The Alaska Republican Party is sticking with its presidential candidate, despite the un-endorsements of some of the party's top members.
But moves by Alaska's two Republican senators and others to denounce presidential nominee Donald Trump drove another wedge into a divide in the state party infrastructure. This weekend, Sens. Dan Sullivan and Lisa Murkowski had to resign from their seats on the Alaska Republican Party's Central Committee because of their vocal opposition to Trump — an unprecedented step.
Party rules dictate that members of its governing body — the Central Committee — can't come out in opposition to a party nominee. They can remain neutral, but outright opposition requires that they step down, according to party officials.
On Saturday, both Sullivan and Murkowski joined a list of Republican members of Congress in calling for Trump to step down after the release of a 2005 video wherein Trump made vulgar remarks about his own sexual aggression toward women.
[Alaska Sens. Sullivan and Murkowski call on Donald Trump to drop out of presidential race]
But the national and state party organizations are sticking with their support for Trump, even if many of their members are not.
The official word came down from the Republican National Committee Monday afternoon in a closed call between party members and RNC Chairman Reince Priebus.
Alaska Republican Party Chairman Tuckerman Babcock was on that call.
"That message was clear, and now I understand exactly where the national party is tonight, which is very similar to where I would want to take the state party," Babcock said.
Priebus told those on the call that anything anyone had heard about "stopping work or looking for other candidates was a bunch of nonsense," Babcock said. Over the weekend, news reports had emerged that the RNC had issued a stop-work order on printing Trump "Victory" campaign literature. But that was at the order of the Trump campaign, which was considering a change in messaging, Babcock said.
And "while there may be a way to replace the nominee, that is not something we are discussing or even considering," Babcock relayed, noting that Trump had been elected to be the party nominee by voters, not chosen by the party.
In Alaska, many Republicans are saying that "Hillary Clinton must be stopped," Babcock said.
[New poll shows Trump leading in the presidential race in Alaska]
Opinions are mixed about Sullivan and Murkowski's decision to call for Trump to drop out of the race, Babcock said. That comes with having a "wild and woolly independent party," he said.
"I resolve to encourage everyone to speak their mind and share their opinions," Babcock said. He'd added that he would "prefer they all do in the primary," but everyone was welcome to continue if they liked.
And that includes Alaska's two senators.
"I only want to support the election of both Lisa Murkowski and Donald Trump, and as a party chairman, I wish that they were all on the same page but I don't demand that of candidates," he said. "They have their own priorities and I intend to help them both win."
But they can't remain a part of the party's governing body, at least until after the election, Babcock said. Murkowski and Sullivan each called him over the weekend and "let me know that they were resigning from the state central committee and understood that it was the intent of the rules," Babcock said.
It doesn't effectively change anything for the moment, since no meetings are scheduled for the central committee before the election, Babcock said.
The "only significant thing" about the election-season defections "is that that's never happened before," Babcock said.
"Everyone who resigned will be welcome back after the election," he said. "We're not going to hold any grudges" against members who decided they couldn't support a nominee.
And even though Murkowski said she won't vote for the Republican presidential nominee, the Alaska Republican Party will support her re-election campaign.
[Trump says 'shackles' are off as he steps up attacks on fleeing Republicans]
The party doesn't control the campaigns, Babcock said. That "leaves me in the position of supporting both Sen. Murkowski for re-election and for the election of Donald Trump." And that's true, "whether they get along or not," he said.
Sullivan and Murkowski aren't the first Alaska Republicans to step down from the once-85-member Alaska GOP leadership committee during this election season.
When conservative Joe Miller announced he was taking over the Libertarian slot to challenge Murkowski on the ticket, seven district-level officials resigned to support his campaign, and one was removed.
Some "send a big speech or a letter," like David Bronson of Anchorage, Babcock said. Others took a less formal route. North Pole district chair Dave Eichler sent Babcock a text that said, "sending Miller money, bye," Babcock said.
Sometimes it's all over in a phone call.
About seven weeks ago, Babcock was sitting in the car at one of his kid's soccer games and heard Samuel Moore, then a member of the central committee, guest-hosting the Dave Stieren talk radio show on KFQD. Babcock "heard him announce he was endorsing Gary Johnson" and sending the Libertarian presidential candidate a donation. "And I said, 'OK, that's pretty clear.' "
"He said, 'Oh, you got me,' " when Babcock gave him a call soon after, he said. "I said, 'Well, the right thing for you to do is resign.' " And "he said, 'No problem. I resign.' "
On Sunday, Moore mentioned his ouster from the committee in a Facebook post.
"I'm proud of that. Glad some folks have finally caught up," he wrote.
As of Monday, Babcock said he had not heard from any district officers who planned to resign over Trump.
Reaction to Sullivan and Murkowski's stand on Trump has been mixed. State House Majority Leader and Anchorage Republican Rep. Charisse Millett, who's up for re-election, announced Saturday that she isn't supporting Trump, either.
But most other GOP legislative candidates have met Trump's latest controversy with silence.
The candidate's defiant rhetoric puts "Republican political figures in a pretty difficult box," said Bill Evans, a Republican on the Anchorage Assembly who's been one of the few party members in Alaska to speak up against its presidential nominee.
"Normally, you want to support your party. And there are a lot of people that will support Trump. But those that don't, that have concerns about him, whether personally or substantively, probably just prefer to keep those as quiet as possible as long as possible," Evans said. "Because they're not sure what the blowback effect on them, personally, would be."
Bernadette Wilson, a conservative political consultant working with Republican legislative candidates, said she doesn't expect party members' association with Trump to be a problem at the state level.
The denouncement of Trump by Alaska's two Republican U.S. senators highlights how perilous presidential politics can be for GOP candidates.
Babcock posted Sullivan's and Murkowski's statements on the Alaska GOP Facebook page Saturday, and commenters met the news with outrage and pledges to vote for Murkowski's Libertarian challenger, Joe Miller, in November.
"Neither of these two candidates Lisa Murkowski or Senator Dan Sullivan will ever get my vote again. If they can't stand behind our GOP nominee to prevent Hillary Clinton from taking the White House than they don't stand with republican voters. I urge all republicans in protesting with future votes against these two political elites," one commenter wrote.
Only a few people were in favor of the move, thanking the senators for taking a stand.
The National Federation of Republican Women released a statement saying that it would "stand behind the Republican ticket," including Donald Trump.
The party's Alaska spokeswoman, Suzanne Downing, who runs a non-affiliated GOP party newsletter, published a reader comment on Monday.
"Those Republicans who turn tail and run to the back in fright over Trump's locker room talk are more shameful than anything Trump could say," the Alaska Trump supporter wrote. "Please, Republicans, get back on track and support the strongest, most determined candidate"
The takeaway from the weekend strife, Downing wrote, is this: "Bedwetters who prematurely called the election for Hillary just had their nether regions handed to them. It's not over. The Republican base is still on board."
Trump took his own stand and denounced Republicans opposing his campaign in a flurry of tweets Tuesday.
"Disloyal R's are far more difficult than Crooked Hillary. They come at you from all sides. They don't know how to win — I will teach them!," the candidate wrote.
But, he said, "It is so nice that the shackles have been taken off me and I can now fight for America the way I want to."