DULUTH – Even before their convention began Republican Party of Minnesota leaders were talking about Donald Trump.
Trump finished third behind Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz in Minnesota’s March caucuses. It was one of his lowest finishes in any of this year’s nominating contests. And there were signs before the convention that some state Republicans were still not happy that the brash New Yorker upended more conventional GOP candidates.
“The candidacy of Donald Trump is just a bridge too far for me. I’m sorry that it’s come to that, but it has,” said Dave Thul.
Thul stepped down as co-chair of Steele County Republicans because of his opposition to Trump.
He spoke in favor of a motion before the party’s central committee on Friday in Duluth to change the rules to allow Minnesota Republicans to pick and choose which races to support. It was a watered-down version of an earlier proposal to deny Trump any state resources.
Thul wanted to give other Republicans the freedom to walk away from Trump.
“I can’t support him, and I can’t ask other voters to support him,” he said. “The motion you see before you, the resolution, is intended to encourage other Republicans not to have to do what I did.”
The Central Committee soundly rejected the idea. Opponents said Republicans have an obligation to support their party’s presidential nominee.
The Trump campaign was actively trying to win the support of delegates inside the convention hall. A couple of campaign staffers and several volunteers handed out Trump campaign material in a hospitality suite off the convention floor.
“The main point of everything is to build unity within the party, you know, just kill them with kindness. Be nice,” said Trump volunteer Scott Gregory of New Hope.
Delegate John Hollerich of Mapleton had expected more convention commotion regarding Trump and seemed relieved at the lack of rancor.
“It was really no ruckus at all,” he said. There wasn’t a whole lot of in-fighting going on so it was kind of nice and there has been a lot of calls for unity, so I think that’s been good as well.”
Hollerich had backed Ohio Gov. John Kasich but says he’ll now support Trump.
“I was looking for somebody a little less divisive,” he said, “but if Donald Trump’s on the top of the ticket for Republicans, that’s who I’m going for.”
Hollerich thinks Trump will drive up voter turnout in some areas of Minnesota. Like many others at the convention, he said he’s not worried Trump will hurt Republican candidates for other offices.
Former Republican Party Chair Ron Carey was also trying to drum up support for Trump, passing out stickers and campaign signs.
Carey chaired the state party in 2008 when some Republicans didn’t think Republican Sen. Norm Coleman was conservative enough.
Democrat Al Franken went on to defeat Coleman by just a few hundred votes.
Carey said Trump was not his first or even second choice, but that Republicans around the county have spoken, and it’s time to unite.
“We, as Republicans, need to unite this year behind Donald Trump because if we don’t we could very well create a replay of 2008 where a few votes here and there that people refuse to vote for our candidate makes the difference between Hillary Clinton being president and having a President Donald Trump we can all rally behind,” he said.
Carey said he thinks Trump could be on a similar path to Jesse Ventura’s 1998 “shock-the-world” election as Minnesota governor.
Current state GOP Chair Keith Downey said he’ll do what he can for Trump but that his focus will be on keeping control of the state House and winning back the Minnesota Senate.
Downey said Trump can do a lot between now and the Republican National Convention in July to help bring together Republicans.
“I think it’s been important for our candidate, Donald Trump, to be reaching out and making sure that those who were in the Cruz camp or the Rubio camp after a hard-fought, sharp-elbows battle, that those people can find a way to rally behind him,” Downey said. “And he’s got a great opportunity, two months, to really bring the party together around him.”
Even with the unity behind Trump, the state’s national convention delegates still are based on the results of state caucuses. That means 17 went to Rubio, 13 to Cruz and eight to Trump.
Minnesota Democrats meet for their state convention in Minneapolis on June 4.