Haslam’s rejection of Trump roils Tennessee Republicans
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Gov. Bill Haslam’s public rejection of Donald Trump’s presidential aspirations has sent shock waves through the Tennessee Republican party.
Two state members of the Republican National Committee issued a memo this week to remind party leaders that “all hands on deck” are required to ensure a Trump victory in Tennessee. And Rebecca Ann Burke, a party executive committee member from Franklin, said the governor’s announcement that he will write in the name of Trump running mate Mike Pence is “disingenuous and confuses voters.”
The deadline for write-in candidates to have their votes counted passed before the tape of Trump talking about kissing and grabbing women caused Haslam to urge the presidential nominee to step aside.
“I have concerns about the future of our party,” Haslam told reporters this week. “We struggle already with women, with minorities and with young people. And we’re on a track where we’re not helping that.”
But while other Tennessee Republicans have criticized Trump for the video, most have not followed Haslam’s lead in disavowing the GOP nominee. And Haslam said he won’t pressure other Republicans to join him.
“This is uncharted waters,” Haslam said. “I think everybody has to decide, given where we are, what’s the right thing in your heart to do, and what do you think is the right thing for the party.”
Haslam said he’s researching ways he can vote for another Republican for president while also stressing that he will support GOP candidates in every other race on the ballot.
That’s not acceptable to GOP executive committee members like Burke.
“What one says as a publicly elected official of our party matters,” she said in an email. “Our state party bylaws provide for a clear devotion to conservative principles by officials at all levels of our party. There is only one electable presidential candidate who satisfies those principles, and that is Donald Trump.”
The governor’s office was quick to reject any question about whether the titular head of the state Republican Party might be running afoul of bylaws requiring support of all GOP candidates.
State Republican Party Chairman Ryan Haynes also defended Haslam’s decision even though the party remains officially committed to Trump.
“If you look at Gov. Haslam’s record of education reform, cutting taxes, keeping business in the state of Tennessee and acquiring new ones, I don’t think there’s any doubt that he’s a Republican,” Haynes said in a phone interview. “As my staff has looked at the bylaws, there’s no violation at all.”
Haynes said Trump’s overwhelming lead in Tennessee — he was ahead of Democrat Hillary Clinton by double digits in two statewide polls released last week — should allow the party to focus its resources on state legislative races.
“Some would say we should just be supporting Donald Trump only, and I think our state House and Senate candidates would get lost,” Haynes said.
Haynes’ term ends in December and the Trump faction on the executive committee are eager to replace him. But Haynes turned back questions about whether this campaign season is leaving the state Republican Party in turmoil — especially compared with their political rivals.
“The state GOP is not in crisis,” he said. “If we’re in crisis, I don’t know what in the world that means the Democrats are in.”