Hillary Clinton — Not Trump — To Be Focus Of Tennessee GOP's Statesmen's Dinner | Nashville Public Radio

Hillary Clinton — Not Trump — To Be Focus Of Tennessee GOP's Statesmen's Dinner

May 13, 2016

Stop Hillary.

That'll be the refrain as a thousand Tennessee Republicans gather in Nashville tonight for their biggest fundraiser of the year — the Statesmen's Dinner.

It'll be their first major gathering since Donald Trump appeared to sew up the Republican nomination, beating out 16 other candidates.

Many Republicans are still coming around to their party's nominee, and even tonight's keynote speaker has wrestled with how to handle Trump. South Carolina Gov.  Nikki Haley has called Trump "dangerous" and "everything a governor doesn't want in a president."

Now she says she'll support the Republican nominee.

Tennessee GOP Chairman Ryan Haynes says there's a reason so many are changing their tune.

"It's an opportunity for us to coalesce and focus on beating Hillary Clinton in the fall," he said.

The evening will also include a tribute to the late U.S. Senator Fred Thompson, as well as speeches from current Sens. Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander and from Gov. Bill Haslam. It'll be the governor's first public appearance since he departed for a business development trip to Asia two weeks ago.

It might seem like organizers are trying to change the subject away from Trump. But Republican strategist Bill Phillips says there's logic behind it.

"I think if they're not excited about the nominee, you talk about the opponent," he said.

Phillips knows something about messaging. In 1988, he was the manager of the Republican National Convention, helping to unify the party behind George H. W. Bush. That year also featured a wide primary field, with 10 candidates initially vying to succeed President Ronald Reagan.

For his part, Phillips remains a Trump skeptic. He jokes that he plans to put off the decision on whether to vote for the real estate tycoon until mid-November — in other words, after the general election.

But Phillips knows one thing for sure: Even if he doesn't choose Trump, he won't be voting for Hillary Clinton, either.