Illinois Republican Party Chairman Says It’s Unified Behind Trump, Even As GOP Elected Officials Skip Convention | WBEZ
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Illinois Republican Party Chairman Says It's Unified Behind Trump, Even As GOP Elected Officials Skip Convention

The chairman of the Illinois Republican Party is trying to get all Illinois delegates behind Donald Trump at the Republican National Convention.

That’s as several of the Illinois’ top elected Republican officials are skipping their party’s national convention in Cleveland this week. The absence of Gov. Bruce Rauner, U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk and some Illinois congressmen is hard to ignore.

Rauner has repeatedly refused to talk about Trump’s nomination. Kirk said months ago that he would support Trump if he were the party’s nominee, but is now running TV ads opposing Trump. Some delegates were so angry about all this tension, they decided not to come to Cleveland at all.

“We need to work together. All of us together as the Illinois Republican Party. We’re not your enemy, we’re your friend,” Illinois GOP Chairman Tim Schneider said to the Illinois delegation at a breakfast event Monday.

The majority of Illinois’ delegates were elected in the March primary to vote for Donald Trump at the national convention. And of those Trump delegates, many are completely new to politics and conventions.

“I’m a newbie, too,” Schneider told the crowd. “If it weren’t for all these great people in the party backing me up, we wouldn’t be able to do what we’re doing today.”

State Representative John Cabello says the idea that the Illinois Republican Party isn’t aligned with Trump’s campaign is an “absolutely, positively false” rumor.

“I can’t stress that enough. Please, if you hear somebody saying that we’re not working together, please say, well, wait a minute, John Cabello, Demetra Demonte and Tim Schneider says that’s absolutely false. What gives you that information that they’re not?” said Cabello.

After the speeches, Schneider said he has experienced tension while talking to some Trump delegates.

“They were a little, little stand-offish, little stepped back,” Schneider said. “They don’t think that we’re with them. And we want to dispel that.”

For Trump delegate Bob Anderson, the unity feels authentic. He said he’s also started to see more support for Trump back home in Illinois.

“I’ve been a Trump supporter since day one, and I don’t know if people were afraid to say they were supporting Mr. Trump or not, but I’m hearing more and more from people I wouldn’t expect,” Anderson said.

But even though there seems to be growing consensus, the refusal of Rauner and Kirk to attend the convention has become the elephant (not) in the room.

Madelyn Flaherty ran as a Ted Cruz delegate but is now supporting Trump. She said Rauner has demonstrated enough support for the party and its nominee that she’ll give him a pass, but when asked about Kirk, she looked visibly pained.

At first, she didn't want to say anything about Kirk’s decision, but eventually added “if you’re not on the bandwagon with him [Trump] you should be ashamed of yourself, because there’s not too many people that really care about us as Americans.”

Tony Arnold and Lauren Chooljian are WBEZ's political reporters. Follow them @tonyjarnold and @laurenchoojian on Twitter. 

Illinois Public Radio’s Amanda Vinicky contributed to this report.

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