Skeptical Washington state GOP leaders warming to Trump post-nomination

Marc Perez, a delegate from Puyallup, dons his “Cruz Conservative” shirt after a breakfast for Washington RNC delegates. He wore the shirt to a Ted Cruz event in Cleveland Wednesday afternoon.
Marc Perez, a delegate from Puyallup, dons his “Cruz Conservative” shirt after a breakfast for Washington RNC delegates. He wore the shirt to a Ted Cruz event in Cleveland Wednesday afternoon. Contributing writer

Despite lingering reservations against their party’s nominee, Washington state’s GOP leaders are warming to the idea of a Donald Trump presidency, seeing a new side of the nominee through convention speeches from his family.

Over the first two days of the convention, some delegates have experienced an “existential crisis:” choosing between lingering loyalty to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz or uniting behind the official Republican nominee. Trump’s aggressive manner of public speaking has kept delegates from siding completely with the New York businessman. During the primary process, Trump often targeted Cruz personally, which did not sit well with Washington state “Cruzers.”

“(Trump) was always going for the sound bites and reactions,” said Kelly Lotze, an alternate delegate and political consultant from Spokane. “He’s been a celebrity and an on-air personality so he knows how to get reaction.”

Lotze said that up to this stage of the election, Trump has not presented in a manner that felt presidential, engaging in feuds with other celebrities and presidential candidates, behavior Lotze feels doesn’t do anything to help unite the GOP.

But hearing Trump’s family present “great speeches and great content” was a turning point for Lotze. He said they’ve poised the candidate for an acceptance speech Thursday that will showcase a more genuine side. If Trump goes too far the other direction, it would raise a “red flag.”

“I’d be happy with a mild transition,” Lotze said. “But at least just trying to be a little more personable.”

During the primaries, Trump was not even in the top 10 picks for Mathew Patrick Thomas, a state committeeman from King County who’s attending the convention as a guest. Still, he’s been impressed by Trump’s ability to win thus far and hopes that Washington state will flip to a red state behind Trump.

“This is day one of him officially being the party’s nominee,” Thomas said Wednesday. “People are going to come around him, and they’ll come from the top off all sides of the government.”

“I do see his ship getting really tight, and things are going to get more scripted — and hopefully they write their own scripts,” he quipped, referring to a plagiarism scandal over Melania Trump’s speech Monday.

Thomas said Cruz’s speech Wednesday night at the convention would be crucial for any Washington state delegates still looking to him for guidance.

“He’s a smart guy, and I think he’s a team player,” Thomas said. “A lot of his supporters are going to need that reassurance from Ted.”

Marc Perez, a delegate from Puyallup, co-founded the Cruz campaign in Washington and still feels hurt by Trump’s attacks on the rest of the presidential hopefuls during the primary process. Perez said he also bristled at efforts by Trump’s campaign Monday to suppress a delegate movement to change certain party rules.

Though Perez formally supported Trump on the convention floor and “respect(s) the process” that granted him the nomination, he remains a Cruz follower. He said he will most likely write in Cruz’s name in November.

“I really don’t see any way that (Trump’s) going to apologize to Cruz and (John) Kasich and (Carly) Fiorina for the things he’s said,” Perez said. “And I don’t see him doing anything to make things right for how we were silenced on Monday.”

Hannah Rank and Siri Bulusu are graduate students at Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. They are covering the Republican National Convention for The News Tribune and The Olympian.