CLEVELAND — Donald Trump is on track to become the Republican presidential nominee Thursday at a GOP convention that home-state Ohio Gov. John Kasich is unlikely to attend — an example of how unconventional this party gathering is going to be.
Trump’s rise has been fueled by his divisive rhetoric, and a byproduct of that at the Republican national convention is the absence of notable party leaders — including former presidents, some of Trump’s primary rivals and many elected officials from Illinois.
Besides the no-shows, the Cleveland convention is also remarkable because there are Republicans — including a segment from Illinois — who can’t bring themselves to say they support Trump, yet don’t want to go public and say they can’t be for him.
Still, Tim Schneider — a Cook County Board member who is the Illinois Republican Party chairman, is upbeat about Trump and Cleveland, where the convention kicks off on Monday at Quicken Loans Arena. Cleveland last hosted a convention in 1936.
Schneider’s team is overseeing convention arrangements for a contingent of Republicans from Illinois — including 94 delegates and alternates and 166 other guests — elected officials, party supporters, activists and donors and 10 staffers.
When Trump accepts the nomination — improbable a year ago —“I think you are going to find out Thursday night that this may be the most-watched speech ever in the history of the nation,” Schneider said.
Then, there are those like Illinois House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, who will be in Cleveland for the convention but, even now, this late in the game, still says he’s unsure whether he will embrace the party’s nominee.
“Voting for president is not something I take lightly,” Durkin said. “I need to get to know that person.
“It was told to me many years ago, when you’re running for president, you’re basically inviting someone into your home. And I’ve run presidential campaigns in the state of Illinois before. I need to know the person I am going to support. I need to know them well.
“I need to get that feeling that I’ve had in the past. And I’m not there yet. I hope to be there, but I just want to be perfectly clear, in no circumstance will I be supporting or voting for the Democratic nominee.”
The Cleveland convention is taking place at a turbulent time — days after the Thursday truck bombing attack in Nice, France, that claimed at least 84 lives and not much longer after what seems to be an unrelenting series of high-profile shootings in the United States. The latest — in Dallas, Baton Rouge, Minneapolis, San Bernardino, Calif., and Orlando — have helped to keep questions about race, policing, criminal justice and terrorism in the name of Islam on the front burner.
Security is massive — it always is for a presidential convention — with additional concerns in Cleveland because of Nice, the police shootings in Dallas and Ohio’s open-carry gun law.
Because of the Bastille Day massacre, Trump put off a planned news conference Friday to announce Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as his vice presidential pick, instead breaking the news on Twitter.
With Pence, Trump, the billionaire businessman and reality show star picked a figure straight out of central casting. A former House member, Pence fills enormous gaps in Trump’s resume and provides reassurance to nervous conservatives who don’t trust Trump.
With 34 Illinois reporters bunking at the Cleveland Airport Marriott along with the Illinois delegation — the budget crisis would follow Gov. Bruce Rauner to Ohio if he showed up at the hotel. But Rauner, who isn’t supporting Trump, is staying home. His presidential voting intentions are unclear, though, as House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., put it at a recent CNN town hall, “It is a binary choice: It is either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. You don’t get a third option.”
Kasich, who folded his Republican presidential bid in May, has said he disagrees with Trump on so many issues he will not support him. Skipping the convention is more awkward for Kasich because it’s in Ohio. No final decision has been made yet on whether Kasich actually will enter the Quicken Loans Arena where the convention’s being held.
“His first priority right now is electing down ballot Republican senators and House members and state House majorities, and that is best done outside the convention,” Kasich spokesman Chris Shrimpf said. “He doesn’t want to stir up trouble in the convention hall, which he would do if he entered it.”
On Monday afternoon, Kasich will meet with the Illinois delegation at a reception hosted by Commonwealth Edison. He comes to Chicago on Aug. 4 to headline campaign fund-raisers for U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., and Durkin.
Kirk, who’s facing a big re-election battle against U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., ruled out attending the convention months ago and has gotten enormous attention for withdrawing his support for Trump.
U.S. Rep. Bob Dold, R-Ill., who’s in an election rematch with Democratic former Rep. Brad Schneider, was among the first in Illinois to disavow Trump and rule out going to Cleveland.
State Comptroller Leslie Munger, who’s facing a challenge from Chicago City Clerk Susana Mendoza, won’t be at the convention either. Nor will Illinois Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno, R-Lemont.
Besides Dold, other Illinois Republican members of Congress skipping Cleveland are Rep. Mike Bost and Rep. Darin LaHood. Bost will support the GOP nominee, according to his spokesman, not naming Trump. And LaHood backs Trump.
Among those also not in Cleveland: former Presidents George H.W. Bush and George Bush; former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, an unsuccessful 2016 presidential contender who told MSNBC he isn’t voting this year for president; 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney, who led a “dump Trump” drive; and the party’s 2008 nominee, U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.
WILL BE THERE
The five other Republicans Illinois sends to Congress will be in Cleveland. While Reps. Randy Hultgren and John Shimkus are in the Trump camp, Rep. Rodney Davis is for the “GOP nominee.”
Kinzinger has been vocal about not being sold on Trump yet. He will be in Cleveland partly because he is appearing on panels on national security and foreign policy hosted by POLITICO and the Washington Post.
Rep. Peter Roskam is keeping the door open.
“He plans on attending the GOP convention and will support down-ballot candidates who embrace our agenda of fighting poverty, strengthening our national security, growing the economy, replacing Obamacare and bringing about comprehensive tax reform,” Roskam’s spokesman said. And what about Trump? “Donald Trump has four months to make his case to the voters of this country, including Rep. Roskam.”
With Clinton seen as a lock to carry Illinois in the general election — the state has voted Democratic for president since 1992 — there’s not much to the Illinois Trump campaign because it makes no sense to spend a lot of money in a deep blue state. Schneider said some troops will be sent in after the convention.
The Illinois Trump co-chairs are Rep. John Cabello, R-Machesney Park, and Demetra DeMonte, the Republican national committeewoman from Illinois.
Cubs board member Todd Ricketts is attending the convention as a Trump delegate, though he led a drive to deny him the nomination.
Democratic and Republican conventions traditionally are gatherings of the usual suspects: operatives, elected and appointed officials, lobbyists, with the same folks turning up as delegates each election cycle.
Most of the Illinois Trump delegates are not from the GOP establishment. Richard Porter, the Republican national committeeman from Illinois, said that’s a plus. “It’s great to have new blood involved,” Porter said.
The March 15 Illinois primary yielded 54 elected Trump delegates; nine for U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and six for Kasich, including Nancy Kimme, a governmental affairs consultant. Kimme said she will be in Cleveland for just two days as she “evaluates” whether to vote for Trump, Clinton or Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party presidential candidate.
“The Trump delegates are not people I am familiar with,” Kimme said. “And so it doesn’t seem like I am going to need five days in order to do what I need to do in Cleveland.”