WASHINGTON – Former Rep. Amo Houghton said he will never stop being a Republican – but now, at age 91, he's joined "the resistance" against President Trump.
"Enough already. Every voice, every pen, every opportunity to try to get this guy out of office is a good thing," Houghton told The Buffalo News in a phone interview late last week. "I'm scared for the country."
That's the strongest, but by no means the only, critical statement to be uttered by Republicans who used to serve Western New York in Congress regarding Trump and his much-criticized summit with Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin.
The Buffalo News contacted three former Republican lawmakers last week: Houghton, former Rep. Jack Quinn of Hamburg and former Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds of Clarence. And while their level of criticism varied, all three offered far more harsh reviews of Trump's performance than did the two Republicans who represent the region in the House today, Rep. Chris Collins of Clarence and Rep. Tom Reed of Corning.
"I was perplexed and disappointed" at Trump's performance at the summit, Quinn said.
"The president, I thought, made a statement that he needed to clarify, and he's done that," said Reynolds, who was the least critical of the three but who also stressed that Russia is no friend of the United States.
Houghton, by far, was the most critical, saying there's only one thing that can explain Trump's coziness with the Russians.
"If there's anything obvious, it's that they've got something on him," Houghton said. "He's doing something for somebody."
Houghton even drew a comparison to an extreme example from history – the rise of Adolf Hitler.
As a World War II veteran, Houghton said he worries about parallels he sees now and what he heard from his grandfather, Alanson B. Houghton, who served as ambassador to Germany in the 1920s.
Back then, Houghton's grandfather heard Germans justifying Adolf Hitler's rise to power by arguing that he would strengthen the economy.
"They just didn't pick up the signals" that Hitler was a totalitarian, Houghton said.
Now, Houghton hears some Republicans making excuses for Trump just as Germans did for Hitler.
Trump has repeatedly derided the media as "the enemy of the people" and has routinely criticized his own Justice Department for its probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
In addition, Trump has made more than 3,200 false or misleading claims since becoming president, according to the Washington Post, and that worries Houghton.
"The thing that bothers me so much is that words all of a sudden don't mean anything anymore," Houghton said."I feel things are slipping away bit by bit."
"We're all going to suffer if we don't pull ourselves together," he added.
Houghton is Trump's opposite in many ways. The former chairman of Corning Inc., Houghton served a Southern Tier district from 1987 to 2005, winning a reputation as one of Washington's warmest and wittiest politicians.
Concerned about deteriorating relations between Democrats and Republicans, Houghton launched an effort to boost civility in the House in the mid-1990s. And now, two decades later, Houghton said he sees far too little civility from the man in the White House.
Meanwhile, Quinn offered a pointed, but more muted, review of Trump's performance at the summit with Putin.
Quinn said it was wrong for Trump to give Putin's denial of election interference as much credit as the information America's intelligence agencies dug up to confirm that Russia had meddled in the election.
"I'm certain that I've said the wrong thing from time to time, but to do it on the world stage, with the stakes as high as they are in this case, I was perplexed and disappointed," said Quinn, 67, who served in Congress from 1993 to 2005. "I'm hopeful that he can recover from it."
Asked about his view of the nation's intelligence agencies, Quinn said he has been away from Congress for a long time but that in his experience, "the folks in those departments are career professionals. Everything they do is well-vetted and well-discussed. There's no reason to believe otherwise."
Asked about Trump's overall performance as president, Quinn said: "I think it's uneven. At times he's charming, but other things are troubling."
Above all, Quinn criticized Trump for further dividing the country.
"I think his modus operandi is to strike out at the people who disagree with him," Quinn said. "But my experience is it's much more difficult to get things done when you do that."
Similarly, Reynolds said he comes from "the old school of politicians" that tried to work with their opponents to strike deals and get things done.
"There's no question this president has a style of his own," Reynolds said. "The country is going to have to get used to his style of negotiating. Republicans accept that, and Democrats don't."
Reynolds added, though, that he accepts the U.S. intelligence community's conclusion that Russia tried to influence America's 2016 presidential election.
"I do not look at Russia as a friend," said Reynolds, 67, who represented a suburban-rural district in Congress from 1999 to 2009. "I look at Russia as a potential foe. While there's certainly ground to be gained through negotiation, we need to have a vigilance."
All of those comments stand in contrast to those of Collins and Reed, who both went on national television last week to defend Trump in the wake of his summit with Putin.
"I think this comes back to President Trump's focus on keeping America safe and making the world a safer place," Collins told CNN.
Meanwhile, Reed told MSNBC that he accepts Trump's acknowledgement that he misspoke after the summit with Putin.
But the former members of Congress were in no mood to defend Trump. And while neither Quinn nor Reynolds were willing to go as far as Houghton in criticizing Trump, Quinn stressed that Houghton's comments are important.
"To see a gentleman with the impeccable manners of Amo Houghton to take this kind of position is a reminder of how serious this thing is," Quinn said.