Illinois Republicans Leave Cleveland Divided | WBEZ
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Illinois Republicans Leave Cleveland Divided On Political Strategies

Republicans returning to Illinois from the Republican National Convention remain divided despite a week that was supposed to bring unity. Trump delegates are wary of the Illinois Republican Party which has been slow to embrace their candidate. While those in the party tried to argue Trump supporters would be more successful if they embraced the party structure.

Tim Schneider, the chairman of the Illinois Republican Party, began this week at the RNC introducing himself to many Trump delegates who are new to politics and are here not to support the party, but their man Donald Trump.

Schneider would give speeches at breakfast every morning to a bleary-eyed crowd that’s been staying up for the speeches - and some drinks - late into the night.

“We’re not your enemy. We’re your friend,” Schneider said Monday to kick off the week.

By the final day of the convention, Schneider was more forceful.

“You all need the Illinois Republican Party,” he said.

Keep in mind, Schneider’s role is to build the party. He says if Trump supporters want to really help their candidate, they need to be more strategic. Don’t just knock on doors to talk about Trump. Knock on a swing voter’s door and convince that person. Schneider says the state Republican Party knows which houses belong to swing voters.

“We know more about you, I hate to say it, than you think,” he said Thursday.

Schneider says the party knows voters’ spending habits and whether they watch FOX News or MSNBC and he credits one person for why that data is better than ever: Bruce Rauner. The governor, who won election in 2014 with the help of his own personal fortune, is the person Trump delegates have been disappointed in all week because he’s not endorsed Trump.

Rauner won’t even say Trump’s name.

Schneider is hoping to flip 22 state House and Senate seats in Illinois from Democrats to Republicans in the fall election. And many of these Trump supporters are political newcomers who could help in flipping those districts.

But right now that seems unlikely because Trump delegates have deep anxiety about establishment politicians and many of them lump Schneider in that category, despite praise for Schneider by some in the Illinois delegation for his efforts to organize the Illinois Republican Party.

“It’s starting to dawn on us that the party - and I’ll put that in air quotes - needs us more than we need them. And I think that scares the hell out of the whole party apparatus,” said Jennifer Nevins, who said this week wasn’t the first time she’s heard party leaders tell Trump delegates like her that they need the Republican party.

“I’m more inspired to get out and work for candidates that say the things that Donald Trump says. That’s what I’m more inspired to do. I am not more inspired to work for a party that works against me and what I’m interested in.”

Many Trump delegates have voiced concerns about the number of elected Republicans in Illinois who are still on the fence about Trump. And it’s not just because these delegates love Trump; it’s because as constituents of Illinois, they expect the people they elected to office to represent their beliefs.

So Trump delegate Jackie Menconi is taking that request from Illinois GOP Chairman Schneider for party unity and turning it right back around on party leaders in Illinois and Washington.

“Unless they in Illinois, like the beltway boys, get it, and start listening to their constituents, it will never happen. I think the GOP will destroy itself from within their own party,” Menconi said.

And with that: Illinois Republicans seem to be right back where they started on Monday. With a party full of Trump supporters, distrustful of establishment politicians. And a state party trying to remind those political newcomers that the Illinois Republican Party is a friend, not an enemy.

Tony Arnold covers Illinois politics. Follow him @tonyjarnold.
Lauren Chooljian covers Chicago politics. Follow her @laurenchooljian.

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