DULUTH – Donald Trump supporters got to have their say on Saturday at the state Republican convention, asking party activists still skeptical about his presidential candidacy to get behind his bid for the White House.
“I want to plead with you today,” said U.S. Rep. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota, a Trump supporter who served as his surrogate at the GOP gathering in the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center. “For the sake of our nation, for our Grand Old Party, for all our candidates down the ballot — leave this place today fully committed to making Donald Trump the next president of the United States.”
While it’s Trump’s Republican Party now, plenty of Minnesota delegates continued to express strong reservations with the billionaire businessman as their standard-bearer.
Critics circulated fliers on the convention floor that repeated some of Trump’s more outrageous quotes and noted other baggage from his past, and some who got access to the microphone in the convention hall used their time to blast Trump.
“I am running to stop Donald Trump from being the nominee,” said Curtis Heyda, a party activist from Roseville running to be a delegate to the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in July. “I do not believe he would be a good president and I will do anything I can to prevent him from being the nominee.”
Ken Cobb, a Bemidji activist running to be an alternate to the national convention, openly questioned whether he still had a place among Republicans.
“Are we still welcome in our own party?” Cobb asked. “You need our help. We’re the ones who do most of the work. We cannot surrender our conservative soul.”
Rich Siegert, another Bemidji activist, raised a historical parallel: the 1912 Republican Party fracture that saw former President Theodore Roosevelt split off from the GOP and create the Bull Moose Party.
“It led to the election of the Democrat, Woodrow Wilson,” Siegert said.
With no statewide races this year and thus no endorsement contests to contend with, selecting national delegates was the main business of the day at the Duluth convention. In all, Minnesota will send 38 delegates and 38 alternates to Cleveland.
Most of those delegates were not Trump supporters, at least not initially. Trump finished third back on March 1 in Minnesota’s presidential caucus. Because of party rules, supporters of the first- and second-place finishers, Sens. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, were able to claim more of the delegate slots than were Trump supporters.
While the Rubio and Cruz delegates will be bound to vote for their candidates on the first ballot in Cleveland, it will be little more than a symbolic gesture. Trump is expected by that time to easily have enough bound delegates to secure the nomination on the first ballot.
Plenty of aspiring Rubio and Cruz delegates argued that it’s time for the party to unite behind Trump.
“Many of you are turned off by his harsh and crude rhetoric,” said Riley Horan, a University of St. Thomas student who initially backed Cruz. “But there’s no denying the fact that Donald Trump is a winner, a conservative and an American patriot.”
Those Trump supporters vying for delegate and alternate slots offered full-throated support for his bid.
“Donald Trump has proven appeal across a broad spectrum of grass-roots Republicans,” said Barb Sutter, a Bloomington activist seeking to be an alternate. “He has reinvigorated Ronald Reagan’s big tent. Rather than try to stop him, we need to embrace his populist appeal.”
Sheri Auclair, a Trump supporter from Wayzata, said she understands that it is tough for some Republicans to get on the bandwagon.
“I know for some of you this is a big ask and a heavy lift,” Auclair said. “But I would like you to look at the alternative, and that is President Clinton.”
For some high-profile Republicans, avoiding the topic of Trump altogether was the preferred approach.
In a short speech to the convention, U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer of the Sixth Congressional District talked up the stakes of this year’s presidential race — but never mentioned Trump’s name, referring to him only as “the inevitable candidate on the Republican side.”
Jason Lewis, the former radio host who is the endorsed Republican candidate for the open congressional seat in the Second District, took a similar tack. He compared this year’s presidential election to the one in 1980, when Republican Ronald Reagan unseated Democrat Jimmy Carter.
Lewis, too, did not utter Trump’s name.