Governors Christie and LePage Endorse Trump After Criticizing Him

by | February 29, 2016 AT 1:00 PM

Gov. Paul LePage privately called on his fellow Republican governors to disavow Donald Trump less than a week before LePage publicly endorsed the Republican presidential front-runner, according a newspaper report published Saturday.

The New York Times reported that LePage erupted in frustration at a Washington, D.C., meeting of Republican governors on Feb. 20. Sitting around a boardroom one day after being warned that Trump's nomination would doom the party in November's elections, LePage urged his fellow governors to write an open letter "to the people" disavowing the divisive front-runner, the Times reported.

On Friday, six days later, LePage told Boston radio talk show host Howie Carr that he was now supporting Trump. LePage had previously supported New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie for president, but Christie had dropped out of the race and ended up endorsing Trump hours before LePage did on Friday.

Noting that the Times did not cite a source for the governor's "supposed remarks," made in a private governors-only meeting that was closed to media and most staff, Peter Steele, director of communications for LePage, said Saturday the governor endorsed Trump because they both have a business background and they both come from outside the political establishment.

"He first wanted to see a governor become the presidential nominee, but the American people decided not to support the governors in the race," Steele said in an prepared statement.

Steele said LePage is impressed that Trump is now reaching out to governors to find experienced people he can work with during his campaign and into his administration.

"The governor encourages Mr. Trump to follow the approach highlighted in 'Team of Rivals' by Doris Kearns Goodwin, in which President Lincoln was able to reconcile conflicting political factions so his administration could work together to move the country forward," Steele said.

Both LePage and Christie had publicly distanced themselves from Trump in the weeks before they endorsed him. LePage had said he's "not a big fan" of Trump's, while Christie had said Trump didn't have the experience or temperament to be president.

The Times story revealed the behind-the-scenes disarray within the Republican Party and a growing desperation of some party leaders and financiers as Trump continues to pile up primary wins. A growing number of insiders are now pinning hopes on wresting the nomination away from Trump at the party's national convention, the Times reported. The convention will be held July 18-21 in Cleveland.

The endorsements by LePage and Christie, and their reversals on Trump, highlight the lack of consensus within the party about how to respond to the billionaire's dominance in the race, according to the article.

Rick Bennett, chairman of the Maine Republican Party, said he couldn't comment on LePage's changing endorsements. He said he does not consider the national Republican Party to be in a state of disarray as Trump continues to dominate the primaries.

"This is part of the election and nomination process, helping to define what our party is going to be going forward," said Bennett.

Bennett said his energies are focused on Maine's March 5 Republican caucuses, which for the first time allow Republicans to vote directly for their candidate by ballot. The winners will divvy up the state's 23 Republican delegates according to how many votes they get unless one candidate receives 50 percent of the vote and takes all of the delegates.

Bennett said he has no idea for whom Maine Republicans will vote at the caucuses.

(c)2016 the Portland Press Herald (Portland, Maine)