COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Divisions among Republicans over pledging allegiance to GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump are trickling down to state parties, where leaders are grappling with firings, resignations and insubordination since the release of a lewd and sexually charged video of Trump talking about kissing and groping women.
The tensions are cutting both ways, with party staffers lashing out for and against Trump.
With about two weeks until the election between Trump and his main rival, Democrat Hillary Clinton, it’s another sign of the civil war Trump’s candidacy has sparked inside his party that could have harmful long-term effects.
GOP operatives say relationships and systems that took decades to build are eroding as a result of the feud. Trump has attacked Republicans fleeing his campaign, calling them “self-righteous hypocrites” and “turncoats” and threatening retaliation.
After the 2005 video’s release two weeks ago, Trump denounced and severed ties with Ohio Republican Party Chairman Matt Borges, who had vocalized his reservations about Trump. The state party’s executive director then launched a Twitter account mocking Trump’s state campaign director.
Borges, an ally of Republican Gov. John Kasich, who ran against Trump in their party’s primary and doesn’t support him, quickly ordered the account pulled down. He dubbed it a “bad decision” by the executive director, who remains on the payroll, and he has since pledged his vote to Trump.
In Michigan, a grassroots leader was removed from her elected position at the state GOP after she refused to back Trump. Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel said Wendy Day had an obligation under party bylaws to support the nominee; Day said her conscience wouldn’t let her.
Even college chapters are divided.
After the Georgia Association of College Republicans released a letter saying it wouldn’t bind individual chapters to promote Trump’s candidacy, some chapters denounced the organization in his defense.
A Republican elector in the state had resigned in August under pressure from the state party. Baoky Vu’s departure came after he made known he wouldn’t vote for Trump and may not support him in the electoral college. Georgia is among 21 states that don’t require electors chosen by political parties to back their party’s candidate.
“I have not lost faith in who we stand for as a party and will continue to fight for those who uphold our Constitution and our shared values,” Vu said in a statement issued with the party.
In Oklahoma, Brett Farley expressed just such a loss of faith in the GOP as he resigned as the state party’s communications director the day after the “Access Hollywood” video’s release Oct. 7.
“That I am not changing my party affiliation is a mere matter of unfortunate circumstance in that it is already too late to reregister prior to the November election,” he wrote in a blog post. “Moreover, Donald Trump’s defeat at the hands of the weakest Democrat challenger in a generation is almost certain; therefore, I hold hope that we might find a collective dignity with which to begin picking up the pieces from this electoral wreckage to rebuild the party of Lincoln and of Reagan.”
Alaska’s two U.S. senators resigned their honorary posts at the state party after the video was released. Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan denounced Trump and said he should step aside.
The state GOP in Tennessee reeled last week after Republican Gov. Bill Haslam announced he wouldn’t support Trump but instead would write in the name of his running mate, Indiana GOP Gov. Mike Pence.
Governors like Haslam, Kasich and Pence serve as the titular heads of their state parties, which traditionally has meant they unleash the state party’s staff, volunteer army and financial resources on behalf of the nominee. The Republican National Committee also sends staffers to various states to work with the presidential effort; Ohio’s was removed after a disagreement with the Trump campaign.
Following Haslam’s Trump announcement, two Tennessee members of the RNC issued a memo reminding party leaders they need “all hands on deck” to elect Trump.
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.”
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