The New York Times confirmed on Friday a story first reported in The Tennessee Star that officials with the Republican Governors Association (RGA) are lobbying President Trump not to endorse Rep. Diane Black (R-TN-06) in the August 2 Republican primary for governor of Tennessee.
“R.G.A. officials are lobbying the White House to keep Mr. Trump out of that race [in Kansas where Kris Kobach is running for governor against GOP establishment supported Jeff Colyer], where they are backing Mr. Colyer. They would also prefer he remain on the sidelines in Tennessee, where Representative Diane Black has been hoping to win Mr. Trump’s backing in the crowded August primary to succeed Mr. Haslam, who is term-limited,” the Times reported.
Multiple sources tell The Star that Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, who was the most vocal Never Trumper in the country up until the day Donald Trump was elected president on November 8, 2016 and serves as the chairman of the RGA, is aggressively lobbying the president directly to keep him from endorsing Black. Black played a key role as chairman of the House Budget Committee in passing the president’s landmark Tax Cuts and Jobs Acts in December, the signature accomplishment of his administration to date.
“The reason offered by the RGA as to why President Trump shouldn’t endorse Trump conservatives like Black in Tennessee and Kobach in Kansas is ludicrous,” said a long-time and current high-ranking RGA official.
“What makes it particularly outrageous is that the effort to deny Trump endorsements to Trump conservatives is coming from the most notorious anti-Trump governor, Bill Haslam, who declared he would never vote for Trump and who called on Trump to withdraw from the race in 2016 just weeks before he was elected president,” the official added.
The official went on to say that “a growing number of funders and members of the RGA are furious that Haslam and his staff are abusing the RGA by trying to turn it into his personal political operation to defeat conservative candidates such as Diane Black and replace them with other never-Trumpers such as Randy Boyd — another never-Trumper who is being backed by Bill Haslam.”
“It’s an insult to the President and a corruption of the RGA,” the RGA official concluded.
“During last year’s presidential primary season, Boyd said supporting Trump “would be anathema to me.” However, once Trump was nominated, Boyd distanced himself from his earlier remarks,” as The Star reported earlier.
In December, Boyd brought President Trump’s Republican primary rival, Jeb Bush, in to the state to host a fundraiser for him in Nashville.
The Boyd campaign has responded to critics of his prior comments about President Trump by noting that he voted for Trump in the 2016 election and “supports President Trump’s efforts to fix all that’s so badly broken in Washington,” as The Star reported.
Publicly, Gov. Haslam has claimed that the RGA has been “non-partisan,” but multiple sources tell The Star that, in fact, Haslam has corrupted the organization he chairs to be nothing more than a political arm of Haslam’s own establishment Republican “Never Trumper” political philosophy, designed to reward his personal friends and punish his personal enemies.
“The president obviously has very strong feelings about his form of politics,” Haslam told the Times on Friday.
“You’ve seen them engage in primaries where traditionally the White House has not engaged. Our focus at the R.G.A. has always been on making certain we can win the general election,” Haslam added.
Trump’s endorsement of gubernatorial candidates in GOP primaries has a huge and favorable impact.
In Florida, for instance, his endorsement of Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) has propelled DeSantis to a significant lead over GOP establishment favored Adam Putnam.
Similarly, in Michigan, his endorsement of Bill Schuette over GOP establishment favored Brian Calley has put Schuette in front.
Haslam is clearly worried that an endorsement of Diane Black by President Trump in the the tight three way race for the GOP gubernatorial nomination in Tennessee will tip the balance in favor of Black.
Black, Knoxville businessman Randy Boyd, who served in Haslam’s administration, and Williamson County businessman Bill Lee are locked in a hard fought race for the GOP nomination for governor. The outcome remains fluid just one week and five days before election day. Many pundits now believe that the race is so close that any of these three could win the nomination. A number of private polls show that these top three candidates are all within five points of each other.
All recent polls show that another candidate, Tennessee Speaker of the House Beth Harwell (R-Nashville) is in a distant fourth place in the Republican gubernatorial primary race.
The Star contacted Gov. Haslam’s office to confirm or deny reports that he is directly lobbying President Trump not to endorse Rep. Diane Black.
“You need to reach out to the RGA for comment on this,” a spokesperson for Gov. Haslam told The Star late Saturday morning.