Editorials

Jeff Denham, do you support Trump or not?

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks in New York on Wednesday, June 22, 2016.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks in New York on Wednesday, June 22, 2016. The Associated Press

Does Rep. Jeff Denham want Donald Trump to become president? We’ve asked our three-term congressman’s campaign that question twice by email and once in print. So far, crickets.

It’s a tough question, and some voters will find any answer wrong. But considering this presidential candidate, in this unprecedented election, Denham’s constituents deserve an answer. The Bee will gladly provide space in the largest-circulation print newspaper and largest digital audience in his district.

With silence from Denham, we asked a few prominent local Republicans where they stand. It wasn’t an easy question, but they all answered.

Are you voting for Donald Trump, state Sen. Anthony Cannella?

“I am not. I think that says it all.”

Won’t there be consequences for bucking your party?

“The ramifications, whatever they are, I’m OK with it.”

Stanislaus County Supervisor Terry Withrow: “It’s a hard one for me, really hard. I cannot support Hillary; I cannot even come close. But Trump, darn it.” Any chance you’ll vote him? “Not right now.”

Supervisor Jim DeMartini: “He wasn’t the first guy for me. I liked Scott Walker then Ted Cruz, but Mr. Trump is the last man standing. … He’s not my fourth choice, but he’s the nominee of the party and as the chair of the local party, I will support our nominee. Nobody’s perfect. … But when I compare Trump to (Hillary Clinton), I have to go to him.”

Joan Clendenin, former Republican Party Central Committee member: “I have been mulling over this question for some time. I supported Carly (Fiorina), then (Marco) Rubio then Cruz. I even went to the (Bernie) Sanders event (in Modesto). … In the end, I will vote for Trump in November.”

Supervisor Vito Chiesa: “I’m not real enthused about this election. I’m looking for another candidate from the two available. I can’t, in good conscience, vote for either one of them.”

Former Modesto Mayor Carol Whiteside: “These people (Republican elected officials) have to be agonizing. … Other than changing your party – which I did after voting for John Kasich – what can they do?”

These people (Republican elected officials) have to be agonizing. … Other than changing your party – which I did after voting for John Kasich – what can they do?

Carol Whiteside, former Modesto mayor

But Whiteside, who is casting about for a third alternative, questioned the wisdom of pressing elected officials for an answer.

“It’s not easy,” said the founder and former CEO of the Great Valley Center. “It only looks easy on the outside. If everybody feels uncompromisingly passionate, that’s part of what gets us into these places. We have to look for places to compromise.”

Unfortunately, Trump doesn’t offer any such place. He feeds the anger of the most disaffected elements of society. He tells displaced working men they’ll be great again while demeaning working women. He promises an America of walls, torture for those related to anyone who harms us, vaguely masked racism and glorified greed.

His language has provoked unstable elements on the left to respond by blocking roads, throwing punches and even an imbecilic assassination scheme. Such reprehensible actions must be punished. But there were no such occurrences at rallies for Mitt Romney or either President Bush. In the words of Jeb Bush, Trump is “a chaos candidate and he would be a chaos president.”

Unlike any prior major-party presidential nominee, Donald Trump has become a litmus test for those seeking national office. That brings us to back to Jeff Denham’s campaign.

Unlike any prior major-party presidential nominee, Trump has become a litmus test for those seeking national office. That brings us to back to Denham’s campaign.

Challenger Michael Eggman’s only strategy appears to be welding Denham to Trump’s hip. That strategy has a shot considering how discouraged Republicans voters appeared on June 7.

With Trump the only meaningful Republican on their ballot, more than a quarter of Republicans picked somebody else or sat out. Though Stanislaus County has slightly more registered Republicans than Democrats, Democrat voters outnumbered Republicans 4-to-3 at the polls.

If Denham rejects Trump, it might persuade some of those Republicans to vote on Nov. 8. It will also reassure the thousands of Democrats who have supported Denham in the past. But it will infuriate Trump supporters and those who voted for Robert Hodges, Denham’s Republican challenger from the right.

We’re not campaign consultants, but we doubt that’s enough to matter. Despite some disagreements, The Bee has endorsed Denham for state Senate and Congress. As for Eggman, in 2014 we worried that he had never before held elective office, had a skimpy résumé and couldn’t even vote in the district. Nothing has changed.

Locally and nationally, many Republicans have disavowed Trump, including two former presidents, the 2016 GOP candidate and senators Lindsey Graham, Kelly Ayotte and Mark Kirk. Even conservative pundits George Will, David Brooks and Glenn Beck say #NeverTrump.

We’re not trying to push Denham into a corner; we’re trying to push him out. We’re asking him to explain why he doesn’t, or does, support the presumptive Republican nominee. He must know The Bee’s editorial board isn’t alone in asking.

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