Former Tesla exec rallies Republicans to vote for Clinton

LinkedIn co-founder challenges Trump to release tax returns
LinkedIn co-founder challenges Trump to release tax returns

After months of watching Donald Trump edge out his primary opponents and move closer to becoming the Republican presidential nominee, Ricardo Reyes and John Stubbs decided they had to do something.

The pair had worked in President George W. Bush's administration during his first term and felt Trump was co-opting the Republican party and its values.

"John's statement to me was, 'OK, let's go break some sh** " Reyes says. "We were so frustrated."

The night Trump officially accepted the nomination in July, Reyes and Stubbs went public with their solution: R4C16, a grassroots group of Republicans encouraging other Republicans to vote for Clinton.

Since then, the group has attracted endorsements from dozens of notable Republican political figures, including former White House officials, U.S. ambassadors and high-ranking Army officers, who promote the message in op-eds and TV appearances. There are also tens of thousands who follow updates from R4C16 on social media.

At first, the group held weekly conference calls for supporters to strategize about taking down Trump while propping up Republican candidates in the House and Senate -- and commiserating about the election. Eventually they shifted to e-mail lists because the calls grew to be "unwieldy" two hour affairs, according to Reyes.

As the group says in its mission statement, "This year, the threat posed by Donald Trump compels us to consider what many of us never have: supporting the Democratic nominee for President."

Reyes isn't just unusual for being a Republican trying to convince other Republicans to vote against the party's nominee. He's a rarity for doing that from his perch as an executive in Silicon Valley, long viewed as a bastion of liberalism.

republicans for clinton

After serving as a deputy assistant U.S. Trade Representative under Bush, Reyes, now 42, took senior positions at Google (GOOGL), Square (SQ) and most recently Tesla (TSLA), where he was VP of global communications until March. Now he works on R4C16 and advises startups on the side.

"People who knew me were surprised to hear I was Republican, partly because I'm Hispanic," he says of working in the tech industry. "I was viewed as a bit of an odd duck."

While he admits that most people in Silicon Valley "identify with Democrats," Reyes argues that it's "because of this new image that the Republican party has established for itself recently."

Related: Silicon Valley throws big money at Clinton and virtually nothing at Trump

"What you really have in Silicon Valley is latent Libertarians or people who don't know they're Libertarians," he says. "They are fiscally conservative, but they believe in individual freedom and individual responsibility."

Following the launch of R4C16, Reyes says some in the industry quietly reached out to reveal their Republican stripes.

"I've had some people come out to me and admit that they were lax Republicans, but they didn't feel safe talking about it in Silicon Valley necessarily," he says. "But they could get behind some of the more traditional Republican pillars that we're trying to remind people of."

ricardo reyes

It's not hard to see how "Republican" could be a dirty word right now in Silicon Valley.

Trump has called for a boycott of Apple and waged war with Amazon (AMZN) CEO Jeff Bezos. He has also pledged to crack down on trade agreements and potentially make it harder to hire skilled foreign workers.

More than 100 tech power players penned an open letter calling Trump "a disaster for innovation." Top executives from Google, Salesforce (CRM), Zynga (ZNGA) and SolarCity (SCTY) have also become bundlers for Clinton's campaign.

"At the end of the day it doesn't make that big a difference in the average tech person's daily life who is in the White House, and hasn't historically," Reyes says. "But in this case, the positions taken by Trump are so offensive and so anti the spirit of what Silicon Valley represents that people are being a lot more vocal."

Related: Obama's staff is taking over Silicon Valley

Reyes' group, R4C16, recently formed a political action committee to begin raising money. The goal is to educate and sway Republican voters in battleground states in the final weeks before the election.

But the fight to win hearts and minds in his adopted home of Silicon Valley will have to wait.

"If you look at where we can actually impact these elections, California is a pretty steadfast blue state right now. Republicans are a minority," he says. "What you saw happen to California is what could happen to the rest of the Republican party if Trump becomes the leader."

Investing

CNNMoney Sponsors