Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is widely expected to win Rhode Island later this month. But some local Republicans are not happy with the idea of Trump as their nominee.
As part of our RhodyVotes ’16 coverage, we talked to some undecided Republicans who say they face a tough decision.
For many Rhode Island Republicans who don’t like Donald Trump, the only hope now is a contested convention.
Saunderstown resident Ruth Zaccaria was rooting for Marco Rubio. But now that Rubio is out of the race, “It’s tough for me to decide,” she said. “I like John Kasich the best, because I think he has a lot of good experience in every way. But I’m not sure if I’m going to vote for him or Ted Cruz [in the primary].”
Sitting in her living room, Zaccaria said she appreciates the fact that Cruz stands up for what he believes, but he’s a little more conservative than she is.
“I would have liked him to be more, I guess the word is, a game player in the Senate,” said Zaccaria. “Now, he went in there not to be a game player. He went in there with the instruction from the Tea Party and the people who supported him to shake the place up.”
And he did shake things up. Cruz led the effort to defund President Obama’s health care law, leading to the government shutdown in 2013. Zaccaria thinks Cruz could’ve done a better job compromising with Democrats, but she still thinks he would do a good job as president. And she likes him better than Trump.
Newport resident Michael Smith, on the other hand, will reluctantly vote for Cruz in the primary (Cruz is not his first choice). But the decision will be tougher for Smith in the general election if Trump is the nominee.
“If it was between Trump and Hillary Clinton and those were the only two choices, I would probably have to really hold my nose and vote for Trump,” said Smith, “but it would be extremely difficult to do that.”
Smith ran for state Senate a couple of years ago. He doesn’t like how Trump carries himself and insults people who criticize him. And yet, Smith thinks many Republicans will vote for the party’s nominee, “because the alternative is Hillary Clinton and even for many Democrats, it's not a great alternative.”
Smith is hopeful Trump won’t get the nomination. And he’s not alone.
“I still think we have some pretty good conservatives left in the race, but I am personally disheartened to see Trump is still a frontrunner,” said Providence resident Luis Vargas, community development director for the Rhode Island Republican Party.
Vargas is voting for Cruz in the primary, but not because he’s excited about Cruz as a candidate. It’s more of a vote against Trump.
“He’s called immigrant rapists, things like that, largely painting with a broad brush whole groups of people,” said Vargas. “He’s talked about closing down mosques, you know. And I mean the Republican Party is supposed to be the party that protects freedom and freedom of religion.”
Vargas may not even vote Republican, or vote at all, if Trump is the nominee.
But, unlike Vargas and Michael Smith, other Republicans in the state like Trump. The most recent poll shows Trump is leading in the state among likely Republican voters and independent voters.
“And because Rhode Island has a high percentage of people who consider themselves independents in terms of voter registration, he has an audience in Rhode Island among those people that is larger, I think, than in other neighboring states,” said Brown University political science professor Wendy Schiller.
Nationally, some prominent Republican leaders are asking voters to back Ted Cruz in the primary, even if they don’t like him. These leaders fear Trump as a presidential nominee would harm their party.
But in Rhode Island, campaigns for Cruz and John Kasich have been slow to organize, leaving the door wide open for a candidate with a strong name recognition like Trump.