Republicans in Maryland split on whether to rally around Donald Trump

GOP leader says it's time for party to rally around Trump, but many Maryland Republicans aren't ready.

The day after Donald Trump romped to primary victories in Maryland and four other East Coast states, a top Maryland GOP official wrote on Facebook that it's time for all Republicans to rally around the front-runner.

"Ok, after last night the Republican primary is over," wrote state executive director Joe Cluster. "Like him or not, Donald Trump will be the nominee of the party. I know it will be tough for some of my friends to [accept] this, but it is the will of the Republican primary voters. They have spoken, and now it is time for us to come together to defeat the worst person ever to run for president, Hillary Clinton."

While some are gung-ho for Trump, who on Tuesday won the support of 55 percent of Maryland's Republican voters, many GOP officials — including Gov. Larry Hogan — aren't ready to rally around his candidacy. Some don't even want to talk about it.

"I'm not going to take anymore stupid questions about Donald Trump. That's not my focus," Hogan said at a news conference Friday. He restated his determination not to endorse a candidate or get involved in the presidential race.

Cluster said Friday that he was expressing his opinion as an individual on Facebook, not as executive director of the state Republican Party.

Trump swept the five state primaries Tuesday, and polling shows him ahead of his opponents in Indiana and California, states that could be crucial to reaching 1,237 pledged delegates, the number needed to avoid a contested party convention in Cleveland.

"I feel that if you look at what has happened the last six elections, I think it's pretty evident this election is moving toward a conclusion," said Cluster, who voted for Ohio Gov. John Kasich in Maryland's primary. "I feel that people are going to start to coalesce around the nominee."

Some Republicans are not in a coalescing mood.

"Did I miss something? Did Trump get to 1,237 delegates in the last five minutes?" said Del. Herb McMillan of Anne Arundel County. "When you get to 1,237, you're the nominee and people coalesce around you."

McMillan, who has endorsed Kasich, wouldn't commit to backing Trump even if he is nominated in Cleveland. The state lawmaker said he would support "the most conservative candidate in the race," but he questioned Trump's ideological credentials and past donations to Clinton.

"Frankly, I think it's time for Donald Trump to start making amends with the Republican Party," McMillan said.

Former Sen. Nancy Jacobs, who compiled a staunchly conservative record over two decades representing Harford County in the General Assembly, said she can't see herself voting for Trump.

"He's not a true Republican. He's not a conservative. He has a foul mouth. He doesn't speak well of women. He's a jerk," Jacobs said. She said she couldn't vote for Clinton but might back a third-party candidate.

Meanwhile, some Republicans are concerned about Trump's effect on down-ballot contests, including Del. Kathy Szeliga's underdog race for the U.S. Senate against Democratic Rep. Chris Van Hollen.

Del. Jason C. Buckel, a supporter of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and a harsh critic of Trump, worries that the billionaire developer could hurt Republican candidates.

"You'd be foolish not to be worried that Donald Trump might not be the type of candidate who can help in Maryland," said Buckel, an Allegany County Republican.

Szeliga has pledged to support whoever wins the Republican presidential nomination. Her mentor, Rep. Andy Harris, has made the same pledge.

Del. Pat McDonough, who won the Republican primary for the 2nd Congressional District and will challenge veteran Democratic Rep. C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger in the general election, said he would be happy to appear on the same ballot as Trump in November.

While McDonough hasn't endorsed a presidential candidate, the two share many of the same views on immigration. He said Trump will appeal to the many "Reagan Democrats" who live in his district.

Del. Neil C. Parrott, a Washington County Republican who supports Cruz, said the race is "still wide open," but he's comfortable with either of the "strong candidates" at the top of the ticket.

"If Trump is the winner, he'll bring along many, many people who never voted in the general election before," Parrott said.

Senate Minority Leader J. B. Jennings of Baltimore County said he felt more trepidation. He's neutral in the presidential race and has concerns about some of the things Trump says and "the way he says them."

But he thinks Republican voters have made their decision.

"I do have concerns that at this point the die has been cast. We've crossed the Rubicon," Jennings said, adding: "If he is our nominee, I think he would be a much better president than Hillary Clinton."

Jennings' counterpart in the House, Minority Leader Nic Kipke of Anne Arundel County, declined to discuss Trump.

"I have absolutely no comment on the presidential election," he said. "It's something I've avoided for a number or reasons."

Andy Barth, a spokesman for Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman, a Republican, said his boss has endorsed Kasich.

"Nothing is different. Nothing is new," Barth said.

Barry Glassman, the Republican Harford County executive, said he would "wait and see what happens at the convention" but took an oblique swipe at the bombastic and combative Trump.

"I've always equated leadership with some degree of grace and civility," Glassman said.

Anne Arundel County Executive Steve Schuh said he agrees with Cluster that Trump is the likely Republican nominee.

Schuh said he will go to Cleveland as a GOP delegate and vote for Trump, who was not his first choice, on at least the first ballot because the New Yorker was the choice of Maryland's voters.

Schuh said that the primary process should be allowed to play out and that there's plenty of time to come together to defeat Clinton.

"It's only April," Schuh said.

Baltimore Sun reporters Erin Cox and John Fritze contributed to this article.

mdresser@baltsun.com

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