Most prominent Republicans refusing speaking slots at convention
One of the consequences of a presidential nominee having a 70% disapproval rating is that most politicians would rather spend a day with an ebola patient than Donald Trump.
With the convention less than a month away, POLITICO contacted more than 50 prominent governors, senators, and House members to gauge their interest in speaking. Only a few said they were open to it — and everyone else said they either weren’t planning on it, didn’t want to, weren’t going to Cleveland at all, or simply didn’t respond.
“I am not attending,” said South Carolina Rep. Trey Gowdy, who is overseeing the high-profile congressional Republican investigation into Hillary Clinton’s handling of the attacks on Benghazi. Gowdy, who said he was taking his family to the beach instead, hasn’t gone to conventions in the past and didn’t plan to now. “I’m not,” said South Carolina Rep. Mark Sanford, a former two-term governor. “But hope you have a good Thursday!” “Don’t know,” said Sean Duffy, a reality TV star-turned-Wisconsin congressman, “I haven’t thought about it.” Florida Rep. Carlos Curbelo: "I won't be there.”
The widespread lack of interest, Republicans say, boils down to one thing: the growing consensus that it’s best to steer clear of Trump.
“Everyone has to make their own choice, but at this point 70 percent of the American public doesn’t like Donald Trump. That’s as toxic as we’ve seen in American politics,” said Stuart Stevens, a longtime Republican strategist who helped to craft the party’s 2012 convention. “Normally people want to speak at national conventions. It launched Barack Obama’s political career.”
Trump’s team is tight-lipped about who they’ll be extending speaking invitations to, as is the RNC. But many of the party's most prominent pols say they’re flat-out uninterested — and that Trump should look elsewhere. Their rejections range from terse to abrupt, and — in a year otherwise lacking GOP unity — they seem to be using the same talking points.
New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte “is not attending the convention,” said a spokeswoman. Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner “is not attending the convention,” his office said. A spokesman for South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham: “He announced back in May he's not attending.” For South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley: “The governor has not been asked to speak at the convention and has no plans to.” Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn: “There are no plans for him to speak.”
House members often have to scrap to get national attention — and eagerly take whatever they can get. But taking the podium in Cleveland? No thanks.
It really doesn't matter that much, except as a sign of just how toxic Trump has become to politicians.
But running away from a toxic nominee rarely works. Opponents will invariably portray the incumbent as a clone of Trump or one of his best buddies.
As for Trump, he says he wasn't planning on using a lot of politicians as speakers at the convention anyway. The nominee has hinted that he will fill the slots with sports stars, Hollywood types, and successful businessmen.
You might expect politicians to run away from an unpopular incumbent president. But a nominee? As with much else in Trump's campaign, it's unprecedented.