisans against Cheney in her own district. Members of the Freedom Caucus and other far-right members of Congress have called for a resolution to oust Cheney from her leadership post. 

Convicting Trump, which would require the approval of two-thirds of the Senate, appears unlikely as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who distanced himself from Trump after the siege of the Capitol and reportedly told colleagues he was pleased with impeachment efforts, was among 45 GOP senators who voted for a motion last week deeming the trial unconstitutional, as Biden is now in office. (There are precedents for impeachment trials of former government officials.)

But some Republican leaders in Congress are still sticking by the former president. Last week, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California traveled to the former president’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida to discuss plans to win back the majority in Congress in 2022. (The Republicans ceded control of both houses of Congress during Trump’s four years in office.) 

The Republican caucus is also under pressure from the left to remove newly elected members of Congress seen as loyal to Trump and known for peddling conspiracy theories. Democratic lawmakers have circulated a resolution calling for the ouster of Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene after she touted QAnon-linked conspiracy theories, harassed a school-shooting survivor, blamed wildfires on “Jewish space lasers,” and indicated her support for executing left-wing members of Congress. 

As to whether he would consider running again, Riggleman said: “I’m just not that excited about politics. I would rather stick a pencil through the eye to my frontal lobe than run again, but I’m starting to get angry.

“There’s a part of me that feels like I have unfinished business, and I don’t know what to do with that part of me right now.”

Update, Feb. 3, 2021: This story has been updated to include the name of the podcast host who conducted the interview with Riggleman.

Jack Detsch is Foreign Policy’s Pentagon and national security reporter. Twitter: @JackDetsch

Robbie Gramer is a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @RobbieGramer

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