Buehler on Trump

Rep. Knute Buehler, R-Bend, has made statements critical of President Trump over the past three years. Some examples:

May 18, 2017, Facebook post calling for a general counsel to investigate Russia allegations:

“As a Republican, I feel a special obligation to speak out against the actions of the President of my Party — even a candidate I didn’t support. Being inexperienced, ill-tempered and even incompetent are not crimes, but impeding or obstructing justice is, so we need to fully understand what President Trump has done.”

Oct. 8, 2016, statement calling on GOP to dump Trump after release of “Access Hollywood” tapes of Trump bragging about sexually harassing women. Buehler said he could not vote for his party’s nominee:

“Trump is a disgrace to the Republican Party and to our democracy. It’s time for national Republican leaders to take action to replace Donald Trump as the nominee of the Republican Party.”

Aug. 9, 2015, Facebook post shortly after Trump announced he would be a candidate:

“For Republicans to win nationally and here in Oregon, we need a Presidential nominee and GOP that is positive, inclusive and hopeful.”

The race for Oregon governor has an unexpected player: President Donald Trump.

While the president has traveled in recent months to rally supporters in key states during the 2018 election season, he won’t be coming to Oregon.

Polls show Trump is more likely to drive undecided voters away than rally them to Republican candidates.

The president is an added burden that Republican challenger Knute Buehler doesn’t need in his attempt to become the first Republican elected governor since 1982.

“I have been critical of the president since he announced his candidacy, and did not vote for him,” Buehler said in a recent interview.

If elected, Buehler said he doesn’t plan on changing his tune.

“As governor, no matter who controls the White House or Congress, I will speak up and defend Oregon’s interests,” Buehler said. “I have no problem speaking my mind, bucking my own party and going my own way.”

Trump lost Oregon to Democrat Hillary Clinton by 11 percentage points in the November 2016 election. According to the Morning Consult tracking poll, just 36 percent of Oregonians approved of Trump’s job performance in its August poll. That’s the sixth-lowest rating among the 50 states and District of Columbia.

Buehler opposed Trump’s entry into the race in 2015, called for the GOP to replace him as its nominee in 2016 and supported naming a special counsel in 2017 to investigate allegations of Russian influence in Trump’s campaign.

Democrats critical of Buehler say his statements have been too rare and tepid to amount to calling out the president’s transgressions. While Buehler’s campaign ignores or downplays Trump, Democrats have tried to tie the GOP nominee to the president since day one of his campaign.

On the afternoon that Buehler announced his candidacy in August 2017, an email from Democratic Gov. Kate Brown’s campaign lumped him in with other Republicans as “Trumps-in-training.”

Then came an unexpectedly tight GOP primary in which Buehler was hammered from the right for not supporting Trump.

“I had candidates running against me in the primary who were highly critical of my political independence and moderate positions on some issues,” Buehler said.

Opponent Sam Carpenter cast Buehler as an enemy of the president. Carpenter and Greg Wooldridge split the conservative vote in the primary, allowing Buehler to go on to the general election against Brown by winning just a plurality of the ballots cast.

Since the beginning of the general election campaign, Brown supporters have stepped up their efforts to cast Buehler as a tool of Trump and the president’s allies in the Republican-controlled Congress.

A recent tweet making the rounds includes an image of Buehler as a hand puppet for Trump, who is shown wearing a Russian flag in place of his usual American flag pin.

Christian Gaston, Brown’s campaign spokesman, said drawing comparisons between Trump and Buehler was important.

“Just like President Trump, Knute Buehler would be a disaster for women’s health care; he would roll back critical environmental protections, and he simply can’t be trusted to stand up for Oregonian values,” Gaston said.

Gaston pointed to Buehler’s opposition to the Oregon Clean Fuels Program, his support of a repeal of the state’s 31-year-old sanctuary law, and his opposition in the Legislature to expanding Oregon’s “health safety net” at a time when Trump and his congressional allies are attempting to dismantle the Affordable Care Act.

“The governor’s race is going to come down to who Oregonians trust on issues like health care and education, and that’s clearly Kate Brown,” Gaston said.

Democrats criticize Buehler’s occasional attempts to cast the political dissonance coming out of Washington as equally the fault of the left and right.

“The current divisive political dialogue coming from both the far right and far left is not helpful,” Buehler said in early summer. “It prevents real problems from being solved.”

Buehler defends his earlier decisions to criticize Trump in personal, low-key forums such as his Facebook page, instead of holding a news conference or releasing a statement through his campaign or legislative offices. The criticisms were meant to be conveyed to constituents, not colleagues or to make a splash in the press.

Asked if he thought his use of Facebook and Twitter to make his critiques indicated a timidity in responding to Trump, Buehler said, “No.”

Jim Moore, director of the Tom McCall Center for Policy Innovation at Pacific University, said its unclear whether Democrats are making headway in an attempt to connect Buehler and Trump.

“We don’t have reliable polling on that yet,” Moore said. “I think it’s a standoff right now. Buehler is clearly trying to distance himself from Trump. He knows Trump isn’t where to find the votes he needs to pick up.”

As for Brown, Moore said she is searching for the right issue to hook Buehler to Trump.

“The governor is trying to figure out how to make the connection,” Moore said. “She’s tried on abortion.”

Moore said one issue that might gain traction is Measure 105, which would repeal the state’s sanctuary law that bars officials from aiding federal law enforcement in investigating people solely for the purpose of finding out if they are in the country illegally.

“Buehler has come out for the initiative,” Moore said. “If the initiative proves unpopular, that leaves Buehler wide open to being seen as Trump-ish.”

Buehler said he hoped voters will see efforts to infuse the national political scene into the governor’s race as a diversion from issues closer to home, such as schools, homelessness, taxes and rural development.

“I am running for governor of Oregon — for all of Oregon,” he said. “I’m not running for party chairman or political analyst.”

— Reporter: 541-640-2750, gwarner@bendbulletin.com