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Illinois’ Elected Republicans Continue To Wrestle With Supporting Trump

The Illinois delegation cast votes to make Donald Trump the party nominee, despite the reservations of many of the top leaders in the Illinois Republican Party, from those who work in Springfield to those who work in Congress.

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Jim Durkin

Illinois House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs is in Cleveland with his eye on Trump’s supporters and what they could mean for the future of the Republican Party in Illinois.

Seth Perlman

The Illinois Republican delegation cast its official votes to make Donald Trump the party’s nominee, despite the reservations of many of the top leaders in the Illinois Republican Party. But while Illinois Republicans may have voted for Trump, that doesn’t mean they’re all on board.

When nominating a presidential candidate at a big political convention, each state only gets a moment in the spotlight. And when it was Illinois’ turn, the one thing state GOP chairman Tim Schneider picked out to mention in the state Republican Party’s big moment was Bruce Rauner.

“I’m a proud citizen of the state of illinois in the United States of America and we have the finest governor in the nation in Governor Bruce Rauner,” Schneider said just before he announced the official tally of 54 delegate votes from Illinois in favor of Trump.

But Rauner isn’t at the convention this week, and he’s refused to talk about Trump ever since the campaign started.

“We’ve got a great state that we’re beginning to turn around with our governor, Bruce Rauner, who I wanted to shout out to because he has done such a good job and he’s the way we’re gonna turn our state around,” said Schneider explaining why he mentioned Rauner.

Rauner has been at the center of a huge stalemate in Springfield as he’s fought for certain economic reforms against Democrats who have argued they’d hurt the middle class. But Rauner has helped turn around the Illinois Republican Party by donating millions of his own money to the state party. Some of Rauner’s staff members recently left the governor’s administration to help elect more Republicans to the state House, which could help Jim Durkin gain more power in the Illinois State House of Representatives.

Durkin is the House Republican Leader, who wants to take away the Democrats’ supermajority of state representatives. Durkin is also a lukewarm Trump supporter, but he’s in Cleveland anyway because Durkin says he’s a party guy who wants to support Trump. But Durkin also has his eye on Trump’s supporters and what they could mean for the future of the Republican Party in Illinois.

“We’re confronted with many elections that we’re going to go through in Springfield to eliminate the stranglehold that the Democrats have had on state government for many years, particularly in the house.,” Durkin said on the floor of the convention. “So that’s my job and these are republicans that I want to help us achieve that goal over the next few cycles.”

In other words, Durkin is hoping Trump delegates could help the Republican Party win more political battles against democrats in Springfield, even though Durkin isn’t yet supporting those delegates’ pick for president.

Durkin is not alone in those sentiments.

In addition to Durkin, and Rauner and Sen. Mark Kirk, there’s also Rep. Randy Hultgren who didn’t jump at the chance to join his party in Cleveland.

It was just last week that Hultgren decided to support Trump and to attend the RNC.

“Whether we agree with everything the candidate says, I think people still want someone they can trust. That they’re gonna fight for them and that’s what people are looking for,” Hultgren told reporters in Cleveland Tuesday.

Hultgren says evolving opinions about a candidate are normal in any election year.

“I wasn’t a (Mitt) Romney guy, but I came around and was 100 percent supportive of him when the election came,” Hultgren said of supporting the party’s presidential nominee four years ago. “But even going into the conventions, I wasn’t real excited about where things were at, but this is the process.”

Hultgren says eventually he believes the Illinois Republican party will unite behind Donald Trump. Until then, Hultgren’s colleague, Rep. Peter Roskam says the party is coming together around something else: keeping Hillary Clinton out of the White House.

“You have heard this discussion of this is a binary choice between two people and my experience and what I’ve come to learn about Hillary Clinton and her stewardship while she was at the state department makes her an entirely unacceptable candidate for president of the united states. That makes the alternative then, Donald Trump,” Roskam said.

Roskam hasn’t offered any official endorsement of Trump

“All the sorts of feelings and things, and the wincing at various comments, I feel those too,” he said.

Congressman Adam Kinzinger has also not publicly supported Donald Trump, but he says he’s “coming around.”

Many members of the Illinois delegation have told WBEZ they’re upset that Kinzinger won’t come around sooner, as they feel that he was elected to represent their beliefs. One Trump supporter said she saw Kinzinger just walk away from a delegate confronting him about it.

“Yeah, it’s tough. Having resisted to this point is hard politically. It’s difficult. The people that support me and my district, are largely Donald Trump supporters. This isn’t a political move for me, it’s a move of conscience. You know a president of the united states has largely unchecked foreign policy power and this is our time to evaluate them,” Kinziger told reporters Wednesday.

Kinzinger says he still wants to hear what Mr. Trump says in his speech Thursday night, but it’s likely he will eventually support the nominee.

But when it comes down to it, Roskam said that Trump could help Republicans pass their agenda in Congress, which underscores much of the conflict facing many of Illinois’ elected officials at the Republican National Convention: That while many elected Illinois Republicans may not like Trump, they want the political newcomers following Trump into the Republican Party to help them win other battles.

Lauren Chooljian covers city politics for WBEZ. Follow her @laurenchooljian. Tony Arnold covers state politics for WBEZ. Follow him @tonyjarnold

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