On the last morning of the 2016 Republican National Convention, the Illinois delegation breakfast made it clear: This week’s call for unity didn’t miss its mark but it didn’t exactly hit the bull’s eye.
Richard Porter, a national committeeman from Winnetka, asked first-time delegates to reflect on “how different a political event is when you’re there,” instead of watching the process that many only see from a living room TV.
Porter addressed the theme of unity that peppered speeches at the conventional hall floor. And, akin to past nights, the response was mixed.
Porter focused on Thursday morning’s elephant in the room: Sen. Ted Cruz’s lack of clear endorsement of Donald Trump during his speech the night before — a speech met with a hail of boos from furious Trump supporters.
“That was 2,500 people booing (Ted Cruz) all at once”, Porter said, citing that as evidence of “unity, not disunity.”
In defiance, another Illinois delegate, Jim Fisher of Hudson, strode out of the breakfast room shaking his head.
“Ted Cruz gave a motivational speech last night,” Fisher said in the hallway. An original Cruz delegate, Fisher said he still felt proud of the man who, just a few hours earlier, became a political pariah to many.
“I came here to vote for Ted Cruz,” Fisher said. Ultimately, Fisher said that he was going to “vote my conscience….I will not vote for Hillary Clinton.” When asked why it was so hard to say that he would vote for Trump, Fisher hesitated. “I don’t want the headlines to say ‘Cruz delegate votes for Trump.’”
Complexities in unification
Following the breakfast, three Illinois delegates gathered in a sunlit alcove to reflect on events of the week and their expectations from Trump’s speech scheduled for Thursday evening.
This is an excerpt of their nearly two-hour conversation:
Stella Kozanecki: “In his speech I want specifics about what he’s going to do with education, immigration, military and other issues. I’d just as soon not mention Hillary Clinton tonight…(to) be above the fray tonight.”
Jim Fisher: (Trump) “can point out Hillary Clinton’s faults without saying her name directly” since repeating her name detracts from the overall message. “I think Hillary Clinton has had enough attacks” and it’s time to focus on Trump’s specifics.
Doug Hartmann Sr. of Collinsville: “You have to be inflammatory. (Swing voters) elected Obama twice. (Being inflammatory will) jerk their heads in November.”
Fisher: “Tell me one thing that Donald Trump stands for.”
Hartmann: “Growth and prosperity.”
Kozanecki: “That’s what I want to hear tonight.”
Fisher: “Are you speaking rhetorically? I want to be able to tell somebody that is what (Trump) stands for.”
Hartmann: “Have you read the platform? I have read the real estate portion with great intent.”
Hartmann later expounded that he liked that the real estate portion of the platform promoted home ownership. Hartmann is a landlord and said that he read the real estate part because he could understand it more than other sections of the platform, which both he and Fisher agreed were written in “legalese.”
Fisher: “That’s the Republican platform. What does Donald Trump stand for?”
Hartmann: “Donald Trump was instrumental in creating this platform.”
This week the Illinois delegation and the convention as a whole has struggled to find a balance between what has been largely viewed as an “anti-Hillary” message versus a “pro-Trump” message. Thursday night speaker Mary Fallin, the governor of Oklahoma, articulated what is arguably the unity compromise that the Republican party sought all week when she said:
“Now, as a party, we don’t agree all the time. That’s OK. As Ronald Reagan once said, ‘The person who agrees with you 80 percent of the time is a friend and ally.’”
With Trump’s speech looming on the horizon, Kozanecki said Thursday afternoon that she hoped their new nominee would outline specifics in his plan for change. In terms of healthcare, Kozanecki wanted to know about what he plans to do to replace Obamacare because Kozanecki is “not sure if he can just cut (the Affordable Care Act) without replacing it with something.”
Danielle Mergner wanted to hear specifics but remained skeptical. Instead, she expected the last night’s speech would be “more about rallying the party.” As a guest of a delegate, Mergner was simply excited to be in the stands of the Quicken Loans Arena, where Trump accepted the nomination.
Throughout Trump’s campaign, critics bashed him for his lack of political experience, whereas the Trump campaign pushed back by hailing him as a political outsider. In Thursday night’s speech, Trump embraced that role.
“I have joined the political arena so that the powerful can longer beat up on those who cannot defend themselves.” Still, less than a minute later Trump stated, “Nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it.”
After the week’s final breakfast, Steven Bryne said he was frustrated with the lack of grassroots organizing. Bryne, a guest of the Illinois delegation, stopped delegate Philip Chapman of Highland in the hallway in the Marriott to point out that nobody at the breakfast even had a clipboard to keep track of contact information. Phone apps are great, Bryne said, but he doesn’t think electronic messaging fosters enthusiasm as well as other grassroots organizing techniques.
Still, the convention was a learning experience for many first-time delegates.
“I want to go to (the local university), lay down my badges and ask for my master’s in political science,” Fisher said.
Hartmann agreed that the educational experience was worth the time and cost (delegates paid their own way to the convention). “It’s fun to learn. When you quit, learning, you die,” he said.
Chapman voiced regret that his experience at the RNC went by so quickly. The overall experience was “beyond phenomenal” between the “love and support” that he has experienced from the Cleveland community, the security provided to the convention as a whole, and also the camaraderie that he experienced as a member of the Illinois delegation.
“(We have) a similar desire for the country to move forward in a positive direction,” he said.
Kozanecki is optimistic about the months leading up to election day. She keeps newspaper clippings of articles expounding closures that affect state employees, underlining the portion of the article that cites state budget cuts as the reason for closure. She sends them to Mike Madigan, the speaker of the Illinois House. Kozanecki is under no illusions that these clippings ever reach Madigan, “but it makes me feel better,” she said.
Come January, Kozanecki is optimistic that she won’t have to mail anything to Washington.