The looming coronation of celebrity businessman Donald Trump at this week’s Republican National Convention in Cleveland is eroding the last hopes that many of Minnesota’s GOP delegates have harbored that he could somehow be replaced.
Many prominent national Republicans — former presidents, senators and members of Congress and governors — are skipping the convention at Quicken Loans Arena altogether, as are most of Minnesota’s best-known GOP leaders. Even a few members of the 74-member Minnesota delegation say they still might not vote for Trump in November.
U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer is the only Republican federal officeholder from Minnesota planning to be in Cleveland. While he’s backing Trump, Emmer said the candidate still must use the convention to convince his many detractors inside the party that he’s ready to lead them to the general election and has a strategy to beat Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.
“We’re going to see how he can put this thing together and we’ll see if we can come out unified and ready for November,” Emmer said in an interview.
Trump finished third in Minnesota’s March 1 caucus behind Sens. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, one of his worst showings nationwide during the primary and caucus season. As a result, only eight of Minnesota’s 38 delegates are pledged to vote for Trump on the first ballot. Even some among those eight were originally Cruz supporters who secured the spots at regional political conventions last spring, in the absence of organized bids by Trump supporters.
Trump has enough pledged delegate support to win on the first ballot in Cleveland despite his low standing among Minnesotans, unless the rules are somehow circumvented. Efforts late last week by Trump skeptics to alter rules to accommodate a challenge to Trump on the convention floor got squashed, although it’s likely that murmurs of a possible floor fight over Trump’s nomination will continue to rumble as the convention gets underway Monday.
“I’m not going to light myself on fire in the center of the convention or anything like that,” said Andy Aplikowski, a delegate from Andover who was still sporting a “Never Trump” button when he was in Cleveland last week for a meeting of the convention’s platform committee. He said he removed it when a Trump supporter reminded him of a no buttons policy.
“My guy lost,” said Aplikowski, who supported Cruz. He’s still not sure if he’ll vote for Trump in November, saying he assumes Clinton will easily win the state and that his vote probably won’t matter.
Adam Gilbertson, a delegate from Lakeville who supported Rubio, said Trump won the Republican race fair and square and he’s worried that a last-minute attempt to replace him at the top of the ticket could fracture the GOP for good.
“He would not be my first, second, third or even fifth choice to be our candidate,” said Gilbertson, who is making his first trek to a national political convention. “But the voters also spoke pretty clearly. What do you do?”
Those in the Minnesota delegation who genuinely support Trump are expecting unity but are also ready for hijinks.
“I won’t share names but I know who I’m keeping my eye on when I’m out there,” said Sheri Auclair, a delegate from Wayzata who has emerged as a de facto point person for the Trump campaign in Minnesota’s delegation. “People where I’m like, ‘I’m just not sure what they’re going to do.’ ”
Despite the potential discord in the Minnesota delegation, Auclair said she’s deeply excited for the convention. Traditionally, delegates and alternates spend a few hours a day in the convention hall but many more hours networking and party-building, and socializing at hundreds of parties and gatherings.
Auclair, a 54-year-old from Wayzata, initially supported Carly Fiorina in the GOP race but now backs Trump with a vengeance. She and Barb Sutter, a convention alternate from Bloomington and a fellow Trump supporter, were thrilled when they scored reservations at one of Cleveland’s hottest restaurants.
“Then I read a news story where the chef said he would deny service to Trump if he were to come to the restaurant,” Auclair said. “So I called Barb and said, ‘We’re wearing our Trump T-shirts when we go.’ ”
Auclair dismissed frequent criticism, even from some fellow Republicans, that Trump has succeeded by appealing to racial grievances and that he is primarily motivated by self-interest.
“Sure, occasionally I think he should stuff a sock in it,” Auclair said. “But that’s his style. What it comes down to is, I love America, I can’t stand what’s happening to it and he’s the only one talking about it.”
Minnesota GOP chairman Keith Downey said he views the dissent among Republicans as a normal part of the political process. He echoed Emmer in saying that the burden is on Trump to convince the party faithful that he’s worth their commitment and support.
Republicans “would appreciate the candidate be focused and disciplined and on message, get off some of the distractions and stay focused on his core message of jobs and security and people’s anxieties about the future,” Downey said. “He does that, and I think he can rally a lot of people around him.”
Emmer said he was heartened by Trump’s choice of Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as his running mate. He predicted it would help Trump shore up conservative support.
“That’s a good first step. One of the things I hear from a lot of folks I work with is that [Trump] is not a conservative,” Emmer said. “Pence is.”
Given the continually unconventional nature of Trump’s campaign, and the public squabbles and splits it has produced in the Republican Party nationwide, Marty Seifert — a delegate from Marshall and a former state representative and candidate for governor — said he has no idea what to expect from this year’s gathering.
“It could just be the Wild West,” he said.
Jim Carson, a Republican delegate from White Bear Lake, is not a Trump fan but thinks it highly unlikely that Trump could actually be blocked this week. He noted that to date, no viable alternative candidates have publicly come forward seeking to displace Trump. And he believes that even if successful, such a maneuver would probably end up hurting Republican chances in November because it would infuriate so many Trump supporters outside the convention hall.
“I’m hoping that [Trump] pulls out a miracle at the convention that convinces us all that he’s worth it,” Carson said. “Or I hope there’s a miracle that comes forth and changes the narrative of the whole election. Miracles do happen.”