Nobody Wants To Speak At Donald Trump’s Convention
Republican officials are running away from Donald Trump the way they'd run away from a horde of mosquitoes infected with the Zika virus.
When it comes to speaking at the Republican National Convention in July, a whole host of Republicans are running in the other direction:
A slot at the Republican National Convention used to be a career-maker — a chance to make your name on the big stage and to catch the eye of the Republican donors and activists who make or break campaigns.
In the year of Trump: Not so much.
With the convention less than a month away, POLITICO contacted more than 50 prominent governors, senators and House members to gauge their interest in speaking. Only a few said they were open to it, and everyone else said they weren’t planning on it, didn’t want to or weren’t going to Cleveland at all — or simply didn’t respond.
“I am not attending,” said South Carolina Rep. Trey Gowdy, who is overseeing the high-profile congressional Republican investigation into Hillary Clinton’s handling of the attacks on Benghazi. Gowdy, who said he was taking his family to the beach instead, hasn’t gone to conventions in the past and didn’t plan to now.
“I’m not,” said South Carolina Rep. Mark Sanford, a former two-term governor. “But hope you have a good Thursday!”
“Don’t know,” said Sean Duffy, a reality-TV-star-turned-Wisconsin congressman. “I haven’t thought about it.”
Florida Rep. Carlos Curbelo: “I won’t be there.”
The widespread lack of interest, Republicans say, boils down to one thing: the growing consensus that it’s best to steer clear of Trump.
“Everyone has to make their own choice, but at this point, 70 percent of the American public doesn’t like Donald Trump. That’s as toxic as we’ve seen in American politics,” said Stuart Stevens, a longtime Republican strategist who helped to craft the party’s 2012 convention. “Normally, people want to speak at national conventions. It launched Barack Obama’s political career.”
Trump’s team is tight-lipped about to whom it’ll extend speaking invitations, as is the Republican National Committee. But many of the party’s most prominent pols say they’re flat-out not interested — and that Trump should look elsewhere. Their rejections range from terse to abrupt, and — in a year otherwise lacking in GOP unity — they seem to be using the same talking points.
New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte “is not attending the convention,” said a spokeswoman. Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner “is not attending the convention,” his office said. A spokesman for South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham: “He announced back in May he’s not attending.” For South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley: “The governor has not been asked to speak at the convention and has no plans to.” Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn: “There are no plans for him to speak.”
House members often have to scrap to get national attention — and eagerly take whatever they can get. But taking the podium in Cleveland? No thanks.
New York Rep. Elise Stefanik, a rising star who helped to write the GOP platform at the 2012 convention, “will be in her district working for her constituents and not attending the convention,” said a spokesman. Oklahoma Rep. Steve Russell, a former Army lieutenant colonel who helped capture Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, “has no plans to be a speaker at the convention,” said his office. North Carolina Rep. Richard Hudson, who’s frequently talked about as a potential future statewide candidate, “won’t be at the convention.” Mia Love, the charismatic Utah rep seen by many as the GOP’s future, is skipping Cleveland for a trip to Israel. “I don’t see any upsides to it,” Love told a reporter on Friday. “I don’t see how this benefits the state.”
Among the pols staying mum on their convention plans? Those playing host. Ohio Sen. Rob Portman will attend the convention and host several events in Cleveland over the course of the week. But a spokesman, Kevin Smith, said “no announcements” had yet been made on whether he would speak. A spokesman for Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a Trump primary rival who has pointedly refused to endorse the presumptive nominee, declined to comment on whether he wants to deliver a speech.
In past conventions, up-and-coming young senators — think Obama, Barack — have used the limelight to raise their profiles. Not so with Republicans this year: Nebraska’s Ben Sasse, who’s said he won’t vote for the real estate mogul, isn’t expected to be at Cleveland. Utah Sen. Mike Lee, an outspoken Trump critic who will be serving on the convention’s powerful Rules Committee, hasn’t been asked to speak, said his spokesman, Conn Carroll. Would he if asked? Said Carroll: “If I got a hypothetical question I probably wouldn’t answer it.” Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who recently changed his mind and announced a reelection bid, has said it’s unlikely he’ll be asked to speak — but if he does, it won’t be on Trump’s behalf.
Even the GOP leaders in charge of maintaining the party’s congressional majorities — Mississippi Sen. Roger Wicker and Oregon Rep. Greg Walden — wouldn’t say whether they’d take the podium.
As the quoted article goes on to note, this is a distinct change from the last two Republican conventions, or indeed any recent political convention for either party, in that the problem that campaigns and planners have typically faced is that they seemingly had more people willing to speak than there were opportunities for them to do so in anything other than non-prime time speaking slots when the number of people actually watching was decidedly lower than it would be in the evenings when the broadcast networks actually covered the conventions and the cable networks would cover speakers rather than using the time to talk to feature their own stable of pundits, correspondents, and guests. As noted, for most candidates for Congress and the Senate any time in front of the cameras would arguably be of benefit to them, though, especially since it would likely get covered by the local media back home and could be used in a campaign commercial. That’s why the time before a political convention is usually taken up by incumbents running for office and new candidates for office trying to curry favor with the National Committee and the Presidential campaign in an effort to get the kind of foot in the door that could lead to one of those coveted speaking slots.
That’s not happening this time, though, and the main reason, of course, is Donald Trump. As I’ve already noted before — see here and here — more and more Republican officials seem to be recognizing the risk that being associated with their party’s presumptive nominee is likely to be to their political fortunes. In no small part because of his falling poll numbers and his historically low favorability numbers, Republicans in tight races are staying away from Donald Trump like they’d stay away from a horde of mosquitoes infected with the Zika virus. This is especially true of candidates such as Mark Kirk in Illinois, Ron Johnson in Wisconson, Rob Portman in Ohio, and Kelly Ayotte in New Hampshire. These candidates are already in tight races for re-election as it is, and given the negative public assessment growing around Trump, they can hardly afford to have themselves associated with him. What’s surprising is that even Republican lawmakers who will obviously be easily re-elected, and even Senators not up for re-election this year, don’t seem all that eager to be associated with The Donald. Instead of being a big show of unity among Republican unity, then, the big story coming out of Cleveland seems likely to be who isn’t there and the extent to which even the people who are there will likely be going out of their way to disassociate themselves from the nominee. That is going to go a long way toward undermining the image of a united party that you normally expect to see coming out of a convention, and to make things even more difficult for the Trump campaign.