Years from now, Republican politicians and voters will remember the election of 2016 by recalling which side of the Big Question they were on: Were they for Donald Trump or against him? Trump, it turns out, is the huge divider.
Chris Vance, the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Washington state, has boldly declared that he is Never Trump all the way. Vance may lose Republican donors because of it, but he has the character and fortitude to tell people what he thinks. A long list of other leading Republicans, including Rob McKenna, the former state attorney general and the 2012 candidate for governor, echoes Vance. McKenna says he will write in John Kasich for president. Trump is too un-presidential to land his support.
So along comes Bill Bryant, Republican candidate for governor, who will not say whom he favors for U.S. president. In fact, he launches into an awkward verbal tap dance about every other topic he would like to discuss -- everything but answering this relevant question.
He wants to talk about issues pertaining to the governor’s race, he says, as if his true political stripes are somehow separate. He wants us to believe that his support or lack thereof for Trump, the uncouth man at the top of GOP ticket, has no bearing on how people will view his candidacy. Bryant is challenging Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee this fall.
I spent maybe 15 minutes wrestling with Bryant and found him to be unnecessarily evasive about Trump. “I am focused on running for governor,’’ he said. “I am not going to turn the governor’s race into a comment on the presidential race.”
We are talking about the character and judgment of an individual who wants to lead the country for the next four years and heads Bryant’s party. This isn’t like asking Bryant to reveal some super-secret fishing hole. This counts.
The truth is that Bryant is scared witless to say whom he supports.
He has some reason to be afraid. Announce support for Trump and lose independent voters in a jiffy. Come out against Trump and risk some party backing and money.
But if Bryant wants to have a prayer of winning this fall, especially with gutter-mouthed Trump atop the ticket, he needs to say whom he supports for president. Bryant is a Seattle port commissioner who most folks have never heard of. People want to know who he is and what he values. Washington voters are not inclined to vote for just any Republican for anything. This is a blue state. The last Republican governor, John Spellman, was elected in 1980 and voted out of office in 1984.
In explaining who he supports for president, Bryant would shed light on himself. In not answering the question, he attempts to slide one by the voters.
Bryant is a moderate Republican who cares deeply about strong public education, a clean Puget Sound and a vibrant state economy. He has a fine agenda. But no one should be excited about a candidate who is purposely cagey.
In all fairness, Inslee, who beat McKenna four years ago, is no rock star leader himself. I was most discouraged by him a few months ago when he refused to sign a charter school bill. He let it sit and become law without his signature, so as not to offend either side in that heated debate. How feckless. This act of political ducking amounted to a giant shrug from a leader who should tell us what he really thinks, even if doing so offends his buddies in the teachers’ union. (Inslee, by the by, is an unabashed Hillary Clinton supporter.)
Bryant is glibly committing the same sin in the presidential contest as Inslee did on charter schools. He’s obfuscating. He could be courageous and take on Trump. By not telling us whom he supports for president, he is concealing important information and making himself appear weak.
If this is such a giant secret, what else will he hide for his own political advantage? Campaign conduct is a strong indication of behavior to come later in the governor’s office, if elected. I am not impressed.
Trump’s candidacy has created an extraordinarily bizarre moment in politics. Most respected Republicans in our state have come out against him. Party leaders, including former U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton and former Gov. and former U.S. Sen. Dan Evans, have said they do not support Trump.
Come on out, Bill Bryant, and tell us whom you support. Voters around here appreciate aggressive transparency and openness above all else. You are keeping a secret about something that voters deserve to know.