Trump worries go way down ballot — all the way to incumbent GOP mayors

San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer
Lenny Ignelzi | AP

Donald Trump is the GOP's presumptive presidential nominee, but for the few Republicans left in city halls, he may as well be toxic.

John Labrosse Jr. is the mayor of Hackensack, New Jersey, and he describes himself as a moderate conservative. But he recently made headlines for leaving the Republican Party over rhetoric from Trump.

For Labrosse, the decision to abandon the GOP was difficult but necessary. Incendiary comments made by Trump toward Muslims and Hispanics blasted many of the citizens Labrosse represents in his increasingly diverse city, and politically, Labrosse said he felt remaining affiliated with the party of Trump would hamper his chances for re-election — though that wasn't his only consideration.

"It's not just about getting re-elected, it's about making a statement that this is an unacceptable practice to campaign this way," Labrosse said. "You get labeled by who you're affiliated with."

Republican mayors are becoming a politically endangered species. GOP mayors governed half of the country's 12 largest cities in 2000, according to Politico. Now, of the top 20 largest cities as estimated by the Census in 2015, just three are led by members of the GOP.

This election cycle, Trump's divisive campaign has many Republicans who represent moderate constituencies tiptoeing around his candidacy. GOP mayors, who may represent more diverse and moderate populations, have shown themselves particularly hesitant to embrace their party's standard-bearer.

The Trump campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, a Republican, told The San Diego Union-Tribune editorial board that he would not endorse the presumptive nominee a month before he was reelected on June 7. A spokesperson for his office confirmed he is still currently not endorsing Trump.

Another prominent Republican mayor, Miami's Tomas Regalado, told the Miami Herald that he will not endorse Trump.

"He mistreats people, speaks derisively of people," Regalado told the Herald. "This guy is capable of creating national and international chaos."

Even mayors of smaller cities are avoiding Trump. Richard Berry, the Republican mayor of Albuquerque, New Mexico, refused to reveal who he voted for in the GOP primary, according to The Associated Press. His office declined an interview request. Colorado Springs, Colorado, Mayor John Suthers, also a Republican, previously supported Marco Rubio and then Ted Cruz, according to a local news report. His office confirmed he has not endorsed Trump.

Ashley Swearengin, a Republican and mayor of Fresno, California, said that after first supporting Jeb Bush and then John Kasich in the primary, she has no plans to endorse Trump.

"I cannot imagine a scenario in which I would endorse him," Swearengin said of Trump. "Like a lot of Republicans in California ... I literally don't know what I'm going to do at the ballot box on election day."

Swearengin — who is nearing her term limit — said her decision has less to do with politics than policy. Indeed, Trump received nearly 75 percent of the vote in Fresno County during this month's California presidential primary. She described the job of a mayor as pragmatic, and one that requires occasionally tuning out noise at the national level.

She also said she is not concerned the Trump campaign will affect other local-level Republicans down the ballot.

I think they’re nervous about a lot of the comments and the identifying of different groups by name and a sense that there may be a turnoff to certain constituencies that they have.
Lee Miringoff
director of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion

However, Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion, said Republican mayors may have reason to worry about Trump's candidacy turning off local voters.

"For some mayors, it becomes a matter of, 'Do I offend some of my constituents by supporting Trump,'" Miringoff said. "There are areas where you don't want to be overly identified because that may come back to haunt you."

Miringoff cautioned, though, that cities vary by their political leaning and some mayors may lead more heavily Republican constituencies.

Along with mayors, many Republican politicians down the ballot in state and federal offices have been avoiding Trump. Republicans in endangered seats, like Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson or Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk, have been particularly hesitant to endorse him, and in some cases have outright rebuked him. Struggling with a divisive nominee, The New York Times reported some GOP senators have even received fundraising help from an unusual source: former President George W. Bush.

Republican mayors may have valid policy reasons, along with the political, to withhold their endorsement from Trump. Erika Poethig, director of urban policy initiatives at the Urban Institute, said that "nothing" Trump has said currently gives her any good insight into how cities might benefit under his presidency.

In keeping with the GOP's mixed reaction to the party's nominee, not all mayors are running from Trump. Betsy Price, the Republican mayor of Fort Worth, Texas, said that after first supporting Bush and then Rubio, she will vote for Trump. However, she said her main focus is on governing.

"Political seasons come and go but we have to focus on the business of the city," Price said.