Rep. Carolyn Branagan (R-Georgia) had heard enough from presidential candidate Donald Trump by Tuesday morning.
Branagan, who's served in the state legislature for 13 years, fired off an email to state Republican leaders calling on them to publicly denounce Trump after he pronounced that the United States should block all Muslims from entering the country. “Please make a statement to the press on behalf of Vermont Republicans that we do not support him or this comment and please point out that his comment is against everything America stands for,” Branagan said. “He is damaging to all Republicans.”
Rep. Patti Komline (R-Dorset) took to Facebook to offer a similar condemnation. She called Trump “a megalomaniacal, racist, misogenyst [sic] who needs to go.”
Komline said that if the 2016 presidential race comes down to Trump vs. Bernie Sanders as the Democratic nominee, "I would probably be a Bernie supporter."
By day's end Tuesday, Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, a Republican candidate for governor, came out firing at Trump too. He tweeted: "Real leaders don't reject American values, incite anger or exploit fear for political gain."
"I've been kind of fuming about this all day," Scott said by phone. "We have to speak up and tell our supporters and other that this is inappropriate."
Trump’s in-your-face candidacy for president is creating a stir across the country, even as his popularity as a candidate persists. Here in Vermont, Trump has some Republicans beginning to seriously worry: What if he becomes the party's nominee?
“It makes us look bad,” said Branagan, who noted that she is not yet backing any candidate in the presidential race. “That really bothers me.”
Branagan said she was driven to write her letter Tuesday because she was outraged at the idea of excluding anyone based on religion. But she conceded she also worries that if Trump is the party’s nominee for president in next November’s election, he will make it harder for independents — those who typically decide Vermont elections — to vote for any Republicans. “It’s possible,” Branagan said. “I already have people telling me that because of the national party they can’t vote for a Republican.”
Scott said if Trump is the Republican nominee, he will not support or vote for him. Would Trump's presence on the ballot hurt Scott's chances? "Probably," Scott said.
Komline disagrees that a Trump candidacy would hurt Vermont Republicans at the polls. “We are different. It helps define us as not that,” she said. “I don’t know one Vermont Republican who supports Donald Trump.”
When it came to officially condemning Trump, however, Branagan didn’t quite get what she was looking for from the Vermont Republican Party.
Party Chair David Sunderland side-stepped criticizing Trump directly in a statement Tuesday, instead saying, “We trust the primary process and Vermont Republican voters to select a presidential nominee who supports our constitution, America’s sacred freedoms, Vermont values and who leads with both character and integrity.”
Sunderland said he doesn’t want the party to get into picking candidates before the primary, leaving that up to party voters. But Sunderland indicated he expects those voters will find Trump lacking. “I trust they will find there are significant questions and significant gaps Mr. Trump would need to close in order to give him their support."
Branagan said she might pursue further efforts to make a statement — either coordinating a letter from individual Vermont Republicans to the national Republican Party or introducing a resolution condemning Trump when the state House reconvenes in January.
If she decides to pursue a resolution, she has the support of House Speaker Shap Smith (D-Morristown). "I'm just appalled at what Trump is saying," Smith said. "It cuts against everything this country is founded on."