Outgoing Governor Haslam told reporters Thursday that he hoped President Trump would stay out of the Tennessee Republican primary to name his replacement.
“I don’t think it’s helpful for the White House to be involved in primaries,” Haslam said, citing that as the current chairman of the Republican Governors Association, he and his group will not participate in primaries where the GOP candidates are running for open seats.
I had a conversation with them back in February, them being the White House, saying we’re going to have 36 governors races. They’re going to be very competitive. We would like it if y’all would not get involved. We just think that’s best. We’re not going to get involved as [the RGA] unless we have an incumbent governor. If there’s an incumbent governor, we welcome your involvement.
When he was asked if President Trump’s involvement in some gubernatorial races despite his request was frustrating, Haslam told reporters, “Well, they’re the White House. They can do what they want. But like I said, we would rather them not.”
He said he believes there is “good reason for that in any mid-term election,” noting the November general elections “are difficult. And we want to make certain again that everybody has as much firepower as possible for those competitive elections.”
The Tennessee Star first reported on July 1 – which was subsequently confirmed last Friday by the New York Times – that Governor Haslam was using his position as chairman of the powerful Republican Governors Association to block a prospective endorsement by President Trump to fellow Republican Rep. Diane Black (R-TN-06):
The New York Times confirmed on Friday a story first reported in The Tennessee Star that officials with the Republican Governors Association (RGA) are lobbying President Trump not to endorse Rep. Diane Black (R-TN-06) in the August 2 Republican primary for governor of Tennessee.
“R.G.A. officials are lobbying the White House to keep Mr. Trump out of that race [in Kansas where Kris Kobach is running for governor against GOP establishment supported Jeff Colyer], where they are backing Mr. Colyer. They would also prefer he remain on the sidelines in Tennessee, where Representative Diane Black has been hoping to win Mr. Trump’s backing in the crowded August primary to succeed Mr. Haslam, who is term-limited,” the Times reported.
Multiple sources tell The Star that Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, who was the most vocal Never Trumper in the country up until the day Donald Trump was elected president on November 8, 2016 and serves as the chairman of the RGA, is aggressively lobbying the president directly to keep him from endorsing Black. Black played a key role as chairman of the House Budget Committee in passing the president’s landmark Tax Cuts and Jobs Acts in December, the signature accomplishment of his administration to date.
Polling shows that the three top-tier candidates Diane Black, Randy Boyd, and Bill Lee are running in a virtual three-way tie. An endorsement by President Trump – who won the state in 2016 with 61% of the vote and remains wildly popular – could be enough to decide the Republican nomination.
Early voting ends Saturday, and primary election day is August 2.