Trump's ex-defense chief says he won't back Trump in 2024

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Former Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Tuesday he would not vote for Donald Trump in 2024 if the Republican former president runs again, saying Trump lacked integrity and would not put the United States ahead of his own personal interests.

Asked if he would vote for Trump in 2024, Esper told MSNBC, "No," making him one of the first Trump Cabinet members to openly reject their former boss for another White House run.

"Any elected official needs to meet some basic criteria: They need to be able to put country over self. They need to have a certain level of integrity and principle. They need to be able to reach across the aisle and bring people together and unite the country. Donald Trump doesn't meet those marks for me," he said.

Instead, the former defense chief urged his political party seek new leadership and focus on four core issues — a strong military, lower taxes, deregulation and conservative judges — before midterm congressional elections in November and the 2024 presidential contest.

Trump, who lost his re-election bid to Democrat Joe Biden in 2020, has not declared his candidacy but has repeatedly said his supporters will be "happy."

Trump faces multiple investigations, including over his company's financial dealings, his handling of classified documents and his role in his supporters' attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 in an effort to block Biden's win.

Other Republicans, including Trump's former Attorney General Bill Barr and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell — who have both drawn Trump's ire – have said they would back the party's presidential pick in 2024 even if it is Trump.

Esper, who like Barr is selling a book detailing his time in the Trump administration, has called Trump a threat to democracy in recent media interviews. Trump, in response, called Esper "weak and totally ineffective."

(Reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Doina Chiacu and Nick Zieminski)

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