Story by Erik Schelzig // Associated Press | Photo by Max Smith // Sidelines Archive
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam said Wednesday that Donald Trump would need to make major policy changes before he could consider supporting the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination.
Haslam endorsed Marco Rubio before the state’s Super Tuesday primary, but the Florida senator came in third behind Trump and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.
“I’d love to see a blatant disavowal of white supremacy groups. I’d like to see him address issues like respect for life,” Haslam told The Associated Press at the state Capitol. “And is there going to be a religious test to get in to this country?”
According to exit polls Tuesday, about seven in 10 Republicans said they support temporarily banning Muslims who are not citizens from entering the United States. But Haslam said he disagrees with that approach.
“Protection of religious freedom has been one of the foundations of this country,” Haslam said. “Once you say we’re going to start excluding that group, how long is it until your group gets excluded?”
Haslam also criticized what he called a lack of education proposals from Trump other than a promise to dismantle Common Core education standards.
“Common Core was ended last year,” Haslam said. “It’s gone. There’s no such thing the president needs to come in and end.”
The record turnout of 1.2 million for both the Republican and Democratic primaries was nearly 50,000 more than the number who voted in the 2008 contest.
With all Republican precincts reporting, Trump had 39 percent of the vote, compared with 25 percent for Cruz and 21 percent for Rubio. Trump won every Tennessee county except Williamson, where Rubio won.
And on the Republican side, 9 in 10 voters said they were unhappy with the way the federal government is working, with close to half characterizing themselves as “angry.” Fewer than 1 in 10 said they were satisfied with the government. About 6 in 10 said they feel betrayed by Republican politicians.
Tom Ingram, a longtime Republican strategist and adviser to Haslam and U.S. Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, said the frustration among GOP voters has been growing in recent elections.
Candidates in upcoming elections for the state Legislature, Congress and governor will have be able to manage that anger, Ingram said.
“You’ve got to understand the frustration, and you’ve really got to tune into it,” he said. “You’ve got to be really authentic in your response to it, but be true to who you are and not pander to it.
“At the end of the day I think people respect that,” he said.
Alexander ran into a similar anti-incumbent sentiment when he survived a stiff challenge in the 2014 primary from little-known and underfunded state Rep. Joe Carr.
Ingram said that internal polling by Alexander’s campaign showed that more than 40 percent of those who voted for Carr in the primary didn’t know who he was.
“They’ve gotten more and more frustrated,” Ingram said. “They tend to tar-and-feather the status quo and incumbency.”
Alexander ended up winning that primary by just 9 percentage points, a surprisingly narrow margin for the former governor who also ran for president twice.
Haslam said it’s unclear what effect the Trump vote will have on Tennessee’s next statewide elections for governor and senator in 2018.
“Every election is somewhat of a reflection of the election before that,” Haslam said. “So people say there’s a huge frustration going on with Republicans, but maybe some of that is due to eight years of President Obama.”
“It’s hard to say what this means for two years from now, because two years from now will also create a reaction back to whatever we choose in this election,” he said.