Commentary: Herrera Beutler Walks the Trump Tightrope


During the 2016 general election season, politicians of all stripes were asked for their opinions of the brash billionaire businessman who had taken the Republican Party by storm with his bombastic nationalist approach to seeking the presidency.

A couple Republican county commissioner candidates outright refused to answer when asked about Donald Trump. 

Bill Bryant, a moderate Republican who was seeking the governor’s office, was evasive for months as the line of questioning arose again and again before he finally announced he would not support Trump in August 2016. 

Jaime Herrera Beutler, our congresswoman in the 3rd Congressional District, waited even longer. It wasn’t until October 2016 that she announced emphatically that she would not support Trump for the presidency and would instead write in the name of House Speaker Paul Ryan. That decision was apparently sealed after a recording of the president’s lewd comments about women were made public.

“For months I’ve left the door open for Donald Trump to earn my vote. That door has now slammed shut,” Herrera Beutler said at the time. 

More than a year later, Donald Trump is finishing his first year as president of the United States. The economy is, by most accounts, booming, and while there continues to be negative national media attention on the president — some earned, some not, depending on who you’re talking to — his base seems to be just as supportive as ever. 

That puts Herrera Beutler in an interesting position as the Republican representative of the only Western Washington congressional district that remains red. It’s the only district that didn’t swing seemingly permanently to the Democrats in the 1990s, and nearly 50 percent of its voters supported Trump in the general election. In Lewis County, far and away the most conservative county in the district, Trump took 64 percent of the vote. 

As Herrera Beutler seeks another term in office facing several Democratic opponents, she’s likely to be asked about Trump early and often between now and November. 

That fact was apparent during her telephone town hall event on Monday night. 

A caller noted that Trump’s attorney had allegedly paid off a porn actress prior to his election. The alleged impropriety occurred after he had married first lady Melania Trump, and the caller wanted to know what Herrera Beutler and other members of Congress planned to do about it. 

The congresswoman’s problem with the question? The word “alleged.” 

“I don’t know that it is alleged. I’m pretty sure that his lawyer paid her,” Herrera Beutler said, later adding, “I could spend a lot of time doing press conferences about it and talking about it and it wouldn’t change the dial. And quite frankly, a majority of people in our region supported Trump, so I’m trying to be respectful to what they want.”

It took no time for readers to begin commenting on social media after The Chronicle published the headline “Herrera Beutler Distances Herself From Trump in Town Hall.” A dominant theme came from Trump supporters, who noted the congresswoman’s opposition to the president’s actions and quickly declared they would no longer support Herrera Beutler. 

The congresswoman will likely continue to walk a fine line in an attempt to separate herself from any untoward actions by the president, but not so far that she eliminates the benefits of the Republican Party being at the governmental helm for an economic boom.

Dozens of other candidates and members of Congress will be tiptoeing down the same line.

With each presidential Tweetstorm and blazing cable television news headline will come a demand for answers from Herrera Beutler. 

If she speaks what seems to be her conscience, she’ll be abandoned by some conservatives. If she doesn’t, she’ll become a larger target in a district that was previously served by Democrat Brian Baird. 

That’ll be the conundrum from Herrera Beutler heading into her defense of her seat in the 3rd Congressional District, and it amounts to a political tightrope. 

Despite all this, I still hope the congresswoman will hold a rare town hall event. Not the telephone variety, but the kind where she stands on a stage and faces her voters. The fact that many questions would start with the words “President Donald Trump...” is probably one of the main reasons that won’t happen. 


Eric Schwartz is the editor of The Chronicle. He can be reached at 360-807-8224 or