U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan told CNN Thursday he’s not yet ready to support Donald Trump as the Republican nominee for president. Like Speaker Ryan, many Illinois Republicans aren’t yet embracing Trump as their nominee.
An aide with knowledge of Gov. Bruce Rauner’s decision said Thursday the Illinois Republican won’t be attending the Republican National Convention or endorsing Trump for president. Rauner has called the tone of the presidential race “ugly” and “weird,” but he has also said he would support the Republican nominee.
WBEZ’s Tony Arnold talked with Marc Garber about whether those Illinois Republicans are with Trump, or against him.
Why aren’t Illinois Republican officials enthusiastic about Trump?
Trump won Illinois by a pretty big margin with virtually no organization here. Almost no elected officials with high name recognition put themselves out there to advocate for Trump in the primary.
How does the Republican Party in Illinois plan to unify around Trump?
I’m not sure that the Illinois Republican Party does unify around Trump — at least not yet. Of the Illinois Republicans who aren’t with Trump and who have been active with the party for years, there are at least three types of Illinois Republicans who aren’t with Trump:
- The “I can come around to Trump”
- The “I don’t want to come around to Trump, but we’ll see”
- The Never Trumps
What’s going to make an Illinois Republican who opposed his candidacy but falls into those first two camps come around to Trump?
Here’s one example. I talked with Illinois State Rep. Ron Sandack (R-Downers Grove) Thursday, who supported Ohio Gov. John Kasich. Sandack said he’s not really sure he can come around to Trump.
He’s going to try, but it’s not a given. Trump is going to have to really change his tone - and some of his policies - to win Sandack over. When asked if the Illinois Republican Party could become more fractured this year, Sandack said that is a risk of Trump’s candidacy.
“I mean heck, to be completely blunt, the Republican Party in Illinois has barely been a blip on the radar,” he said. “We’ve had our own problems getting our message out, making ourselves far more attractive to taxpayers and constituents from a policy perspective.”
Sandack suggested the Illinois Republicans pick a small handful of core principles to unite the state party. And if Trump doesn’t come around to where he is and change his tone, then Sandack may end up focusing on his own re-election campaign this fall.
“I want to see some effective Republican policies displayed by our Republican candidate or I may just focus singularly on me and in my local race,” Sandack said.
On that note, what if the Illinois Republican Party doesn’t come around to Trump? Will Illinois Democrats have a big sweep in November?
Illinois generally votes for Democrats statewide. Two of the Republicans who have run successful statewide campaigns are U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk and Gov. Bruce Rauner. Kirk has already said he won’t go to the convention. Rauner has hardly talked about Trump’s campaign other than to say he’d support the nominee.
Meanwhile, Pat Brady, the former Illinois Republican Party chairman, fits into that Never Trump crowd.
“(Trump) just doesn’t represent to me the principles of the Republican Party so I’m not going to support him,” Brady said. “And I’m not really concerned what people think or do but that’s the way I feel about it.”
Brady’s concern is more focused on the campaigns of Republicans like Kirk and Sandack - the Republicans down ballot. He’s expecting Illinois voters to split their ballot and likely vote for the Democrat for president, and then Brady’s hoping they vote for Kirk for Senate and Republicans for Springfield positions to eat into the Democrats’ supermajorities there.
Tony Arnold covers Illinois politics for WBEZ. Follow him @tonyjarnold.