CLEVELAND — One common theme emerged from the Republican National Convention this week — stopping Hillary Clinton.
While the party did seem to unify around its nominee, Donald Trump, some of the strongest and most impassioned rhetoric surrounded the argument that Clinton, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, would be bad for the country.
“I think it’s a real problem,” Rick Tyler, veteran Republican operative and former communications director for Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, told Business Insider. “Slamming Hillary Clinton and pointing out her record is one thing. … But being against the other candidate is not a message, and it’s not a winning strategy.”
Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton, considered a rising star within the party and potential contender in 2020 if Trump fails to win the White House this November, didn’t even mention Trump’s name during a breakfast for Ohio delegates on Monday. And during his speech that evening, he mentioned Trump only once — in connection with his running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, who is popular among the party’s establishment.
And while House Speaker Paul Ryan seemed reluctant to publicly support Trump, even as it became clear that he would win the nomination, he has made his opposition to Clinton very clear.
Many Republicans at the convention seemed to share that attitude.
“Do I think Donald Trump is the saviour of our republic? No,” Ryan Shinn, a Cruz supporter whose wife was a Texas delegate at the convention, said after a Cruz event Wednesday.
“Of course not. But nor is Ted Cruz. But does Donald Trump have the potential to be a great president? Sure, absolutely. Do I think Hillary Clinton has the potential to be the death of our republic? Absolutely. So I do support Donald Trump.”
Ned Ryun, a grassroots and conservative activism expert who attended the convention, said voters have a “binary choice” between Trump and Clinton in November.
“A lot of us have had questions, have some questions about Trump, but it’s one of those things when confronted with Hillary, it’s a binary choice of either or, and I’ll take Trump over Hillary any day,” Ryun said.
“It’s just like I think some people think there’s a third option, and I just don’t think so.”
But geopolitical expert Ian Bremmer, president of political risk consulting firm the Eurasia Group, pointed out in a Thursday interview that libertarian Gary Johnson’s support reached 13% in one recent poll. This could be a reflection of the unpopularity of Trump and Clinton, who both have high negative ratings among voters.
“The worst thing that can happen in November is if Americans say ‘my voice doesn’t matter, I’m not going to vote,'” Bremmer said. “[I]f Trump wins in this election, and I don’t think he’s going to, but if he wins, he will win because the average American feels like it doesn’t matter what they do.”
The divide within the Republican Party became clear Wednesday night when Cruz, who came in second place behind Turmp in the primaries, was booed off stage after refusing to endorse Trump. Some delegates on the floor were booing Cruz once it became apparent he wouldn’t speak in favour of Trump, while others booed when Trump entered the arena at the end of Cruz’s speech, which some saw as a ploy for attention.
Tyler also noted that the arena didn’t seem full enough on Tuesday when Trump officially won the party’s nomination.
“Normally everybody wants to be in the room when the candidate is nominated, it’s like one of those historic moments when you say, ‘I was there when,'” Tyler said. “It didn’t seem to happen. So this is the most bizarre convention I’ve ever been to.”
But if there’s one thing Republicans can rally around, it’s defeating Clinton.
While Cotton didn’t mention Trump’s name in his breakfast speech Monday, he railed against her.
Another rising star in the GOP, Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst, did speak out in favour of Trump at the convention, but spent more time in her speech Thursday night outlining the argument against Clinton.
“Our country and the world of which we are a part simply cannot afford four more years of this lack of leadership under Hillary Clinton,” Ernst said. “[U]nfortunately, Hillary Clinton cannot be trusted. Her judgment and character are not suited to be sitting in the most powerful office in the world.”
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