CLEVELAND — In accepting the Republican nomination for president, New York billionaire Donald Trump pledged to fight for “forgotten men and women” who feel betrayed by political and economic elites.
“I am your voice,” Trump said Thursday night near the end of a 76-minute speech that painted a dark picture of an America hobbled by illegal immigration, lousy free-trade deals and terrorism.
Over and over, Trump declared he alone had the ability to turn these problems around — and swiftly. “Believe me!” he said.
More convention coverage
Fresh from the Republican National Convention, Seattle Times political reporter Jim Brunner is headed to Philadelphia, where Democrats will pick their presidential nominee.
Follow our live updates from the Democratic National Convention on seattletimes.com starting Monday, and watch for Brunner’s dispatches online and in print throughout the week.
His speech was greeted with roaring cheers from Republicans in the Quicken Loans Arena, ending an uneven Republican National Convention week on a high note for the Trump campaign.
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But after the rock music subsided and balloons were swept off the convention floor, divisions remained among Washington Republicans who’d traveled to Cleveland.
Top state GOP officials and loyalists praised Trump and predicted he’ll confound expectations as he has all year, attracting a new set of voters and leading the party to an epic win this fall.
Dissenters, many of whom had supported Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s presidential bid, said they do not believe Trump and will not vote for him — even if that could hand a win to Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Clinton, the former secretary of state, may face similar doubts this week at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, from supporters of her rival in the Democratic primaries, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.
For Washington state Republicans, this week’s infighting is not entirely new. There were divisions in 2012, when supporters of Texas Rep. Ron Paul’s presidential bid clashed with party regulars.
But Mathew Patrick Thomas, a member of the state GOP executive board from Seattle, said this year is different. Many Paul backers were outsiders crashing the GOP so “it was a little more us against them.”
The Cruz supporters, by contrast, included social conservatives who have been an important and loyal bloc of party activists.
“These are Republicans. This is a family feud. It’s like going to a family reunion and punching your first cousin in the face,” Thomas said. “The family is sitting here trying to figure out how to handle it.”
Many of those getting behind Trump described him as not their first, third or even 10th choice. But the prospect of another Clinton in the White House has been enough to unite them.
The likelihood of the next president nominating multiple Supreme Court justices — where they could have an impact for decades — was enough reason for Olga Farnum, an alternate delegate from Snohomish County.>
“My conscience tells me if I don’t vote for Trump and Hillary wins, we’re looking at a 7-2 Supreme Court, and I absolutely cannot do that to my kids,” she said.
After watching Trump’s speech and his family all week, state GOP chairman Susan Hutchison brimmed with optimism, predicting he would win and even flip Washington state, which has not voted for a Republican presidential nominee since Ronald Reagan in 1984.
“There is something about the glamour of the Trump family that people are ready for after the battle ax that is Hillary Clinton,” Hutchison said. “People are tired of being yelled at by her and being told how things are going to be because she knows everything, because she has all this experience.”
The willingness of GOP leaders to get behind Trump left others puzzled and disappointed. Critics said Trump is a charlatan who is temperamentally unfit to be president.
Chris Leiter, an alternate delegate from Auburn, said he and another local delegate walked out of the convention hall before Trump’s speech, which he heard on loudspeakers outside the arena.
“The guy has a history of being just a horrendous person. I’ve never seen anything in his business dealings or his persona that makes me think he is a Republican in any way, shape or form,” Leiter said.
Anti-Trump vote split
Leiter attributed Trump’s rise to a too-large GOP primary field that split the anti-Trump vote. But he also said it’s a result of “the American Idol culture of politics … where people are just voting for a guy because of his name recognition and he says something that sounds good for 10 minutes.”
Braedon Wilkerson, a delegate from Olympia, said he had no intention of voting for Trump — even if that sends Clinton to the White House. “I’m not voting for either of them so it’s not on my conscience,” he said.
The Cruz supporters also were angered by Hutchison’s highly publicized confrontation with the Texas senator this week, in which she denounced him as a “traitor” to the GOP for his refusal to endorse Trump during a Wednesday convention address.
Trump’s rise is the culmination of trends that have been building for decades, said Margaret O’Mara, a history professor at the University of Washington and author of “Pivotal Tuesdays: Four Elections That Shaped the Twentieth Century.”
“The economic populism that Trump is tapping into is really resonant with this huge bloc of people in the heartland, away from these big urban areas, whose life trajectories are so utterly different,” she said.
O’Mara said Trump’s rhetoric calls to mind other populist and isolationist “America First” figures, including Charles Coughlin, the Catholic priest with a popular radio show who opposed U.S. involvement in World War II.
And Trump has shown no signs of softening his positions as the general election season kicks off. “He’s doubling down,” O’Mara said.
For some in the GOP, unease about Trump is rooted in his departure from some Republican policy positions on foreign affairs and trade. His speech Thursday was sharply at odds with the campaign imagined by GOP leaders four years ago.
After Mitt Romney’s 2012 loss to President Obama, national Republican leaders commissioned a soul-searching “autopsy” report called the Growth and Opportunity Project, which said the party had to do a better job of appealing to Latino and minority voters.
On Thursday, Trump declared he’d build a “great border wall” to stop the flow of illegal immigration and drugs, and the crowd in the arena approvingly chanted “build that wall!”
The state Democratic Party ripped that message as “horrifying” in a fundraising email.
And Democratic U.S. Sen. Patty Murray called Trump’s speech one of “division and hate” in a post on Facebook. “There was no vision of hope, no optimism, and no answers to the great challenges facing our country,” she said.
Prominent state Republicans have denounced Trump, including former Attorney General Rob McKenna and Chris Vance, a former state GOP chairman and candidate for U.S. Senate.
But John Carlson, a conservative talk radio host for KVI who attended the GOP convention, says Trump is smart to ignore the advice of the political establishment. He argued in an email the 2012 GOP “autopsy” report was “classic political malpractice” and “exactly what the DC GOP elites could be expected to come up with.”
Trump, Carlson said, is smartly appealing to voters not based on their racial identity, but broadly to lower-income working-class voters “who no longer believe either party cares about them.”
For all the talk of GOP discomfort about Trump, Carlson predicted Clinton — the ultimate establishment figure in this election — will face even more dissent at her party’s convention this week.
“One prediction: there will be larger, angrier demonstrations there than Cleveland,” he wrote.
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