From Churchill to Lieberman: A Brief History of Political Turncoats

Mike DeWine is just the latest high-profile endorser to have a late change of heart, writes Ben Jacobs.

Mike DeWine joins the esteemed tradition of high-profile endorsers who have undergone a late change of heart.

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Mike DeWine

The defection of former U.S. senator and current Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine from Mitt Romney to Rick Santorum further punctures the aura of inevitability Romney has tried to project. Losing the support of a key Ohio establishment figure undermines that argument and further shows momentum shifting away from the candidate who was presumed to be inevitable only weeks ago. DeWine’s defection places him in an esteemed tradition of backers who changed horses mid-race. Among them:

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Kent Sorenson

A state senator from Iowa, until becoming state chair of Congresswoman Michele Bachmann’s presidential campaign, Sorenson was perhaps best known for his troubled past. Then, less than a week before the Iowa caucuses, Sorenson garnered national attention by shifting his support to Ron Paul—just hours after appearing at a Bachmann event. Bachmann accused Sorenson of taking a bribe to change teams, but with no evidence to back that claim, the resulting brouhaha diminished the standing of both her campaign and Paul’s in Iowa and helped pave the way for Rick Santorum’s eventual victory.

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Charlie Crist

Charlie Crist was endorsing Rudy Giuliani in the 2008 GOP primary—right until he came out for John McCain. The Giuliani campaign had planned its entire strategy for the 2008 primary around the Florida contest, largely on the assumption that they would have the then-popular governor’s backing. Giuliani took his revenge in 2010, pointedly endorsing Marco Rubio in his successful insurgent Senate primary campaign again Crist, a move that helped push the former governor out of the Republican Party as he launched a failed campaign as an independent.

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Joe Lieberman

After losing a primary contest to Ned Lamont and then winning reelection to the U.S. Senate in 2006 as an “independent Democrat” (albeit one with Republican backing), Joe Lieberman still caucused with the Democratic Party and insisted he was a loyal party man in every way, shape, and form. But that didn’t stop him from bring his “Joementum” to John McCain’s presidential campaign. Lieberman was described in the press as McCain’s “wingman” and was even seriously considered as a Republican vice-presidential pick by McCain. After McCain’s loss, Lieberman returned to the Democratic fold, while still keeping up his reputation for occasional apostasies. The defection, though, was a big factor in his decision not to run what would have been a very difficult reelection campaign this year.

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Zell Miller

In 1992, the keynote speaker at the Democratic National Convention, held in Madison Square Garden, savaged George H.W. Bush as a president who “doesn’t get it.” When the Republican National Convention was held in the same venue 12 years later, the keynote speaker praised George W. Bush as the only leader to whom he’d “entrust his family.” On both occasions the speaker was Georgia Democrat Zell Miller. Miller, a “Blue Dog” who served both as governor and senator from the Peach State, still maintained that he was a Democrat after endorsing Bush in 2004. Although Miller campaigned against John Kerry, he continued to caucus as a Democrat until his Senate term expired in 2005. He currently serves as a national co-chair of Newt Gingrich’s presidential campaign.

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Winston Churchill

The British prime minister is remembered best for his steadfast resistance to Nazi Germany during World War II. When Churchill arrived on Downing Street in 1940, he had been in British politics for 40 years and had earned a political reputation as a somewhat erratic character. Although Churchill had started his career as a Conservative, he soon defected to the Liberal Party. But, after the better part of two decades as a Liberal, he returned to the Tories, where he soon established his leadership of a dissident faction of the party. Churchill was quite proud of his political migrations, once noting that “anyone can rat, but it takes a certain amount of ingenuity to re-rat.”