Hawaii GOP leader: Trump has 'torn us apart'

Hawaii GOP leader: Trump has 'torn us apart'
Published: Mar. 3, 2016 at 10:52 PM HST|Updated: Mar. 3, 2016 at 11:15 PM HST
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(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Two top Hawaii GOP leaders worry that Donald Trump's presidential campaign will hurt local and national Republican candidates this election year.

But Hawaii's highest-ranking Republican office holder disagrees -- and he's not even supporting Trump.

Hawaii Republicans gather to vote for presidential nominees this Tuesday night in caucuses across the state. The Hawaii Democratic causes will be held March 26.

Former Congresswoman Pat Saiki, whose term as GOP Hawaii chair just ended in January, said that "Donald Trump has made a mockery of the presidency of the United States."

Saiki said Trump has done major damage to the Republican Party in Hawaii and across the country and she worried a state already dominated by Democrats will suffer even more Republican losses at the polls.

"I think he's torn us apart. He really has made us seem as though we don't care about people," Saiki said. "If any of my five children used the language that he has used or shown such disrespect for not only people but for the government, I'd wash their mouths with soap."

Saiki said she started out supporting former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who has dropped out of the presidential race. So now she is backing Ohio Gov. John Kasich or U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida.

State Rep. Beth Fukumoto Chang, the House minority leader, echoed Saiki's concerns.

"Having Donald Trump at the head of the party or even being our front runner at this moment is bad for us. We struggle in Hawaii to get across a diverse message," Chang said.

She faulted the national Republican Party for not doing something about Trump many months ago.

"Donald Trump was a problem. And that his remarks were racist and offensive against women and all sorts of other groups and that the party needed to say something and they didn't. They're only starting to move now. I think that's on the party," Chang said.

She said she has not decided who to support in the presidential race.

On Thursday, the Republican Party's nominees for president in 2012, Mitt Romney and John McCain, called Trump unfit for office and a danger for the nation and the party.

Romney, in a speech in Utah, called Trump a "phony" who is "playing the American public for suckers."

Kimo Sutton, one of the leaders of the Trump Hawaii campaign, told Hawaii News Now: "I say to them come on over and join the Trump train, because he's winning. Now, when you want to attack him, why would you use things that would hurt him later on in the campaign? I don't understand. We didn't do this with Romney."

Far from hurting Republicans, Sutton said he is helping their election chances.

"Democrats are coming across to vote for Trump, Independents are coming out. People never before that have not voted in a caucus or a primary for Republicans.  So this is helping the Republican Party immensely," Sutton said.

The state's highest-ranking Republican office holder, State Sen. Sam Slom, has not supported Trump's campaign but said he doesn't like the Republican establishment ganging up on him.

"To have the party, the establishment, try to take over what the grassroots think and what they want to do and what they want to vote. That's why people are angry. That's why we have a Donald Trump this year in the first place," Slom said.

Slom said he originally supported Dr. Ben Carson, who is ending his presidential campaign, so Slom supports Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz.

But Slom said if Trump is the GOP nominee, he'll support him for president.

Slom said he is not worried that a Trump presidential campaign will hurt Republican electoral chances in Hawaii and elsewhere.

"A lot of people here vote for the candidate. They say they're Democrats, but they'll vote for a Republican if that Republican will stand up for something," Slom said.

Chang. Slom's counterpart in the state House, said Trump's successful campaign is the Republican Party's own fault, the result of cultivating extremists for years.

"Instead of confronting them and saying,'We're not going to be a party of extremists, we're going to look towards moderation or we're going to try to be diverse.' Instead of doing that, the party focused on cultivating this base because they needed to win elections. And they put that over what I think are our party's values and now this is the result," Chang said.

Sutton, an Uber driver and longtime Republican activist, said Trump has been so successful because "he's not the establishment, he's outside of that.  You have to look at what he says. If you haven't got it by now, you won't."

"We have a history of being anti-establishment," said Fukumoto Chang. "And that's great. But we also need to be constructive and our party's not so good at that and that's what I'd like to see us do better."

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