Long List Of Prominent Republicans Refuse To Attend Cleveland Convention

Jul 14, 2016
Originally published on August 1, 2016 12:07 pm
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

A big presidential nominating convention is usually a must-attend event for party big shots - you know, former presidents, past nominees, governors, senators, a long list of names trying to get a place in the speaker's lineup or just some quality camera time. Next week's GOP gathering in Cleveland is different. There's a long list of no-shows looking to distance themselves from the nomination of Donald Trump. NPR national political correspondent Don Gonyea reports.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Here's a sampling of what you get when you ask some prominent Republicans if they'll be in Cleveland. South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, who was a presidential hopeful this year.

LINDSEY GRAHAM: You will not see me there. There's no reason for me to go to the convention. I hope everybody has a good time. I think it'd be one hell of a party.

GONYEA: Former Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush are staying home. Jeb Bush won't be there either. Same with 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney. Then there's the Republican governor of Ohio, the convention in his state. It's a no-brainer - right? - a speech from the stage welcoming the delegates.

But here's John Kasich, the one-time presidential candidate talking to local TV station WEWS about whether he'll be there.

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JOHN KASICH: Probably not but, you know, I don't know. I mean, it's too - I'm going to be up here. I'm going to come up on Sunday and visit with the Patrol and the National Guard.

GONYEA: So Kasich will be around. But his spokesman says he's unlikely to go into the convention hall. And there's Arizona Senator Jeff Flake speaking here to NPR's Steve Inskeep about staying home.

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STEVE INSKEEP, BYLINE: Have you always been to the convention in the past?

JEFF FLAKE: I have since I've been in elected office.

INSKEEP: That's going to be weird, isn't it?

FLAKE: Yeah, yeah, it is.

GONYEA: Senator Flake says he wants to support his party's nominee, but Trump hasn't earned his vote yet. Senator Pat Toomey, the GOP incumbent in Pennsylvania, is also skipping it.

PAT TOOMEY: Under the circumstances we have, I'm going to be campaigning in Pennsylvania.

GONYEA: Like a lot of those not showing up, Toomey does say he hopes to support the nominee. But that's far from being pro-Trump. Senators John McCain, the 2008 GOP presidential nominee, New Hampshire's Kelly Ayotte and Idaho's Mike Crapo all say they will support their party's nominee. But all are expected to be convention no-shows.

It's hard to build a complete list because some simply won't confirm. Not so for GOP Senator Mark Kirk of Illinois. He's called Trump a bigot and is running this TV ad.

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UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: He's a leader on protecting a woman's right to choose. And Mark Kirk bucked his part to say Donald Trump is not fit to be commander in chief. Mark Kirk, courageous and independent.

GONYEA: Stuart Stevens is a GOP strategist who's worked on presidential campaigns for George W. Bush and Mitt Romney. Like Romney, he's a strong critic of Trump. Stevens says it's too risky for a lot of candidates to be there given Trump's very high disapproval ratings.

STUART STEVENS: Why do you want to associate with someone that most people don't like? And there's also the danger with Trump, you know, he says crazy things that you have to dismiss. You can't just let go unsaid if you're in his presence.

GONYEA: It's not just officeholders skipping Cleveland. There are a lot of campaign operatives and former elected officials making other plans. Tom Davis served in Congress from Virginia for seven terms. He says he always goes to the convention. This year...

TOM DAVIS: As you know, I'm Republican in my DNA. I'm just checked out at this point. For the Republican convention, you know, the Dodgers are in town for a three-game series in Washington. I'm going to be down at the ballpark every night.

GONYEA: And the convention won't be shown on the jumbotron in the outfield. Don Gonyea, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.