TN Rep. Party Split On Whether To Specifically Back Donald Trump

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - As Donald Trump continued Tuesday to distance himself from the Republican establishment, bashing people like Paul Ryan and John McCain on Twitter, the Tennessee Republican Party leadership continues to stop short of specifically endorsing the Republican nominee for president.

But members of the state Republican Party leadership and some members of the party's State Executive Committee, which governs the party, are apparently contradicting each other when it comes to the message the party is sending about Trump.

Monday, NewsChannel 5 asked if the Tennessee Republican Party was officially backing Trump and encouraging people to vote for him.

"We're encouraging people to vote their conscience," Executive Director Brent Leatherwood replied in an email, stopping short of an endorsement.

Those going to the state GOP’s Twitter account for some clarity in the matter won’t find much there.

In a search encompassing the last two months, NewsChannel 5 found that the Tennessee Republican Party Twitter account hasn't directly mentioned Trump even once in an original tweet, compared to 17 mentions of former presidential candidate Mitt Romney from the account during the same time period four years ago.

That’s a surprising find, according to NewsChannel 5 political analyst Pat Nolan.

“I will say, I have never seen anything like this in Tennessee politics, or in politics – I’m aware of – on a national level,” Nolan said.  “I have never seen a state party leadership decide not to endorse -- full throatedly -- their nominee, especially this close to the election.”

But some prominent members of the Tennessee Republican Party say they do not agree with the approach party leaders have taken to Trump.

Rebecca Ann Burke is a member of the Tennessee Republican Party State Executive Committee, a group that is responsible for running the party and electing party leadership.  She says she wants to see the party standing firmly behind Trump -- mentioning his name, and urging people to vote for him.

“That comment, ‘vote your conscience,’ is a position that was voiced at the Republican [National] Convention, and caused quite an inflamed reaction from convention delegates,” Burke said.

It was former presidential candidate Ted Cruz who first uttered that phrase back in July at the Republican National Convention.  Cruz was promptly booed off the stage after failing to endorse Trump.  Cruz later reversed his decision and decided to endorse.

Burke says the “vote your conscience” phrase implies a split Tennessee Republican Party, which she says is not the case.  She says the phrase should not be used by her own party's leadership.

“Our position at this time is not, ‘vote your conscience.’  Our position at this time is: delegates, convention and voters of Tennessee, you have told us who your preferred candidate is and we are going forward supporting that nominee of the party,” Burke said.

NewsChannel 5 reached out to leadership at the Tennessee Republican Party for comment, but they declined our request for an interview, instead pointing to a previously released statement:

"Feelings are strong in this election and interest is high. The focus of the Tennessee Republican Party remains on advancing the conservative cause in our state over the remaining 30 days.  At the same time, the media spotlight has revealed major flaws in both candidates. There is justifiable concern about the repugnant words of one and the appalling record of deception of the other. Every voter has a choice to make. At the end of the day, everyone should follow their convictions and no one should be criticized for doing so."
 

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