Donald Trump may be the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, but Washington state’s GOP convention awarded 40 out of 41 elected delegate slots to Ted Cruz.
PASCO — Donald Trump has all but sewn up the GOP presidential nomination. But as thousands of Washington Republicans converged on a rodeo arena for their state convention over the weekend, the gathering didn’t look like a political party yet united behind a Trump-led ticket.
Red Ted Cruz T-shirts outnumbered Trump ball caps on the convention floor at the TRAC Center, and supporters of the Texas senator won 40 of the 41 elected delegate slots for the Republican National Convention in Cleveland this summer — even though Cruz has dropped out of the race.
While GOP leaders stressed unity to defeat Democrats, including Hillary Clinton and Gov. Jay Inslee, some marquee statewide Republican candidates were declaring at the convention that they couldn’t vote for Trump — or were trying desperately to avoid the subject.
“The presidential race is its own deal,” GOP gubernatorial candidate Bill Bryant said after a Friday-night speech in which he didn’t mention Trump, but drew enthusiastic cheers as he vowed mass firings of ineffective Inslee-administration bureaucrats.
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As he has all year, Bryant steadfastly refused to say whether he’d support Trump, telling reporters “the only people who ask me about it are you guys.”
Meanwhile, Chris Vance, a former state GOP chairman and current candidate for U.S. Senate, spent portions of a town-hall meeting Thursday explaining why he won’t support the likely GOP presidential nominee.
“Do you think I enjoy this? Not supporting the nominee? It’s unpleasant,” Vance said as some Republicans criticized him for failing to get behind Trump.
The state convention, which drew more than 1,600 state delegates to Pasco’s TRAC Center, was the final step in electing 41 delegates to the national GOP convention, where the GOP presidential nominee will be formally nominated. State GOP Chairwoman Susan Hutchison and two other party leaders also will head to Cleveland in July as automatic delegates.
The disciplined Cruz crowd in Pasco left even Trump’s state campaign chairman, state Sen. Don Benton, unable to nab a national delegate slot. Benton, R-Vancouver, ran unsuccessfully for at-large and congressional-district delegate positions.
Cruz backers voted in a slate of their own preferred delegates to send to Cleveland.
“The majority are taking a wait-and-see attitude” on Trump, said Saul Gamoran, Cruz’s state campaign chairman, who has also said he cannot vote for the New York billionaire.
Gamoran, who was elected a national delegate, said “constitutional conservatives” who backed Cruz are not looking to make trouble at this summer’s national convention. But he said they want to ensure their voices are heard as the party develops its platform and rules.
Benton waved off the dominance of Cruz forces as largely meaningless. All of Washington’s delegates are bound by party rules to cast national-convention ballots based on the results of Tuesday’s presidential primary, he noted.
With Cruz out of the race, Benton said he expects Trump to continue an unobstructed march to the nomination. Trump’s organization has focused instead on seeking record turnout for the Washington primary. As of Friday, more than 1 million ballots had been returned.
Benton acknowledged frustration with some Cruz supporters who seemed to believe the Texas senator was still a viable presidential option. He and other Trump backers distributed copies of a Cruz campaign letter to the Federal Election Commission saying Cruz was no longer a candidate.
Some longtime GOP leaders urged the crowd to set aside differences.
“The alternative is at least four years of Hillary,” said former U.S. Rep. Doc Hastings of Pasco, adding the next president could appoint three Supreme Court justices. “If that doesn’t frighten you, I don’t know what else will.”
In contrast with the recent headline-grabbing chaos at the Democratic state convention in Nevada, the Washington GOP gathering stayed largely civil, though with periodic arguments breaking out between Trump and Cruz backers.
“The majority in here”
Some Trump supporters were irritated by the unstoppable Cruz delegate slates, which rendered a stream of 30-second speeches by more than 100 delegate candidates largely moot on Saturday.
Vincent Marcy, of Vancouver, took his time at the microphone to rip up a copy of the Cruz slate, drawing some boos and laughs from the crowd.
“Those who are not wearing red shirts are feeling cheated,” Marcy said afterward. “They’re the majority in here, but we’re the majority out there.”
Amid talk of Republican unity, pockets of the “Never Trump” movement remained on the convention floor. The Cruz supporters said they won’t unite behind a man they view as unprincipled and dangerous.
Steven Wilson, a delegate from Normandy Park wearing a star-spangled cowboy hat, said he will write someone in on the November ballot rather than vote for Trump, whom he described as a narcissist “who’s flip-flopped so many times you don’t know whether you can trust him.”
Standing next to him, Alex Binz, a teacher from Kirkland, said he is worried enough about Trump’s “fascist” streak to actually vote for Hillary Clinton. “God help me,” he said, rolling his eyes and leaning backward at the previously unthinkable prospect.
At least with Clinton, Binz said, you’d know what you are getting. “One of them is crazy in an expected way. The other is crazy in a totally unexpected and totalitarian way.”
Walking past as Binz continued his anti-Trump spiel, Ted DeVol, of Enumclaw shook his head in disgust. “So vote for Hillary?”
DeVol said he, too, was a Cruz supporter but is ready to board the Trump train. He can’t understand why people like Alex Binz won’t join him. “He’s an idiot,” he said. “I’m a realist,” he said.
Sure, Trump shoots off his mouth, DeVol said. “He says stupid stuff just to pull people’s chains,” he said. But “this country’s so far sideways now,” he can’t stand the thought of Clinton as president. “Hillary is a criminal.”
Other Cruz supporters were coming to grips, to varying degrees with Trump.
“I don’t like him as a person,” said Gail Crabtree, of Federal Way. But, she said, “he’s better than the opposition.”
Paul Hess, of Kenmore, said despite Cruz’s departure, he has no hesitation. “I’m going to support the nominee. … We’re here to unify the party,” he said. “That’s not always easy.”
The slate of national delegates elected by the Cruz supporters included former GOP Senate and gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi, who said he’ll have no problem supporting Trump.
Former state Supreme Court Justice Richard Sanders also won a delegate position, but said he’s still waiting to hear more from Trump.
Although he left the Legislature, Hunt remained an active Cruz volunteer and was rewarded with a spot on the Cruz delegate slate.
Benton said he thinks Trump will win over more and more Republicans — as well as independents — as the election year moves on and hard feelings over the primary season subside. He hopes even die-hard Cruz backers will come around.
“You’re not going to defeat Hillary if you have a divided house,” Benton said.