Gov. Paul LePage privately called on his fellow Republican governors to disavow Donald Trump less than a week before LePage publicly endorsed the Republican presidential front-runner, according to a newspaper report published Saturday.
The New York Times reported that LePage “erupted in frustration” at a Washington, D.C., meeting of Republican governors on Feb. 20. That was the day after Republican strategist Karl Rove warned the governors that Trump’s nomination would doom the party in November’s elections. LePage urged his fellow governors to write an open letter “to the people” disavowing the divisive front-runner, the Times reported.
The governors didn’t act on LePage’s suggestion, according to the Times, and the article went on to relate other attempts to derail Trump that have gone nowhere. It ended by noting LePage’s endorsement of Trump on Friday.
LePage’s office didn’t respond directly to the article and noted that the Times didn’t name a source for what spokesman Peter Steele called the governor’s “supposed remarks.” Steele didn’t respond to an emailed request for him to either confirm or deny that LePage said a Trump nomination would hurt the party and that he urged a more confrontational approach to the New York businessman, as the Times reported.
On Friday, six days after the governors met, LePage told conservative Boston radio talk show host Howie Carr that he was supporting Trump. LePage had previously endorsed New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie for president, but Christie dropped out of the race after the New Hampshire primary this month and ended up endorsing Trump hours before LePage did on Friday.
LePage cited a shared background in business as one of the reasons he was supporting Trump and admitted to Carr that he had previously favored seeing a governor win the nomination because that would provide practical governing experience for the nominee.
But LePage noted that all but one of the eight current or former governors running for the Republican nomination had dropped out and “the numbers just aren’t there” for Gov. John Kasich of Ohio, the only governor still in the race.
In backing Trump, LePage said the New Yorker was the only candidate talking about making America great, although he said the heated rhetoric among the remaining candidates was destructive.
“The longer they’re going after each other, it’s going to hurt the party, it’s going to hurt the country,” LePage told Carr.
In a statement released Saturday, Steele said LePage is encouraging Trump, if elected, to put former rivals in his Cabinet.
“The governor encourages Mr. Trump to follow the approach highlighted in ‘Team of Rivals’ by Doris Kearns Goodwin, in which President Lincoln was able to reconcile conflicting political factions so his administration could work together to move the country forward,” Steele said in the statement.
That echoed LePage’s sentiment while he was on the radio talk show.
“Donald Trump could be one of the best presidents ever if he puts together a good team,” LePage said.
Both LePage and Christie had publicly distanced themselves from Trump in the weeks before they endorsed him. LePage had said he’s “not a big fan” of Trump’s, while he jokingly suggested that he had invented the persona of an outspoken politician who abhors political correctness. Christie had said Trump didn’t have the experience or temperament to be president.
The Times story revealed the behind-the-scenes disarray within the Republican Party and a growing desperation of some party leaders and financiers as Trump continues to pile up primary wins. A growing number of insiders are now pinning hopes on wresting the nomination away from Trump at the party’s national convention, the Times reported. The convention will be held July 18-21 in Cleveland.
The endorsements from LePage and Christie, and their reversals on Trump, highlight the lack of consensus within the party about how to respond to the billionaire’s dominance in the race, according to the Times article.
Rick Bennett, chairman of the Maine Republican Party, said he couldn’t comment on LePage’s changing endorsements. He said he does not consider the national party to be in a state of disarray as Trump continues to dominate the primaries.
“This is part of the election and nomination process, helping to define what our party is going to be going forward,” said Bennett.
Bennett said his energies are focused on the party’s March 5 caucuses, which for the first time will allow Republicans to vote directly for their candidate by ballot. The winners will divvy up the state’s 23 Republican delegates according to how many votes they get, unless one candidate receives 50 percent or more of the vote and takes all of the delegates.
Bennett said he has no idea for whom Maine Republicans will vote at the caucuses.
Staff Writer Beth Quimby contributed to this report.