DENVER — Last year Kendal Unruh devoted much of her spare time to fighting Donald Trump. The 51-year-old Colorado high school government teacher and longtime Republican activist was a delegate to the Republican National Convention and led a fight on the floor to try to deny Trump the party’s presidential nomination.
Unruh is still no Trump fan, and she posts her views on Facebook. But while tens of thousands of other like-minded activists have been marching, swamping town hall meetings, and bombarding their members of Congress with phone calls, she hasn’t been joining them. Most of the protests have come from the liberal side of the spectrum, and she doesn’t know where someone like her fits in.
“I truly am sitting back right now. I don’t know where we belong,” Unruh said, referring to Trump opponents on the right.
The vociferous opposition that greeted the GOP president on Inauguration weekend and has dogged him since has tended to come from the left. But continuing disapproval from many conservatives, like Unruh, raises the question of how much the politically split anti-Trump factions can or should join forces.
What happened on the day after Trump’s inaugural, when millions attended women’s marches in Washington, D.C., and across the country, illustrated the challenge. The organizers had initially allowed a group that opposes abortion rights to be listed as sponsors, along with abortion rights supporters and many other groups, but removed them after media reports.
In battling against Trump, activists have also targeted cherished conservative causes. They’ve flooded town halls to demand that Congress not repeal the Affordable Care Act — a longtime goal of conservatives well before Trump — and to oppose Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch, who is also popular on the right.
Still, organizers say they’re also trying to reach out to people beyond the left.
“We’re seeing people in quite red districts who are organizing to resist the Trump agenda,” said Ezra Levin, co-founder of Indivisible, the resistance movement that boasts at least two chapters in every congressional district across the country. “We’re hearing about people who are independents and Republicans coming together.”
Evan McMullin, a former congressional aide who ran a quixotic third party presidential candidacy as a choice of anti-Trump conservatives in November, said it’s still early, but initial conversations between the left and right are already underway.
McMullin would not detail those discussions, though he noted that both sides could unite on issues like the president’s refusal to release his tax returns, the subject of nationwide demonstrations planned for April 15. “It shouldn’t be so new for people on the left and the right to make contacts in the defense of democracy, but it feels like East Germans making contact with West Germans through a hole in the Berlin Wall,” McMullin said.
It hasn’t been easy reaching across the aisle.
Beverly Tuberville, 53, voted Republican in every election until November, when her disgust at Trump drove her out of the GOP. She founded the Oklahoma chapter of Indivisible, which includes several other former Republicans. “The marvelous thing Trump has done is he has opened the eyes of Republicans like me,” Tuberville said.
But she acknowledges it’s been hard to convert others and that, even in deep red Oklahoma, the group remains predominantly comprised of people who see themselves as progressives. “I think there’s a whole slew of Republicans waiting to come over and it’s up to us to reach them,” Tuberville said. “That’s tricky because some of us are so angry that anyone could vote for Trump… We need a bit of time to cool down.”
As a teenager, Carolyn Williamson ran away from home and changed her name to that of a character in a novel by Ayn Rand, an icon to many American conservatives. Like Tuberville, she had voted consistently Republican until last year. She’s joined a local Indivisible group in the affluent, conservative suburbs south of Denver where she lives, and is distressed that more Republicans haven’t crossed the aisle like her.
“I’m not going to keep my mouth shut,” said Williamson, 63, a real estate agent who says she’ll no longer work with Trump supporters.
Destiny Herndon-De la Rosa is no Trump backer but is trying to figure out whom she can work with. She’s the head of New Wave Feminists, the group opposed to abortion rights that was dropped as a women’s march sponsor. She attended the initial march in Washington anyway and is glad she did, but she has generally kept an arm’s length from the resistance since then. There was one time she joined in — making calls to oppose the confirmation of Betsy DeVos, Trump’s nominee for education secretary, in conjunction with a liberal group near her home in Dallas.
“If there was a clear movement — ‘let’s get him to do this’ — I’d get behind it,” said Herndon-De la Rosa. Instead, she’s focusing on making an app that directs women to crisis pregnancy centers.
Lisa McAllister, a former tea party organizer in Oregon who is horrified by Trump, is trying to create a cause for both people like her and liberals. She has launched The Impeachment Project, a collection of Facebook pages for each state, documenting problems with the Trump administration and signing up people to pressure Congress to keep investigating and, if necessary, impeach the president.
Some volunteers maintaining the pages are liberals of the sort she rarely spoke with before. “I’m learning to talk to other people on the other side of the aisle who perhaps I’m at fault for not being as open-minded with,” she said.
While not adopting their progressivism, she’s reaching out. “I’m just interested in Americans in all walks of life setting aside differences to have a sane, morally sound, uncompromised president,” she said.