Donald Trump’s ascension to presumptive Republican presidential nominee is dividing Washington's GOP leaders, candidates and activists.
Donald Trump’s ascension to presumptive Republican presidential nominee is dividing state GOP leaders, candidates and activists.
Some say it’s time to get behind him, others are sticking with the #NeverTrump movement — and some candidates who’ll share a ballot with Trump would just rather not talk about it.
State Republican Party Chairman Susan Hutchison said Wednesday Republican voters should unite to defeat likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
“As this moves into a general-election contest we believe that our Republican is better than their Democrat,” Hutchison said in an interview.
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King County Republican chair Lori Sotelo agreed, saying in a statement “now is the time for our party to coalesce behind our nominee” and “defeat the Clinton machine …”
But a Trump nomination is a nightmare come true for other local Republicans, reeling from decisions by Ted Cruz and John Kasich to end their campaigns this week after Trump’s blowout in the Indiana primary. Some are arguing it’s preferable to cede the White House rather than back Trump.
“I would rather have Republicans lose 1,000 presidential elections than have that disgusting, vile man represent the Republican Party to America and America to the world,” Josh Amato, a former state GOP spokesman who worked on the Kasich campaign, said in a post on Facebook.
Mary Strow, a longtime Republican operative, called the GOP predicament “a real ‘oy vey’ situation,” adding, “I’ll probably just write in John Kasich as a protest. And brace myself for the horror of a Hillary Clinton presidency.”
Top Republican candidates for statewide office — faced with the prospect of sharing the ballot with Trump — have not said whether they’ll vote for him in Washington’s May 24 presidential primary or the November general election.
Bill Bryant, the Republican gubernatorial candidate, has deflected such questions for months. “I don’t like to cross hypothetical bridges,” he said in March.
On Wednesday, as that bridge loomed for real, Bryant said in a voice message to a reporter he’d rather talk about state education funding, salmon recovery and other topics relevant to his challenge to Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee.
“Those are issues germane to the governor’s race,” he said.
Chris Vance, the Republican challenger to Democratic U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, has criticized some of Trump’s statements and proposals, such as a call to temporarily ban Muslims from entering the U.S. But he, too, has not yet said whether he could vote for Trump. He plans to discuss the GOP presidential race at a news conference Thursday.
U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Auburn, said he will work with the next president without saying who he hopes that might be.
“Our democracy is the envy of the world because it is the only system that allows the people to truly pick their representatives and president,” Reichert said in a statement. “We’ve seen over the last several months that the person chosen isn’t always who we expect.”
Reichert called Trump “a joke” in a radio interview last summer.
Secretary of State Kim Wyman, the only Republican statewide elected official in Washington, said it would be inappropriate for her as the state’s chief elections officer to endorse or oppose a presidential candidate.
“I’m going to just do my job and try to make sure people have confidence in the process,” she said.
Some other current and former Republican elected leaders and activists have not been reluctant to voice anti-Trump views.
“I am never going to vote for Trump. I have been saying that for the last three or four months,” said state Rep. Drew Stokesbary, R-Auburn. “To me, ‘never’ means ‘never.’ ”
Former Attorney General Rob McKenna and former U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton have also said they won’t vote for Trump. “He’s an opportunist and a demagogue, and I cannot support him in good conscience,” McKenna said in a recent interview.
The top-of-the-ticket problem for Washington Republicans is not new. The state hasn’t favored a Republican presidential candidate since Ronald Reagan in 1984.
Democrats are already working to tie all GOP candidates to the party’s presidential nominee. “The Republican Party is now officially the party of Trump,” state Democratic Party chair Jaxon Ravens said in a statement, trashing Trump’s “hateful and dangerous remarks about women, Hispanics, and Muslims.”
But Republicans like Stokesbary say they’ll concentrate on their own legislative races and the effort to gain control of the state House in Olympia.
Stokesbary said Washington voters are smart enough to differentiate between the national Republican Party and state races.
State Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, who is part of Trump’s state campaign team, said the campaign wants to unite supporters of Cruz and other candidates, in addition to bringing in new voters to the Republican Party.
But Saul Gamoran, Cruz’s state campaign chairman, said Tuesday he can’t vote for Trump.
Hutchison said some of the raw feelings about Trump are attributable to the rough primary-season campaign and could change in the coming months.
“I would not be realistic if I denied the fact that there are strong negatives associated with Donald Trump,” Hutchison said. But she pointed to polls showing Clinton, too, has high unfavorable ratings.
“It’s now up to Donald Trump to change that around and ensure he can win in November,” she said.