Politics & Government

Some North Carolina delegates still skeptical of Donald Trump

The presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump makes a speech at his revamped Trump Turnberry golf course in Turnberry Scotland Friday June 24, 2016. Trump, in Scotland the day after the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union, saluted the decision, saying the nation’s citizens “took back their country.”
The presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump makes a speech at his revamped Trump Turnberry golf course in Turnberry Scotland Friday June 24, 2016. Trump, in Scotland the day after the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union, saluted the decision, saying the nation’s citizens “took back their country.” AP

North Carolina will send 72 delegates to next month’s Republican National Convention – and some still don’t want Donald Trump to win the nomination.

And at least one delegate supports an effort that could deny Trump many of the delegates pledged to him in the primaries.

“I would not want him to have the nomination,” says Mark Mahaffey of Lee County, a one-time supporter of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. “I don’t trust him. I don’t think he’s very stable.”

Mahaffey, a life-long Republican, has allied with “Free the Delegates,” a group that claims 400 delegates who favor freeing delegates from pledges to support Trump on the first ballot. Another group called “DelegateRevolt.com,” also is encouraging delegates to dump Trump when the convention kicks off July 18.

And on Friday a GOP delegate from Virginia filed a federal class action lawsuit challenging a state law that binds convention delegates to support the primary winner.

Trump, the GOP’s presumptive nominee, has 1,542 delegates, according to the Associated Press. That’s 305 more than he needs to clinch the nomination in Cleveland.

After winning North Carolina’s March primary, Trump has 29 pledged delegates while Cruz has 27. The rest are split among Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Ben Carson.

Trump clearly has support.

“He’s going to make not only a fine nominee but a fine president,” says delegate Joe Daughtery, chairman of the Wayne County commissioners. “Somebody’s got to clean up politics … We’ve got to get somebody who can’t be bought, and that’s the way I feel about Trump. He’s going to do what’s in the best interest of our country.”

But some are skeptical.

“I don’t think he has a history of conservatism, let alone Republicanism,” says delegate Matthew Ridenhour, a Mecklenburg County commissioner. “His current unfavorable ratings and lack of fundraising reflects on … him as a candidate. … I don’t think he’d be a champion of limited government.”

Charlotte delegate Daniel Rufty, chairman of the 12th District GOP, calls Trump “a New York liberal.”

“I do not think he’s going to win,” Rufty says. “To be honest, I think he’s probably the worst candidate Republicans can put up. It looks like we’ll be losing by a landslide if he’s the nominee.”

Even so, Rufty said he’d vote for Trump over Democrat Hillary Clinton. Ridenhour declined to say who’ll get his vote in November.

The uncertainty comes in a week that has tested some Trump supporters. Not only did he fire longtime campaign manager Corey Lewandowski and see his poll numbers slip against Clinton, but he reported anemic fundraising, with just over $1 million in the bank to Clinton’s $42 million.

The long view

Charlotte pastor Mark Harris understands why some Republicans are skeptical. But he says they should take the long view.

“There’s more than just a 4-year term for a president at stake,” he says. “I think there’s a 40-year generation at stake. Decisions will be made by the next president that will affect us for 40 years.”

Delegate John Steward III of Indian Trail agrees. He says Trump is “not a perfect candidate for me.”

“(But) in the big scheme of things, the presidency is not all about him. If I want (U.S. Rep.) Trey Gowdy to be the next attorney general … Trump’s probably my best choice.”

Last month Trump released the names of several conservatives he would consider naming to the Supreme Court.

Dallas Woodhouse, executive director of the N.C. Republican Party, says he thinks delegates are coming together.

“While there are strong Trump supporters and some not so strong, I think they have coalesced for the most part around the nominee,” he says. “And they’re good Republicans.”

The state’s top GOP officials including Gov. Pat McCrory and U.S. Sens. Richard Burr and Thom Tillis all have said they’ll support Trump. Tillis told delegates at last month’s state convention that “anybody who doesn’t support the Republican nominee is a RINO,” or Republican In Name Only.

But Trump won’t have a smooth right to the nomination if delegates like Kendal Unruh get their way.

Unruh, a Colorado school teacher, is the founder of “Free the Delegates.” She believes delegates can vote their conscience, unbound by pledges.

“Not only are we unbound, but it’s illegal to bind us,” says Unruh, a veteran of seven GOP conventions and a member of the convention’s rules committee. She says her movement started fast and is still growing.

“We’re watching the entire disintegration of the Trump train right in front of us,” she says. “My party’s been hijacked. We truly look at this as a last ditch attempt to same the party.”

James Lamb, a former fundraiser for Rubio, started DelegateRevolt.com for the same reason.

“We feel very strongly that Donald Trump is a bad move for the Republican Party and for America,” he says. “If we stay on the current course, it’s going to guarantee (Democrat) Hillary Clinton’s election.”

Trump’s failure to secure the nomination on the first ballot could throw the convention into chaos and anger the more than 13 million primary voters who supported him.

‘Waiting to be convinced’

Mahaffey, the Lee County delegate, has been on Unruh’s conference calls. He doesn’t want Trump to carry the party’s banner into the fall.

“I told my wife there were 16 (Republican) candidates I could vote for,” he says of the primary. “Donald Trump was number 17. I don’t trust him. I don’t think he’s very stable.”

Under N.C. GOP primary rules, delegates could face a $10,000 penalty for not supporting the candidate to whom they’re pledged. Mahaffey calls that “a gross overreach by the NCGOP and unnecessarily leaves the party open to legal challenge.” Woodhouse says it’s the same rule that was in effect four years ago.

Skepticism, if not outright hostility, was evident at last month’s state GOP convention. Delegate Bob Orr, a former state Supreme Court Justice and one-time GOP candidate for governor, said he can’t vote for Trump. He plans to go to the voting booth and do one of two things: “Either not vote for president or vote for somebody I think is qualified to lead the country.”

Conservative Mary Frances Forrester is a delegate from Gaston County. She says her concerns about the country outweigh her concerns about Trump.

“There are a lot of us out there who feel so strongly about the direction of our country that we are willing to be convinced about our candidate,” she says. “And that’s sort of where I am. I’m waiting to be convinced.”

Jim Morrill: 704-358-5059, @jimmorrill

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