Republican leaders in Mass. House and Senate still not sold on Trump

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STATE HOUSE — Republican leaders in the Massachusetts House and Senate are hardly rushing to endorse their party’s presidential nominee.

Quizzed about their stance on Donald Trump over the past few weeks, the House and Senate minority leaders and several lawmakers on their leadership teams declined to say whether Trump will receive their votes in November.

House Minority Leader Brad Jones and several other top Republicans also made clear, however, that they would not vote for Hillary Clinton, the Democratic Party’s nominee, and stopped short of saying who would receive their votes.

Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr told the News Service on Monday he would have something to say on the matter “shortly.”

“We’re not going to talk about it today,” said Tarr, who said he was “not going to immerse myself in a divisive presidential election quite yet.”

Tarr had endorsed Ohio Gov. John Kasich, one of the last primary candidates to drop out and a pol who has continued to spar with Trump after the New York real estate developer won the nomination.

Trump picked up nearly 50 percent of the Republican primary vote in Massachusetts in March on his way to sealing up the Republican nomination, but his stances and style have turned off longtime members of the GOP around the country.

Clinton, who for decades has battled with Republicans as first lady, New York senator and in defense of her role as secretary of state, is not a viable alternative for many Republicans feeling put off by their party’s nominee.

“Obviously Donald Trump was not my preferred candidate through the primary. That being said, he’s the nominee of the party. I will say that I’m not necessarily enamored with the way he’s conducted his campaign on every level,” Jones told the News Service on the last weekend in July. He said, “Candidly I’m not thrilled with either of the two candidates who were advanced to be the nominees of their party, of the majority parties, the Republican or Democratic party.”

Jones, who supported Florida Sen. Marco Rubio in the early primaries, said Indiana Gov. Mike Pence was a good choice of running mate for Trump.

“Obviously I thought his choice of Governor Pence was a solid choice for vice president, and I look forward to the campaign over the next several months,” Jones told the News Service.

Gov. Charlie Baker, a Swampscott Republican, has said he won’t vote for Trump, Clinton, or Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson, the former governor of New Mexico. Former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld, who is Johnson’s running mate, said last week he thinks former Gov. Mitt Romney is considering endorsing the Libertarian ticket.

Jones ruled out casting a vote for the Democratic party’s nominee. Asked if he would vote for Trump, Jones said, “I won’t be voting for Hillary Clinton. Let’s put it that way.”

House Second Assistant Minority Leader Elizabeth Poirier, a North Attleborough Republican, was similarly laconic on the question of Trump.

“I’m pretty sure what I’m going to do. I am not going to vote for Hillary Clinton. I can tell you that, because I feel as though she hasn’t been totally honest with the voting public,” Poirier said last week.

She said she gives particular consideration to how the election will effect the makeup of the U.S. Supreme Court, where there is already one vacancy. Some Republicans have seized on that dynamic as reason to get behind Trump, who would have the power as president to nominate candidates for the high court.

Asked if that meant she would be voting for Trump, Poirier said, “No, I did not say that.” Asked if she would consider voting for Johnson, Poirier said, “I am still very firm in my decision not to vote for Hillary.”

“There are strong feelings on all sides. I think Donald Trump, some of the things he says, off-the-cuff so to speak, are blasted all over, and different people understand them differently than others,” Poirier said, arguing that Clinton deserves more scrutiny for her family’s charitable foundation.

Newly released emails have stoked questions about interplay between Clinton’s State Department and the Clinton Foundation, which has gathered influence and donations from around the world over the years.

Trump’s ambiguous suggestion about what “Second Amendment people” could do to block Clinton judicial nominations and his repeated assertion that Clinton and President Barack Obama “founded” the Islamic State – a terrorist group that is the target of U.S. military strikes – have prompted opprobrium from the right and left.

The sometimes bombastic real estate developer has been down in the polls since around the time he took aim at a Gold Star Family – the Khans – questioning their motivation and objecting to Khizr Khan’s criticism of Trump from the Democratic National Convention stage in late July.

As influential leaders within the Massachusetts Republican Party, the three House GOP leadership members and two Senate minority leadership members who spoke to the News Service also provide political direction for Republican caucuses that number 34 in the 160-member House and six in the 40-member Senate.

Rep. Geoff Diehl, a Whitman Republican who has clashed at times with Jones, is Trump’s most high-profile elected supporter in the Bay State.

Some pols indicated they are inclined to ignore the top of the ticket for now.

“I’m having a tough time with it, as a lot of people are. I cannot vote for Hillary Clinton,” Senate Assistant Minority Leader Richard Ross, a Wrentham Republican, told the News Service on Monday. Ross said Trump’s lack of political experience “may be the one positive aspect that he might have.”

Ross, who said he hasn’t made up his mind on who will receive his presidential vote, challenged a reporter who noted Trump is his party’s presidential nominee, countering, “Who said that’s my party?” Ross is still a Republican.

House Assistant Minority Leader Brad Hill, an Ipswich Republican, claimed last week that the electoral needs of his caucus have eclipsed consideration of presidential politics.

“You’re not going to believe this but I haven’t even put any thought into the presidential election, because what I’m trying to talk about and help is my caucus and making sure that the members of that caucus come back in November,” Hill told the News Service. “All of my energy and all of my time has been put into that. I really – God’s honest truth – haven’t even watched any of the political stuff nationally because I’m so concerned with our membership here.”

— Written by Andy Metzger

Copyright State House News Service