From Joe Scarborough to Ronald Reagan, 12 Public Figures Who Changed Political Parties — Including a Few Surprises
The senior U.S. senator from Massachusetts is one of the best-known Democrats in the country, but until the 1990s Warren was a Republican. She told The Daily Beast in 2011 that she was part of the GOP because she initially felt it was the best party for business.
"I was a Republican because I thought that those were the people who best supported markets. I think that is not true anymore," Warren said. "I was a Republican at a time when I felt like there was a problem that the markets were under a lot more strain. It worried me whether or not the government played too activist a role."
The popular crooner may not have been a politician, but he was a prominent political endorser who made a famed swing from left to right later in life. He began campaigning for Democratic politicians in the '40s, beginning with President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. In the early '60s he was one of John F. Kennedy's most vocal supporters, arranging his presidential gala following his election.
But by the following decade he made a shift toward the right, supporting Richard Nixon in 1972, and eventually Ronald Reagan in 1980, donating $4 million to his campaign. After Reagan was elected, Sinatra organized his presidential gala, just as he had done for Kennedy in 1961.
She's one of the most prominent faces in the Democratic party today — and of course represented the party during the 2016 presidential election — but decades ago Clinton was a Republican. She campaigned for Richard Nixon as a teenager, and upon arriving at Wellesley College was elected president of the school's Young Republicans Club. She later campaigned for Barry Goldwater in 1964.
But the Illinois native had a change of heart in the early '70s, when issues like the Vietnam War propelled Clinton to make a switch to the Democratic side.
Sanders is the Senate's longest-serving Independent — but he came pretty close to being the Democratic nominee for president in 2016. He won 23 primaries and caucuses, all the while not being an official member of the Democratic party. He was even appointed to the Democratic leadership team in the Senate while still serving out his term as an Independent.
Perry, the former Republican governor of Texas and current Secretary of Energy in the Trump Administration, was a Democrat until 1988. He was elected to the Texas House of Representatives in '84 as a member of that party, and even campaigned for Al Gore in the '88 primaries.
He later told the Austin-American Statesman that he "came to my senses" in the 1988 general election, voting for eventual President George H.W. Bush. As for the man he once supported, Gore, Perry said: "I certainly got religion, I think he's gone to hell."
The latest addition to the party swap club, Scarborough announced his intention to leave the Republican party and become an Independent during an appearance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert alongside his Morning Joe co-host (and fiancée) Mika Brzezinski. He said that it was the GOP's failure to condemn Trump's more unsavory statements that made him lose faith in the party.
“Time and time and time again they turn the other way,” he said. “And they’re doing the same thing now. And it’s actually disgusting. And you have to ask yourself, ‘What exactly is the Republican Party willing to do? How far are they willing to go? How much of this country and our values are they willing to sell out?’ ”
In 2009, Spencer shocked his colleagues and constituents when he announced he was becoming a Democrat after serving 28 years as a Republican in the Senate. Specter cited a growing distance between himself and the party as the reason for the switch. "As the Republican Party has moved farther and farther to the right, I have found myself increasingly at odds with the Republican philosophy and more in line with the philosophy of the Democratic Party," he said, according to CNN.
However, it also seemed he had political motivations, adding: "I have found that the prospects for winning a Republican primary are bleak." He ultimately ended up losing the Democratic nomination for his Senate seat. Ironically, the Democratic nominee lost to his Republican challenger, Pat Toomey, according to The New York Times.
Most Americans would recognize Chafee's name from his short-lived Democratic run for the presidency in 2015. But when he was first appointed to the Senate in 1999, following father John Chafee's death, he served as a Republican. He won the seat outright the next year, still as a Republican.
Although he was a Republican in name during his years in the Senate, Chafee often didn't act like one. He fought against many of President George W. Bush's policies, and was the only Republican senator to vote against the United States invasion of Iraq. He remained part of the GOP for the rest of his time in the Senate, but when he left and ran for governor of Rhode Island, he did so as an Independent. He formally joined the Democratic party in 2013, but now says he's open to other affiliations, according to US News.
The former Secretary of State under President George W. Bush was a Democrat until the late '70s, voting for Jimmy Carter — the very man whose actions would later convince her to swing right. Rice, who was then an assistant political science professor at Stanford, switched her affiliation from Democrat to Republican after she was displeased by Carter's time in the White House.
She later revealed at the 2000 Republican Convention that her father was also a Republican, which further inspired her choice. "My father joined our party because the Democrats in Jim Crow Alabama of 1952 would not register him to vote," she said, according to Time. "The Republicans did."
The former businessman has been all over the political spectrum. He started out as a Democrat and remained a member of the party for the majority of his life. That changed when he decided to run for Mayor of New York City in 2001, changing his affiliation to Republican.
He remained a Republican until 2007, when he decided to become an Independent. "As a political independent, I will continue to work with those in all political parties to find common ground, to put partisanship aside and to achieve real solutions to the challenges we face," he said of the change, according to The New York Times. He remains an Independent today, although he did endorse Hillary Clinton at the Democratic National Convention in 2016.
There's few Republicans more revered in the party than Reagan, but he wasn't always the idealized Republican — or a Republican at all. Reagan was a Democrat until 1962, and once served as a union leader (for the Screen Actors Guild), a job traditionally associated with Democrats. Throughout the '50s, however, he moved further and further to the right, eventually becoming a Republican in 1962.
He famously said of his switch, "I didn't leave the Democratic Party. The party left me," according to Time. By 1964, he was campaigning for Barry Goldwater, and the following year was running for governor of California as a Republican.
HAWAII REP. BETH FUKUMOTO
Scarborough left the Republican party after criticizing party leaders for not condemning many of Trump's controversial actions. But there is a onetime Republican who has done just that: Fukumoto, a member of the Hawaii House of Representatives and the state's former House Minority Leader. She criticized Trump at the Honolulu Women's March, and after facing pressure to give up her Minority Leader post, she decided to leave the Republican party altogether.
"As a Japanese-American whose grandparents had to destroy all of their Japanese artifacts and items and bury them in the backyard to avoid getting taken and interned, how could I not have said anything?" Fukumoto said. "And how could my party have not said anything?" She's said she hopes to join the Democratic party and continue to represent her district in Oahu.