Somewhere amid Donald Trump's open invitation to Russia to hack into American servers and his public criticism of a dead soldier's family, John Bellinger III decided that enough was enough.
A former national security official under president George W. Bush, Mr. Bellinger had viewed Mr. Trump's candidacy with alarm for months. But the Republican nominee's statements at the end of July left Mr. Bellinger aghast.
Within days, he had drafted and circulated a letter, the final version of which was made public on Monday. It carries the signatures of 50 former senior officials in Republican administrations going back to president Richard Nixon and represents an extraordinary show of no confidence in their party's nominee. The officials all vowed not to vote for Mr. Trump, whom they described as "dangerous" and potentially "the most reckless President in American history."
The letter is the latest sign of a growing revolt against Mr. Trump from within the Republican Party. On Monday, Susan Collins, a Republican senator from Maine, announced she would not vote for Mr. Trump. Many of the party's candidates running for the U.S. Congress are refusing to appear with him; one such campaign has even aired ads pledging to "stand up" to Mr. Trump.
But it is among the community of Republicans who specialize in national security, defence and foreign policy that Mr. Trump has provoked something approaching horror. Without a moment's hesitation, Mr. Trump has jettisoned the main tenets of the party's traditional approach to foreign policy and trampled on international norms.
Mr. Trump has expressed skepticism about the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, questioning whether the U.S. should come to the defence of its member countries. He has advocated torture and called for the U.S. military to kill the families of terrorists. He has flattered Russian President Vladimir Putin and revealed an ignorance of the basic structure of the U.S. nuclear arsenal.
Unlike domestic policy, national security and foreign affairs are areas where the president can exercise considerable sway without consulting Congress, Mr. Bellinger noted. "The president can personally affect the safety of the country by things that he alone does," he said. "There is a certain seriousness, decorum, restraint and discipline required."
Mr. Trump has shown that he is "incapable of restraining himself," said Mr. Bellinger, who served as a top legal adviser to the U.S. State Department and National Security Council. "It is deeply concerning to these officials."
On Tuesday, for instance, Mr. Trump suggested that if Hillary Clinton were elected president, then "Second Amendment" enthusiasts could take unspecified action to thwart her from appointing judges who favour gun restrictions. His campaign later issued a statement saying that the remark was not a suggestion to engage in violence.
Mr. Trump's propensity to speak and act impetuously was one of several qualities cited as dangerous by the Republican former officials in their open letter. Among the other signatories are Michael Chertoff and Tom Ridge, two former secretaries of homeland security, Michael Hayden, a former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Robert Zoellick, the former president of the World Bank, and John Negroponte, the first director of national intelligence. Some of those involved with the letter wanted to wait to release it, Mr. Bellinger said, but Mr. Trump's recent statements galvanized them to act immediately.
Mr. Trump, for his part, dismissed the letter in a statement as a "politically motivated" move by the "failed Washington elite looking to hold onto their power." The people who signed it deserve "the blame for making the world such a dangerous place."
But the criticism of Mr. Trump goes well beyond those attached to the letter. Michael Morell, a former acting director of the CIA, publicly announced his intention to vote for Ms. Clinton last week on the grounds that Mr. Trump represents a threat to the country's safety. Last Wednesday, John Noonan, a former nuclear weapons officer in the U.S. Air Force and a Republican national security adviser, railed against "the idea of a narcissist walking around with nuclear authenticators."
Mr. Noonan said in an interview with The Globe that Mr. Trump's blithe remarks about nuclear weapons have been especially galling. Mr. Trump has suggested, for instance, that such weapons could be used against the Islamic State, or that Japan and South Korea might need to develop their own nuclear arms.
"What's most appalling is his indifference to learning the ins and outs of national security and what these statements mean and what the consequences are," Mr. Noonan said. "He just seems to be utterly clueless."
Despite his distaste for Mr. Trump, Mr. Noonan says he cannot bring himself vote for Ms. Clinton. The 50 former Republican officials who signed the open letter said that many of them also had doubts about the Democratic nominee. Mr. Bellinger is one of them. The controversy over her use of a private e-mail server raises questions about her judgment, he said. But he also acknowledged Ms. Clinton's deep experience in the national security and foreign policy arena. "And one would hope that she will have learned from her mistakes," he said.
As the election draws nearer, national security experts said that their goal is to remind voters of what's at stake. "The American people are choosing a commander-in-chief in 90 days," said Mr. Noonan. "They have to consider things like the responsibilities of office." And Mr. Trump, he asserted, "doesn't seem to give a damn about those responsibilities."