US Rep. Mitchell quits GOP for failure to stand up to Trump in election loss

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News

Retiring U.S. Rep. Paul Mitchell of Michigan quit the Republican Party on Monday, citing his disgust with GOP leadership's tolerance of President Donald Trump's efforts to overturn the results of the election. 

"It’s a tough day," Mitchell told The Detroit News. "I feel I’ve been forced to do it because of failure of the party leadership to stand up for what this country is founded on."

Mitchell, a member of the House Republican leadership, said he had asked the House clerk to officially change his designation from Republican to independent. The conservative lawmaker had often been mentioned as a potential GOP candidate for governor in Michigan in 2022.

Mitchell's announcement came shortly after Michigan's electors cast their votes in the Electoral College on Monday for President-elect Joe Biden, who won Michigan by 154,000 votes. 

Trump has repeatedly made unproven claims that there was "massive" voter fraud in Michigan's election, but Mitchell for weeks has called on the president to concede for the good of the nation. 

He laid out his reasoning for leaving the party in a letter Monday to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna Roney McDaniel.

"If Republican leaders collectively sit back and tolerate unfounded conspiracy theories and 'stop the steal' rallies without speaking out for our electoral process, which the Department of Homeland Security said was 'the most secure in American history,' our nation will be damaged," Mitchell said in the letter. 

"I have spoken out clearly and forcefully in opposition to these messages. However, with the leadership of the Republican Party and our Republican Conference in the House actively participating in at least some of those efforts, I fear long-term harm to our democracy."

He suggested that party leaders are motivated in these efforts by "raw political considerations," and not constitutional or election integrity concerns.

"As elected members of Congress, we take an oath to 'support and defend

the Constitution of the United States,' not to preserve and protect the political interests of any individual, be it the president or anyone else, to the detriment of our cherished nation," Mitchell added.

Mitchell is the second Michigan Republican to leave the party this term, following U.S. Rep. Justin Amash's departure last year. Amash thanked Mitchell on Twitter following his Monday announcement to disaffiliate from the GOP.

Mitchell, 64, is a former corporate executive from Dryden. He announced last year his plan to retire from the U.S. House, citing frustration with political gridlock, and said Monday he didn't know if he would run for office again. 

He has represented Michigan’s 10th District since 2017 — elected the same year as Trump, whose position Mitchell voted in line with nearly 96% of the time, according to scoring by the website FiveThirtyEight.

In his letter Monday, Mitchell noted that there have been some “disconcerting aspects” to the Nov. 3 election, allowing that some administrative errors and even some fraudulent voting likely happened.

But Trump and his legal team have “failed to provide substantive evidence of fraud or administrative failure on a scale large enough to impact the outcome of the election,” Mitchell wrote in the letter. 

He said Trump lost Michigan not because of Wayne County but because of his waning support in areas such as Kent and Oakland counties, formerly GOP strongholds. 

Last week, four of Mitchell's GOP colleagues in the Michigan delegation and about 100 other House Republicans signed onto a friend-of-the-court brief in support of a lawsuit filed by Texas based on claims that had been rejected by lower courts in Michigan and by election experts and officials. 

Rep. Paul Mitchell, R-Mich., is quitting the Republican party.

Mitchell said he recognized his changing his affiliation with the House clerk is largely symbolic because he is retiring but "we all know that symbols matter." 

Republican businesswoman Lisa McClain of Bruce Township won election last month to fill Mitchell's seat. 

The heavily Republican 10th District covers a part of northern Macomb County as well as the Thumb counties of  St. Clair, Huron, Tuscola, Sanilac and Lapeer.

McClain is a Trump supporter and will become the first Republican woman from Michigan to hold a seat in Congress since 2016 when then-U.S. Rep. Candice Miller of Harrison Township retired.

Mitchell in his Monday letter said he had voted for Trump last month, despite some “reservations” about his leadership for another four years. Mitchell said he felt many policies instituted by Trump’s administration had been positive for the nation, while Democratic policies were “too radical.”

Mitchell has publicly disagreed with Trump in the past, however, including the president's remarks in response to white nationalists that rallied in Charlottesville and last year when Trump urged four progressive Democratic House members to "go back" to their countries.

At the time, Mitchell issued a statement saying the comments were "beneath leaders." He also said he reached out to the White House through multiple channels asking to talk to Trump about his remarks and the subsequent "Send her back" chants at a campaign rally. 

Mitchell later Monday said he was "surprised and heartened by the messages I have received from people across the political spectrum appreciating my willingness to stand up for our electoral processes and our nation."

U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin, a Holly Democrat, praised Mitchell for being true to his country over his party, while saying she was sorry he felt forced to take this step. 

"As I told Rep. Mitchell a few weeks ago, one day his son will grow up and Google him — and he will know that his dad stood up for our country," Slotkin tweeted

"History will not look well on all the leaders who continue to perpetuate the falsehood that Trump won or should overturn the election. Their children will ask them why they didn't stand up for our democracy."