SALEM — The emergence of Donald Trump as the presumptive Republican nominee is causing public discomfort among some within the Oregon GOP.
Trump did pick up support from one prominent Republican Thursday: U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, Oregon’s lone Republican in Congress.
Republicans who picked other candidates in the race early on are finding themselves in a difficult position: back Trump, whose rhetoric is at times contrary to the national party’s platform and the state party’s push to win over Oregon voters, or find someone else to support.
Since the other prominent choices are former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, both Democrats, Oregon Republicans have found themselves in an uncomfortable spot, and some aren’t sure how to move forward.
Walden had been critical of Trump’s candidacy earlier in the campaign but Thursday announced he would back him.
“The American people know the damage done by this administration here at home and around the world,” Walden said in a statement. “The last thing I want is to give the same Obama/Clinton/Sanders philosophy another four years in charge.”
The switch came after Trump met with House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., after Ryan previously said he wasn’t ready to get behind Trump. Ryan still didn’t offer his support, but Walden said he would support the party’s nominee.
“While I may disagree with the rhetoric Mr. Trump uses and some policy positions, he is the better option than Hillary Clinton in the White House,” Walden said. “That’s why all along I’ve said I intend to support the GOP nominee.”
That answer may be a prevailing one for some Republicans. Bend Sen. Tim Knopp said Thursday he’d pick Trump over Clinton if the two front-runners face each other in the general election.
“I was a Rubio supporter,” Knopp said. “When Trump becomes the nominee of the party, I think we would be supportive of him because Hillary will do a lot of damage to the economy.”
But it’s clear not all Republicans are ready to get on board, including some from the conservative and centrist factions of the party.
“I’m not supporting Trump or Clinton,” Rep. Knute Buehler, R-Bend, said in a statement, adding he didn’t have a candidate “for now.”
Buehler has made a name in the Legislature as a centrist Republican with big ambitions. Last year he contemplated a run for governor, a race Republicans have lost for three straight decades and one that requires the support of independents to compete with Democrats who have more registered voters.
Buehler and other moderates teamed up with Ohio Gov. John Kasich as he set up a support network of middle-ground Oregon Republicans before dropping out after losing the Indiana primary this month.
“I’m not satisfied with either choice,” Buehler continued. “I want to grow a bigger, better, more inclusive Republican Party in Oregon that solves real problems for real people. Trump does not further these goals.”
That answer is in line with the push by the state party to regain favor with Oregon voters who haven’t elected a Republican governor since Vic Atiyeh in 1982, and who haven’t elected a Republican to any statewide office since Jack Roberts was elected labor commissioner in 1998.
Oregon Republicans say they’ve pushed to focus on positive messaging to voters, which party chairman Bill Currier hopes will help the party rebound.
“What is it that we offer as a party in terms of solutions, and how do we communicate that effectively to the voters so that they recognize we can turn this state around if we end this one-party rule?” Currier said last month.
But with Trump at the top of the ticket, it may be a difficult distraction, and it’s leading to public splits among Oregon Republicans who are forced to back Trump or the unknown.
Conservatives who say Trump doesn’t reflect true Republican ideals say he’s not their candidate. Some were pulling for Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, whose firebrand conservatism has put him at odds with some congressional Republicans.
“I’ll let you know after the GOP convention and closer to November,” said Rep. Bill Post, R-Keizer, who later added “of course I’m not voting for Clinton.”
Rep. Greg Barreto, of Cove, made a bet with a fellow Republican that, despite making a pact with Kasich to back off Oregon, Cruz would win the state’s primary. Ten minutes later, Barreto said, Cruz suspended his campaign.
“(Trump’s) going to have a tough time just winning the Republican base,” Barreto said. “I think it depends the amount of work that’s done between now and November to try to salvage — not salvage but to try and win back — some of those that he lost just by some of his statements and his attitude.”
Rep. Gene Whisnant, R-Sunriver, said he wasn’t sure what he’d do in the presidential race and added he wanted voters to be more focused on lower-ticket races.
“I can say that Mr. Trump was not my first candidate, but I’m waiting to see what happens now,” Whisnant said, adding, “I’d be very surprised if Oregon doesn’t go Democratic as they always do” in the presidential race. It’s clear that to some Republicans, Trump and the attention on his campaign is an unwanted distraction. “It can be easy to get caught up in the ins and outs of the national political conversation, but that would only distract from the very real issues we are dealing with here in Oregon,” Preston Mann, spokesman for House Republican Leader Mike McLane, said in a statement. “Regardless of who is running for President, there is plenty of work to do here at the local level and that is where our focus will remain.”
— Reporter: 406-589-4347,