Republicans headed to their party’s Thurston County convention are deeply divided about who their standard bearer for president should be.
But their views may not matter nearly as much as what voters think come May 24. That’s when a presidential primary election will make Washington’s decision on the GOP nomination.
The greater importance of the primary this year likely tamped down turnout at GOP precinct caucuses Saturday, but it didn’t keep more than 350 Thurston County Republicans from meeting up to talk about what their party should stand for and which candidate it should nominate.
This is still an exciting time for people to come out and voice their opinions and meet their neighbors.
Tom Nelson, meeting leader
“This is still an exciting time for people to come out and voice their opinions and meet their neighbors,” said Tom Nelson, who led a meeting at Black Hills High School for residents of precincts mainly in the south and west parts of the county.
Unlike in 2012 when the primary was canceled and GOP caucuses drove Washington’s choice of Mitt Romney, strategy and alliances played less of a role than attendance.
Precinct caucuses were tasked with electing 483 delegates to the Thurston County convention, but there was little competition. Most precincts had enough spots for all participants who wanted one, and many spots went unfilled. In a number of precincts, no one attended.
“Those who show up, win,” said Ken Morse, a tea-party organizer whose involvement in GOP politics dates back to the 1988 national convention and earlier.
Another 127 people are automatic delegates to the county convention by virtue of having previously been appointed or elected as precinct-committee officers.
The county meeting March 19 at Black Hills High is due to elect 66 delegates to the state convention, which in turn elects 41 national delegates who are bound to vote based on primary results.
But that rule is binding only on the national convention’s first ballot. If delegates in Cleveland are so divided that no candidate can win a majority on the first ballot, delegates would be free to decide for themselves — at which point the views of the people who started organizing Saturday would matter after all.
Their views ranged widely. While united by displeasure with President Barack Obama and Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, some participants also worried openly about some of the choices on the Republican side — especially frontrunner Donald Trump.
“Trump scares me,” said Morse, a Ted Cruz supporter who said the Texas senator is consistent in his beliefs, unlike real-estate magnate Trump. “He’s a chameleon.”
John van der Brook, who said he could support any of the trio of Trump, Cruz and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, defended Trump as the only candidate who has made border security a priority. Trump has a right to change his mind on issues, he said.
“My own personal feeling is, Trump is a work in progress,” van der Brook said.
Across the table from him, though, Hailey Norby said Trump is “so sexist” and “has no respect for the Constitution.”
“He makes the Republican Party look so juvenile,” she said.
Norby, a student whose biggest concern is the huge national debt, has been undecided since her favorite candidate, Rand Paul, dropped out of the race. She would like to go to the national convention but isn’t excited about her remaining choices. She sees Rubio as too willing to go to war.
Rubio supporter Brandon Beebe said he would be a uniting figure for the party unlike Trump or Cruz. Beebe said he parts ways with some of his fellow conservative Christians on Cruz, who he sees as a borderline “fascist,” full of hatred for those who are unlike him.
A Cruz backer and first-time caucus participant, Gayle Strom, views Rubio as taking opposite stances depending on whether he’s speaking to Spanish-speaking or English-speaking listeners.
“I respect Trump. I just think he’s a loose cannon,” Strom said.
But Vickie Era was leaning toward Trump, whom she sees as an independent thinker. “He can’t be bought,” Era said.
Her attitude toward other politicians: “You’re saying what your supporters are paying you to say.”