As Washington Republicans gathered for precinct caucuses Saturday, some supporters of Donald Trump, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz took time to explain what they see in their candidates.
Donald Trump may have emerged as the GOP presidential front-runner, but Republicans meeting Saturday for local precinct caucuses in Washington state had vastly conflicting views on the tough-talking New York real-estate mogul.
Unlike in past years, there was no presidential straw poll at the GOP caucuses, and the gatherings did not figure in awarding Washington’s 44 party delegates to candidates. Those won’t be up for grabs until the May 24 primary.
That kept turnout relatively light and the atmosphere low-key, with the main order of business electing delegates to attend upcoming legislative district and county conventions. Still, with a GOP primary being held Saturday in South Carolina and Democratic caucuses in Nevada, caucusgoers in Washington were eager to talk about the unfolding presidential race as they took the opportunity to declare their candidate preferences on delegate-election paperwork.
In Redmond, among the 50 or so gathered at the Veterans of Foreign Wars hall near the Microsoft campus, most identified as supporting one of Trump’s rivals, including Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.
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Paige Norman, a caterer, nanny and mother of four, said she preferred Dr. Ben Carson, the soft-spoken retired neurosurgeon.
“I think that he is a well-educated man. I think that he has got some world experience. I like that he’s pro-life. I like that he’s a family man,” Norman said. She said Cruz would be a second choice.
As for Trump, Norman said although he’s a successful businessman, she doesn’t believe he’d be a great choice to lead the country. “I think he’s very emotional. I think he tends to react first and think later.”
Hank Myers, a member of the Redmond City Council, was more blunt. “Trump, to me, is a clown,” he said.
A self-described political moderate, Myers said he backs Kasich and yearns for the days when Republicans were about “limited government and fiscal responsibility,” and “all that other stuff” — meaning social issues such as abortion — didn’t matter so much.
Asked whether he could bring himself to vote for Trump if he winds up as the GOP nominee, Myers didn’t want to think about it. “Fortunately, we’re only 150 miles from Canada,” he joked.
Thomas Michon was an exception at the Redmond caucus. While he said Rubio or Cruz might be closer to his political views, Michon has been drawn to Trump’s bluntness and his willingness to take on the Washington, D.C., establishment.
“I ultimately think at this point the government needs a kick in the pants,” said Michon.
Trump’s anti-immigrant statements bother him, but Michon said he appreciates that Trump is unafraid to be politically incorrect. “Nobody believes what Donald Trump says to the Republican base,” he added, suggesting the GOP front-runner would swing more moderate in a general-election matchup.
Some at the Redmond hall were disaffected backers of Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, who recently suspended his struggling presidential campaign, leaving them unsure if they can support anyone else in the GOP field.
“At this point, I don’t have any other choices,” said Paul Welton, a precinct-committee officer.
“I can’t support any of these guys,” said Matt Nordstrand, another Paul supporter who called Trump “the closest thing to a fascist we’ve had in years.”
Like some other Paul backers, Nordstrand got involved in the Republican Party to support Paul’s father, former Texas U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, who ran for president in 2008 and 2012. Nordstrand said he was in some ways attracted now to Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders for what he sees as the Vermont senator’s noninterventionist foreign-policy views. “My highest priorities are peace and liberty,” Nordstrand said.
In Snohomish County, there were more Trump fans evident at Lynnwood High School, where more than 40 residents gathered.
Some remained undecided about their preferences, but a sampling of others found support for Trump, Cruz and Rubio.
Several, including Wen Hay of Bothell, said they supported Trump because he could fund his campaign with his own wealth and be less swayed than other candidates by special interests.
“I find his political frankness refreshing. I appreciate he doesn’t bother with being politically correct,” said Allison Sjoberg of Lynnwood. Sjoberg said she also likes Trump’s emphasis on securing U.S. borders and his support for the military. “I’m the daughter of two veterans,” she said.
Bethany Tate of Edmonds said she had initially favored Paul and Carson. With Paul out of the race and Carson’s chances seeming to fade, she said Cruz was closest to her ideology. But she is leaning toward Trump because of his electability.
“When it comes down to it, especially with undecided voters in the general election, Donald Trump holds a better position to capture the majority of votes between a Democrat and Republican,” Tate said.
Others weren’t so sure.
John Slocum of Lynnwood believes Rubio has a superior grasp on a range of issues. “Trump has the ability to animate people and infuriate them. Whether he’s electable is probably a good question. It’s difficult to imagine how the country would be run” under him, Slocum said.
Christine Dillon of Lynnwood said she preferred Rubio’s views on international security, border protection, stimulating the economy and reducing U.S. debt. She called Trump an “excellent candidate,” particularly in his appeal to independent voters. But she said she didn’t appreciate his “more moderate social views.”
Cruz is the best candidate on national security, illegal immigration and upholding the Constitution, said Peter Hay of Bothell. But Hay said he’d support Trump if he were the nominee. “I love that he’s in the race and bringing up issues that make people talk about things they’re normally afraid to talk about,” Hay said.
Not a single Republican interviewed at the Redmond or Lynnwood events expressed support for Jeb Bush, brother of former President George W. Bush. Later in the day, following a poor finish in South Carolina, Bush suspended his campaign.
Attendance figures were not available Saturday, but Susan Hutchison, chairwoman of the state Republican Party, had estimated that about 28,000 people would take part.