Election 2020

Virginia Congressman Out of State GOP After Endorsing Gary Johnson

Rep. Scott Rigell (R-Va.) arrives for the House Republican Conference meeting in the basement of the U.S. Capitol on Sept. 29, 2015. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call via AP Images)

The first congressional Republican to go Libertarian in presidential endorsements told MSNBC this morning that he chose Gary Johnson because he’s anti-Donald Trump but “the Democratic alternative is equally unworthy of walking into the Oval Office and being called ‘madam president.'”

Rep. Scott Rigell (R-Va.), a member of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, announced in January that he would not seek re-election, telling constituents he had accomplished his goal of being a “driving force that has reduced discretionary spending.” The Marine Corps veteran was elected in 2010.

“Regardless of which party is in control, reducing spending is tough to do and I’m proud of the progress we made on that front,” he said then.

Rigell said in March that he wasn’t supporting Trump; it wasn’t until he supported the Libertarian nominee that he was automatically booted from the Republican Party of Virginia Beach.

“I didn’t expect to find myself in this position. I’m 56 years old and to have pivoted from my lifelong commitment to Republican candidates all throughout my adult life and now supporting Gary Johnson proudly as a Libertarian,” Rigell said today. “I do so because the nominee for our party, the Republican nominee, I am just convinced is just so lacking in judgment and temperament and in character that I think he really represents a true risk to our country. And I cannot not in good conscience support him. I’ve been clear about this.”

The congressman noted that he was “like so many Americans, so many Americans, just caught in this tension between these two difficult, unworthy candidates, and so going toward the Libertarian is the right thing to do.”

Asked about House Speaker Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) continued support of Trump, Rigell stressed that Ryan is a friend but “this is a matter where each American has to be true to conscience.”

“And I’ve wrestled with this greatly. And I think the facts are clearly in the case that elevating Donald Trump to the highest office in the land would be a serious mistake and one that would have, I believe, devastating consequences for our country and our children and grandchildren down the road,” he said. “And I can’t be a part of that.”

“I do think it’s a poor decision. I think our party has made a terrible mistake in elevating Donald Trump. I don’t hold him in high regard in terms of his business acumen. And I am a businessman. And as it relates to his core values, I do not understand what he truly believes. He’s all over the map. I think he has a kind of utilitarian approach to decision making. That is whatever someone in front of him wants to hear or whatever’s on the top of his mind he says.”

Rigell acknowledged “there’s a fidelity that comes with being part of leadership of a party,” but “each member, each man and each woman, has to wrestle with this.”

“These decisions have serious ramifications for those who are in office or seeking office,” he said. “I think the whole nation is stunned that we’re here.”

Johnson, the former New Mexico governor, tweeted that he was “proud & grateful to have @RepScottRigell’s support,” adding the hashtag “#courage.”

Trump hasn’t acknowledged Rigell’s party break, but tweeted endorsements from other members of Congress including Rep. Steven Palazzo (R-Miss.).

“Donald Trump is putting out real solutions for our economy while Hillary is looking to strangle it,” Palazzo wrote Monday on his Facebook page. “As Trump said today, it’s not that hard — cut taxes, cut red tape, and grow our economy. I’ve been saying this for years. Democrats just don’t believe in free enterprise. Donald Trump does, and more importantly, he will get it done.”