DES MOINES | A GOP state senator from Northwest Iowa announced Tuesday he has suspended his Republican Party membership to protest what he called "the racist remarks and judicial jihad" by presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump.
Sen. David Johnson, 65, R-Ocheyedan, said he changed his voter registration from Republican to no party on Iowa's primary election day Tuesday, although he added his independent status could be temporary depending on how the 2016 campaign unfolds.
"I will not stand silent if the party of Lincoln and the end of slavery buckles under the racial bias of a bigot," Johnson said in a statement that he indicated was a reference to Trump.
Johnson noted that the New York real-estate billionaire and reality-TV show host has come under intense criticism for repeatedly attacking a federal judge -- born in Indiana and of Mexican descent -- who is overseeing a civil case against the former Trump University. Citing the judge's ethnicity, Trump has claimed he cannot get a fair hearing and has demanded the judge recuse himself.
"The man is not qualified to be president. This was it. That was the last straw for me. We don't need a bigot as president and that's exactly what he is. Why is it that people can't see that, especially the top leaders in our party?" Johnson said in an interview.
The state senator said Trump's march through the GOP presidential selection process "reminds me a little bit about what I was taught about 1930s Germany. That's a strong comparison, but he isn't a serious candidate, added Johnson who placed himself both in the "Never Trump" and "Never Clinton" camps for the 2016 election cycle.
At least one GOP county chairman in Johnson's district took issue with his remarks and called for him to give up his Senate seat.
"Being a Republican is about standing up for a certain set of values and convictions, not about being step for step with Trump," Will Jones, GOP chairman from Palo Alto County, said. "If the senator is ready to support a Democrat in the White House, defraud the voters who elected him to be something he isn't any more, he should resign."
Mary Beltman, GOP chair in Johnson's home county of Osceola, said Johnson did not share with her in advance his plans to leave the party.
"I do not always agree with every Republican, nor do I always agree with everything said or done, by every Republican," Beltman said. "I do believe in continuing to work hard to strengthen our country, to strengthen the core tenets of conservative constitutional government."
Johnson, who backed former Texas Gov. Rick Perry and later endorsed business leader Carly Fiorina in the run-up to Iowa's Feb. 1 GOP caucuses, said national and state Republican leaders "have been too timid and should go further in condemning Mr. Trump."
"House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, as well as Republican members of Iowa's congressional delegation, should immediately and emphatically withdraw their support for Mr. Trump," he added.
Johnson said his no-party status will be unchanged until next month's GOP national convention in Cleveland, Ohio, plays out.
"If Mr. Trump is the nominee, he becomes the standard bearer for a party that's on the verge of breaking apart," Johnson contended in his statement. "He simply cannot unify the GOP. If there is a profound split, I'll gladly re-join Republicans who are dedicated to equality and justice for all, and let Mr. Trump lead his supporters over the cliff."
Johnson, who is not up for re-election this year, noted that he has broken with his fellow Republicans in the Iowa Legislature as well as Republican Gov. Terry Branstad on several issues in the recent past. He said he has argued strongly for legislative oversight of the governor's initiative to privatize Medicaid and for funding the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust, as well as warning against shortchanging education, law enforcement and the judicial system.
The Ocheyedan Republican said he was "very happy" with his decision to suspend his party membership. "I don't have any second thoughts. I have no regrets about that. We'll see what happens along the way," he added.
"There are consequences to the decision to suspend, for now, my Republican registration. I am fully aware of that," Johnson said. "As I have for the past 18 years, I will put a high priority on constituent service. Many of the voters who elected me are supporting Mr. Trump. I respect that, but disagree that he is qualified to lead the nation and the free world."
Senate Republican leader Bill Dix of Shell Rock declined comment on Johnson's announcement and GOP state chairman Jeff Kaufmann could not be reached for comment.
Johnson -- who represents Iowa Senate District 1 including Clay, Dickinson, Lyon, Osceola and Palo Alto counties -- is in the middle of his fourth Senate term. He previously served four years in the Iowa House.