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.

2012 GOP Convention

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.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2016, Donald Trump, Politicians, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020.

Comments

  1. michael reynolds says:

    I’ve got a Keynote presentation on teaching WW2 history and the importance of history generally that I present in schools. Slides, video, the whole nine yards. I am willing to present – assuming I can get a good slot.

  2. grumpy realist says:

    Trump’s also making loud noises about not letting anyone speak at the Republican convention who hasn’t pledged to support him.

    I predict what this is going to turn into: four days of Trump speaking every day talking about how wonderful he is, plus his family on stage (he’s going to pick Ivanka for VP, right?) and home movies.

  3. Surreal American says:

    I can score up some vacation slides for the occasion. Maybe a high school book report or two.

  4. CSK says:

    @grumpy realist:

    Actually, Trump has already promised to every night, so why would he need anyone else? Or want anyone else? It’s about HIM, you know.

  5. CSK says:

    @michael reynolds:

    And I have a dynamite talk on writing memoirs and autobiographical fiction. Can we do book signings afterward?

  6. NBH says:

    At this point, I’m expecting Trump to take the public campaign financing option once it’s official and funnel much of it into his own companies in an impressive display of turning campaigning into a successful grift. He’ll get himself a payday while being able to ignore the donors and party members who view him as radioactive. It also leaves Clinton with a huge resource advantage to try and improve her image while pounding his image and Republicans in general into the ground.

  7. JohnMcC says:

    @grumpy realist: Please don’t forget to mention that we’ll probably have wonderful opportunities to hear from Curt Schilling and Bobby Knight.

  8. Surreal American says:

    @JohnMcC:

    Chris Christie could deliver a speech one night while blinking out ‘S.O.S” in Morse code with his eyelids.

  9. gVOR08 says:

    @JohnMcC: Maybe Clint Eastwood? Then Bobby Knight could have an empty chair to throw into the crowd.

  10. JohnMcC says:

    @michael reynolds: Completely and unforgivably off topic! I am like you a fan of counter-factual history. The other day I was wasting too much of my life on Netflix and watched ToraToraTora. Better movie than I remembered. Led me to wonder what would have happened if the Imperial Japanese Navy had been dispatched to actually assist the European Axis powers. Say in the spring of ’40 the carriers that launched the Pearl Harbor attack had attacked British positions in Egypt. Given just a little coordination the North Africa forces would have been rolled up, Malta and probably Gibraltar taken and the Battle of Britain would have seen the RAF cleared out of the sky. I decided I didn’t like imaging a Nazi victory. But perhaps your project of counter-historical WW2 could find a way for the British to pull that chestnut out of the fire. Maybe FDR would see that the IPN in the Atlantic had no access to fuel? Would that belligerent act have cost him the election in ’40? God help me, I could go on for hours. Anyhow — thought of you.

  11. michael reynolds says:

    @CSK:

    A book signing, and some sandwiches would be nice. Also, I always stipulate that there shall be coffee. My not-exactly-helpful piece on book tour: https://medium.com/@MichaelGrantBks/13-things-about-book-tour-for-kidlit-authors-578a198487ff#.miu5p5gj5

  12. michael reynolds says:

    @JohnMcC:

    I’m actually trying to make only two changes: I insert women and move the combat involvement of black troops earlier. Other than that I’m not changing the outcome (spoiler alert: we still win.) I’m staying very much at the platoon level, carefully avoiding generals and politicians and such. Of course I feel free to invent small firefights as needed, but all within the context of actual battles.

    I’m spending most of the summer in fun places like Normandy, the Hurtgen Forest, the Ardennes, Oradour Sur Glane and Buchenwald. Family’s reaction: Wait, we’re going where?

  13. MarkedMan says:

    I wouldn’t underestimate Trump’s ability to put on a big show. No doubt he’ll come up with something other than speeches. He may also cut down the primetime stuff to 90mins or 2hours max. And he may demand that “the RNC” gets paid to show the convention. I’m really intrigued by his desire to build up to his VP pick. Who would be willing to be on the short list and endure the humiliation of not getting picked after three nights of buildup? I can’t picture a politician being willing to do it. But maybe Ivanka? Maybe Gary Busey? Howard Stern?Perhaps a politician so old they don’t really understand what is happening? Or so desperate for attention they would literally do anything (ahem- Newt Gingrich).

  14. grumpy realist says:

    @MarkedMan: I’m hoping for Newt or La Sarah. Please please please please…..

  15. DrDaveT says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Family’s reaction: Wait, we’re going where?

    Normandy: butter, paté, and Calvados. And apples, and more butter. What’s not to like?

  16. Rafer Janders says:

    @JohnMcC:

    Say in the spring of ’40 the carriers that launched the Pearl Harbor attack had attacked British positions in Egypt.

    Physically and strategically impossible, I’m afraid, if you check a map. To get from Japan to Egypt means heading through the South China Sea, Indonesia, the Straits of Singapore, and the Indian Ocean, and rounding the Cape of Good Hope, all areas controlled at the time by the French, American, British, and Dutch navies. Too far outside the bounds of credibility.

  17. CSK says:

    @michael reynolds:

    I don’t write YA fiction, but your tips seem to apply across the board.

    I like to do my talks at three p.m., and signings at 4:30 so I can escape to the hotel bar by 5:30 at the latest.

  18. Pch101 says:

    I would suggest an evening of karaoke, but that could be costly. Mike Huckabee has learned that the hard way: playing “Eye of the Tiger” at Kim Davis’ straight pride event is costing him $25k.

    http://money.cnn.com/2016/06/27/news/mike-huckabee-eye-of-the-tiger/index.html

    I suppose that Ted Nugent would donate his music, but I can’t imagine that “Cat Scratch Fever” would be appropriate for such an auspicious occasion.

  19. James Pearce says:

    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 joke works on so many levels. Hilarious!

  20. CSK says:

    @grumpy realist:

    La Sarah would thrill the Trumpkins, and she could pitch her upcoming (maybe) Judge Judy-style reality show, but at this point, I’m not sure how enthusiastic Trump is about sharing a stage with her. She and her family are messy.

  21. JohnMcC says:

    @Rafer Janders: Please let’s not take this too far. Just a stray thought that became a kind of ear worm for a couple of hours (while I was mowing the lawn). But….

    In the spring of ’40 the Japanese were not at war with the French or Brits. They were international bad guys after Manchuria, Nanking and similar but could have simply bought the fuel. They could have freely entered the Red Sea from the Indian Ocean (could have called it a round-the-world tour similar to TR’s ‘great white fleet’) and once in the eastern Med, could have mounted a Pearl Harbor style surprise attack. That is how I would have done it if I had drawn the Japan role in one of the Avalon Hill board games I used to adore.

  22. Anjin-san says:

    They might be able to get Carrot Top or that Screech dude…

  23. Surreal American says:

    @Anjin-san:

    Or Gallagher of watermelon-smashing fame. Wait, why wasn’t he ever invited to the RNC convention before?

  24. An Interested Party says:

    Why not have former contestants from his reality show speak every night…certainly that would be more entertaining than pasty-faced Republican politicians giving lukewarm praises of him…it’s a real shame what all of this is going to do to the Republican brand…

  25. Rick Almeida says:

    Scott Baio!
    Ted Nugent!
    Kid Rock!
    Mike Tyson!
    Kirstie Alley!
    Dennis Rodman!
    Hulk Hogan!
    Mike Ditka!

    Seriously, please please put just any 3 of these nutters in primetime convention spots.

  26. gVOR08 says:

    @MarkedMan:

    Perhaps a politician so old they don’t really understand what is happening?

    Doesn’t have to be that old. Ben Carson for Veep!!

  27. Lit3Bolt says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Lol, some of those tips remind me of Barney Gumble: “Just hook it up to my veins!” and the technicians show up on cue with an IV drip.

    Were you a misanthrope before or after you became an artist? (Serious question actually: I’ve concluded hating people is the surest way to eternal bliss.)

  28. Barry says:

    @michael reynolds: “I’ve got a Keynote presentation on teaching WW2 history and the importance of history generally that I present in schools. Slides, video, the whole nine yards. I am willing to present – assuming I can get a good slot.”

    You probably included Commie lies like that the USSR was in the war against Hitler, and that the war started before December 7, 1941 🙂

  29. Barry says:

    @grumpy realist: “I predict what this is going to turn into: four days of Trump speaking every day talking about how wonderful he is, plus his family on stage (he’s going to pick Ivanka for VP, right?) and home movies.”

    From your lips to God’s ears.

    Four looooooooooooooooooooong days of Trump, Trump,Trump! Center stage, side screens, upper screens, and back screens (for when you turn around in your seat for some relief).

  30. Barry says:

    @NBH: “At this point, I’m expecting Trump to take the public campaign financing option once it’s official and funnel much of it into his own companies in an impressive display of turning campaigning into a successful grift. ”

    It’s been suggested that Trump is nearly bankrupt, Note that Trump steaks, knives and vodka are not the sort of thing that multibillionaires need to deal in.

    This has led to the theory that Trump got into the race to raise some cash, a la Newt, Cain and Carson, and that he never expected to win.

    I find it interesting that under any theory, he’s not pivoted to actually try to win, once it became possible.

  31. Barry says:

    @JohnMcC: “In the spring of ’40 the Japanese were not at war with the French or Brits. They were international bad guys after Manchuria, Nanking and similar but could have simply bought the fuel. ”

    From the British, who were (a) short on fuel and (b) not exactly trusting the Japanese?

    “They could have freely entered the Red Sea from the Indian Ocean (could have called it a round-the-world tour similar to TR’s ‘great white fleet’) ”

    Except for the whole ‘British and French not letting them’.

    “and once in the eastern Med, could have mounted a Pearl Harbor style surprise attack. That is how I would have done it if I had drawn the Japan role in one of the Avalon Hill board games I used to adore.”

    And they’d have been trapped in the Med, with zero support or resupply, and the Royal Navy hunting them down.

  32. JohnMcC says:

    @Barry: OK, OK, OK! If we had an old style Avalon Hill board to work all this out on, possibly we could sort it out. (In those days, with a set of Britanica Encyclopedias nearby and a roll of the dice to decide it.)
    But now, so off-topic and really a silly thing to argue over — I give up.

    But it is nice to know there is a nerdy history geek like myself left in the cosmos.

  33. Rafer Janders says:

    @JohnMcC:

    They could have freely entered the Red Sea from the Indian Ocean (could have called it a round-the-world tour similar to TR’s ‘great white fleet’) and once in the eastern Med,

    What? How? Through the Suez Canal, controlled by the British? You think that in 1940 the British would have let a fleet of German-allied Japanese warships through the Suez Canal into the Med???? You may as well say they’d have a fleet of dragons fly them there.

    (That’s of course assuming they would have let them through the Straits of Singapore first, or let them steam through the Indian Ocean unmolested, or that the Japanese would have had the fuel for such an adventure.