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Mac Stipanovich: Win or lose, Never Trump movement remains proud

With Donald Trump still down in the polls with a week to go, the edifice of excuses designed to justify his potential defeat is being hurried to completion.

To the foundation stones of voter fraud and a mainstream media conspiracy his campaign manager recently added treason, alleging that if Trump loses it will be, in large part, because he was stabbed in the back by the Never Trump renegades in the GOP.

That is a baldfaced lie. Never Trump did not stab Trump in the back. They stabbed him in the front.

Because Trump is a Republican only in the same sense that the Visigoths who sacked Rome were Romans, a relative handful of actual conservatives in the GOP adamantly opposed him from the moment he descended from on high, riding his Trump Tower escalator, armored in ignorance and spewing venomous bigotry and public policy nonsense.

They would not collaborate in pursuing what they believe would be a Pyrrhic victory, both for the GOP and for the country, if Trump is elected president.

Instead, to their honor and to the shame of all those who did collaborate — all the sycophants, front-runners, apologists, ambition-addled, and faint-of-heart — they resisted.

And they lost. Then they lost some more.

Some, like George Will, Mary Matalin, and Sally Bradshaw, long-time pillars of the GOP, gave up and left the party altogether, disgusted and demoralized. But others, like Sens. Ben Sasse of Nebraska, Jeff Flake of Arizona, and Mike Lee of Utah, soldiered on.

Here in Florida, Hispanic leaders like U.S. Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Carlos Curbelo from Miami are unflinching in their opposition to the Trump candidacy for obvious reasons, and they are seconded by others around the state made of similarly stern stuff, like Will Weatherford, former speaker of the Florida House of Representatives, and Rick Wilson, a longtime Republican political consultant, just to name two among many.

But compared to the swollen ranks of right-wing populist true believers, Hillary-haters, and reflexive Republicans, all marching in lockstep behind Trump, the front line of Never Trump warriors is thin indeed. The fact is, Never Trump acting alone are too few to deprive Trump of the 90-plus percent of Republican votes he must have to win.

They are not alone, however. Behind them in the shadows are the Mumblers.

The Mumblers are all those elected Republicans who, horrified by Trump’s nomination but too fearful to publicly swim against this year’s fast-running tide of right-wing populism, mumbled once when asked where they stood, “I will support the nominee,” and then disappeared, never to be seen on the presidential campaign trail.

You could hold a Trump rally in the front yard of just about any Mumbler in America with Ivanka standing next to her father and be confident the Mumbler would not be home that day, or on any other day Trump is in the same ZIP code.

Obviously, the Mumbler contribution to the Never Trump cause is passive, but it is nevertheless important. While the broader resistance to Trump by GOP big feet, including the Bush family, Mitt Romney, Lindsey Graham, John Kasich, John McCain and others, signals wavering Republicans that it is all right not to vote for Trump, the collective inertia of the Mumblers dampens voter intensity and makes rank-and-file Republicans not caught up in the mass psychosis that is the Trump phenomenon less likely to buckle on their swords and go to war on his behalf, or to even vote.

Then there are the Ditherers, exemplified by Sens. Marco Rubio, Kelly Ayotte, and Deb Fischer, as well as House Speaker Paul Ryan.

Too frightened to resist Trump openly and too frightened to embrace Trump fully, the Ditherers fall squarely between the two stools, pleasing no one, and surely embarrassing their families and friends in addition to their constituents. But even so, their public agonies of indecision and inconsistency speak ill of Trump, and, thus, they too aid the effort to defeat him by calling into question his fitness for office.

Intentionally or inadvertently, many in the GOP have contributed their mite to stopping Trump, but none have contributed more than Never Trump, the point of the Republican anti-Trump spear.

Far from being a cowardly stab in the back, the long, dogged battle that Never Trump has fought against Trump has been face to face and out in the open for all to see.

And, win or lose, in that their glory lays.

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Marco Rubio to campaign with Mike Pence, while keeping distance from Donald Trump

Marco Rubio is agreeing to appear with Republican vice-presidential nominee Mike Pence, even as the Florida Senator and former presidential candidate keeps his distance from Donald Trump.

ABC News reports that after several phone conversations, Pence and Rubio could begin campaigning in Florida within the next few weeks. After ending his presidential bid, Rubio is currently seeking re-election to the U.S. Senate.

A statement from the Rubio campaign says that although “Marco has tremendous respect and admiration for Gov. Pence,” no joint events are “scheduled at this time.”

Rubio’s agreement with Pence is seen as the latest move by Republicans to attempt to improve relations with the party’s presidential nominee. Pence had recently met with both John McCain and Jeb Bush privately, and had contacted former presidential candidates John Kasich and Ted Cruz.

During the Republican primary, Trump and Rubio clashed on several occasions, most notably when Trump called the senator “Little Marco” and Rubio responding by mocking the New York billionaire’s “small hands.”

However, after solidly losing the Florida primary to Trump, Rubio said he would continue to back the Republican nominee, but later saying he doubted Trump could be trusted with the nuclear codes. Rubio refused to back down from his earlier comments saying Trump was a “con man.”

“I’ve stood by everything I ever said in my campaign,” Rubio told the Miami Herald.

If re-elected to the Senate, Rubio said he could help keep Trump in check.

Rubio also told reporters he would not be making personal appearances with Trump.

“Not that I’m looking to undermine him,” Rubio said in an interview with CNN in June. “But I think the differences between us on key issues are so significant that I don’t plan — I’ve got to run my own race.”

According to the latest NBC/WSJ/Marist poll, Democrat Hillary Clinton leads Trump in Florida 44 to 39 percent.

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Donald Trump to try to steady campaign with economic speech

Donald Trump is trying to shift from a disastrous stretch of his presidential campaign to one focused on policy and party unity. But even as his allies speak of lessons the political newcomer has learned, two of his staunchest Republican critics warn that he could be heading for losses in a pair of battleground states.

Trump is set to deliver an economic speech on Monday to the prestigious Detroit Economic Club in his effort to step past his spats over the past 10 days with the Muslim-American parents of a slain Army captain and the leaders of a Republican Party he has promised to unite.

“Mr. Trump on Monday will lay out a vision that’s a growth economic plan” that will focus on cutting taxes, cutting regulation, energy development and boosting middle-class wages, campaign chairman Paul Manafort said in remarks broadcast Sunday on Fox Business. “When we do that, we’re comfortable that we can get the agenda and the narrative of the campaign back on where it belongs, which is comparing the tepid economy under Obama and Clinton, versus the kind of growth economy that Mr. Trump wants to build.”

What came before Monday’s speech, Manafort suggested, doesn’t count in the race to Election Day on Nov. 8. “It’s a three-month campaign,” he said.

Trump may have done irreversible damage in two critical states, Arizona and Ohio, with an approach to immigration reform that some say is divisive, two fellow Republicans say. Trump wants to build a wall between the United States and Mexico and now says he wants to suspend immigration from “terror countries” — though he has yet to say what those are.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who lost the Republican nomination to Trump, has not endorsed the billionaire and skipped the party’s convention in Cleveland, said Trump faces a difficult climb in a state that’s a must-win for Republican presidential candidates.

“He’s going to win parts of Ohio, where people are really hurting. There will be sections he will win because people are angry, frustrated and haven’t heard any answers,” Kasich said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” ”But I still think it’s difficult if you are dividing, to be able to win in Ohio. I think it’s really, really difficult.”

In an interview on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., said, “Yes, it is possible” that Democrat Hillary Clinton could beat Trump in his state, noting that Bill Clinton won Arizona in 1996 and that Hispanics represent about a third of the Arizona population.

“You can’t just throw platitudes out there about a wall or about Mexico paying for it and then be taken seriously here,” Flake said.

Clinton is expected to deliver her own economic plan to the Detroit Economic Club on Thursday.

That’s who Republicans want to see Trump fighting — the former senator and secretary of state, not Republicans and others. It’s a message furious senior members of the party carried to Trump privately and publicly in the days after Trump last week refused in a Washington Post interview to endorse the re-election bids of House Speaker Paul Ryan, Sen. John McCain of Arizona and Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire. The trio had strongly disapproved of Trump’s fight with Khizr and Ghazala Khan, Muslim-Americans whose son, Capt. Humayun Khan, was killed in Iraq in 2004.

On Friday at a Wisconsin rally not attended by Ryan or Gov. Scott Walker, Trump reversed course and endorsed all three lawmakers, saying, “We have to unite.”

“If you look at the last few days, I think he’s gotten the messages,” former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said on “Fox News Sunday.” ”It’s very tricky if you’ve never run for public office, to jump from being a businessman to being one of the two leaders fighting for the presidency, and he’s made some mistakes.”

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani said on ABC’s “This Week” that Trump’s endorsements show he “has the ability and the understanding to realize that there are going to be disagreements and you’ve got to be able to reach out to the entire party.”

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

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Donald Trump triumphs as GOP nominee, completing stunning climb

United for a night, Republicans nominated Donald Trump Tuesday as their presidential standard-bearer, capping the billionaire businessman’s stunning takeover of the GOP and propelling him into a November faceoff with Democrat Hillary Clinton.

“I will work hard and never let you down!” Trump quickly wrote on Twitter following the roll call vote.

Trump’s campaign hoped the formal nomination would both end the discord surging through the Republican Party and overshadow the convention’s chaotic kickoff, including a plagiarism charge involving Melania Trump‘s address on opening night.

There were flurries of dissent on the convention floor as states that Trump did not win recorded their votes, but he far outdistanced his primary rivals. His vice presidential pick, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, was also formally nominated.

Trump was put over the top by his home state of New York. Four of his children joined the state’s delegation on the convention floor for the historic moment and appeared overwhelmed with emotion.

“Congratulations, Dad, we love you,” declared Donald Trump Jr.

Some delegates emphasized a need for a televised display of unity after the deeply divisive GOP primary. “United we stand, divided we fall,” said Johnny McMahan, a Trump delegate from Arkansas.

But Colorado’s Kendal Unruh, a leader of the anti-Trump forces, called the convention a “sham” and warned party leaders that their efforts to silence opposition would keep some Republicans on the sidelines in the fall campaign against Clinton.

This week’s four-day convention is Trump’s highest-profile opportunity to convince voters that he’s better suited for the presidency than Clinton, who will be nominated at next week’s Democratic gathering. A parade of Trump’s campaign rivals and Republican leaders lukewarm about his nomination were taking the stage Tuesday night to vouch for the real estate mogul, including House Speaker Paul Ryan.

Still, the plagiarism controversy and other unforced errors by the campaign cast a shadow over the convention and raised fresh questions about Trump’s oversight of his campaign, which gives voters a window into how a candidate might handle the pressures of the presidency.

The plagiarism accusations follow Monday night’s speech by Trump’s wife. Two passages from her address — each 30 words or longer — matched a 2008 Democratic convention address by Michelle Obama nearly word-for-word.

Trump’s campaign failed to quell the controversy on Day 2 of the convention by insisting there was no evidence of plagiarism, while offering no explanation for how the strikingly similar passages wound up in Mrs. Trump’s address. The matter consumed news coverage from Cleveland until the evening vote, obscuring Mrs. Trump’s broader effort to show her husband’s softer side.

Clinton pounced on the tumult, saying the Republican gathering had so far been “surreal,” comparing it to the classic fantasy film “Wizard of Oz.”

“When you pull back the curtain, it was just Donald Trump with nothing to offer to the American people,” Clinton said during a speech in Las Vegas.

Top Trump adviser Paul Manafort said the matter had been “totally blown out of proportion.”

“They’re not even sentences. They’re literally phrases,” Manafort told The Associated Press.

Conventions are massive organizational undertakings, with thousands of attendees to manage and dozens of speakers to oversee. But the weeklong gathering pales in comparison to the scope of a president’s responsibilities as head of the U.S. government.

It was unclear whether there would be much if any effect on how voters view Trump. The businessman has survived numerous politically perilous moments that might have doomed other candidates.

Manafort, a longtime Republican operative, has been a central figure in Trump’s Cleveland operations. He led efforts to successfully tamp down a rebellion on the convention floor Monday, though the campaign still had to contend with angry outbursts from anti-Trump delegates.

The campaign chairman also upended Republicans’ unity message by slamming Ohio Gov. John Kasich in his home state. He called Kasich “petulant” and “embarrassing” for not endorsing Trump or attending the convention, drawing quick condemnation from other GOP leaders worried about angering the popular governor of one of the most important election states.

Trump’s campaign hoped the convention would also highlight a kinder, gentler side of the brash candidate. Mrs. Trump was the first in a series of family members and friends who were taking the stage to vouch for the man they know.

Mrs. Trump was widely praised for her success in doing just that, despite the plagiarism charges. She spoke of her husband’s “simple goodness” and his loyalty and love of family — while noting the “drama” that comes with Trump in politics.

Tiffany Trump, the candidate’s 22-year-old daughter from his marriage to Marla Maples, and Donald Jr., his eldest son and an executive vice president at The Trump Organization, were to speak about their father Tuesday night.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

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Faced with likely Donald Trump coronation, some GOP delegates quit

Running out of options to voice displeasure with presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, some delegates who oppose him have flirted with a movement to try to upend next week’s GOP convention in Cleveland.

Others simply won’t go. Among those who gave up their seats is Rhode Island delegate Dawson Hodgson, a former state senator and 2014 candidate for attorney general, who resigned as a delegate because he wants no part in nominating Trump.

Hodgson said Trump “espouses views that are antithetical to American values of freedom and democracy” and is dividing the country along race and class lines.

“I wouldn’t condone it or participate in it or enable his actions in any way whatsoever,” he said.

He’s not the only one to voice his distaste by staying home.

In Ohio, Republican state Sen. Shannon Jones resigned from her convention spot, telling The Cincinnati Enquirer she didn’t want to participate in a process that would lead to Trump’s nomination. In Wisconsin, longtime Republican activist Michael Grebe, a close ally of Gov. Scott Walker and political mentor to U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan, also withdrew.

Their resignations are a sign of the dissatisfaction among some established Republican activists about Trump’s candidacy and the effect it could have on down-ballot Republican races in November. But they are unlikely to make a difference in the convention’s outcome.

Finishing nearly 40 percentage points higher than his closest rival, Trump did so well among Rhode Island’s GOP voters in the April 26 primary that most of the state’s delegates are die-hard supporters who were elected to represent him.

Rhode Island is sending 19 GOP delegates to the convention. Twelve are bound to vote for Trump in the first ballot of the convention, and are likely to do so even if anti-Trump activists succeed in getting the rules changed.

Hodgson was elected as one of five delegates representing Ohio Gov. John Kasich. He’s been replaced by an alternate Kasich delegate, Christine Misto, who said she expects to vote for Kasich on the first ballot but is willing to support Trump as the nominee.

Only one of Rhode Island’s remaining GOP delegates, Woonsocket attorney Thomas Dickinson, has publicly aligned himself with the anti-Trump movement, but as a Kasich delegate his involvement doesn’t change Trump’s majority support.

Anti-Trump activists have been reaching out to delegates in hopes of finding an alternative to nominating Trump, but Rhode Island Republican Party Chairman Brandon Bell said it’s time to move on and support Trump against his likely Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.

“This is done. This is the coronation. It’s time to celebrate,” Bell said.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

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With few political allies, Donald Trump plans celebrity convention

Donald Trump‘s team promises an extraordinary display of political entertainment at this month’s Republican National Convention, with the accent on entertainment.

The former reality television star plans to feature his high-profile children at the summer gathering in Cleveland, with the hope they’ll be joined by a number of celebrity supporters. Prospects include former Indiana basketball coach Bobby Knight, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and longtime boxing promoter Don King.

“I’m going to be involved, definitely,” said King, who lives in Cleveland and is a passionate supporter of the presumptive Republican nominee. “He’s my man. I love him. He’s going to be the next president.”

While those bold-face names have yet to be confirmed, the fact they’re on Trump’s list is a reminder that many of the Republican Party’s biggest stars aren’t willing to appear on his behalf. The GOP’s two living presidents, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, its most recent presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, and Ohio’s Republican governor, John Kasich, all plan to avoid the four-day event that traditionally serves as a powerful display of party unity heading into the sprint toward Election Day.

“He’s going to have to bring all his skills to bear to make this work, not just in Cleveland, but for the next four months,” said Matt Borges, the Ohio Republican Party chairman. “It won’t be easy, but that’s what he’s got to do.”

Trump’s team says he’s up to the challenge.

“This is not going to be your typical party convention like years past,” said Trump spokesman Jason Miller. “Donald Trump is better suited than just about any candidate in memory to put together a program that’s outside of Washington and can appeal directly to the American people.”

When Hillary Clinton hosts her party at the Democratic National Convention the following week, she’ll face a different issue entirely: how to squeeze in the many popular, prominent Democrats backing her campaign.

Along with Clinton and her eventual vice presidential pick, there are sure to be speeches from President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, first lady Michelle Obama and, of course, the candidate’s husband, former President Bill Clinton.

There’s also Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a favorite of progressives and one of Trump’s fiercest critics. Warren is on Clinton’s running-mate shortlist but will surely be slotted for a prominent convention speech even if she’s not selected.

By necessity as much as preference, Trump’s team is crafting a far different lineup. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, one of the likely speakers, praised Trump’s plan to use his celebrity connections to reach a broader audience.

“Trump understands that if he can appeal to consumer America, he drowns political America,” Gingrich told The Associated Press. He said he had little idea of what kind of show to expect, but recalled a recent conversation with a Trump family member who confidently told him, “We know how to do conventions.”

“My children are all going to be speaking: Ivanka, Tiffany, Don, Eric. They’re going to be speaking,” Trump said Friday during an appearance at the Western Conservative Summit in Denver. “My wife is going to be speaking at the convention. We’re going to have a great time.”

Trump’s campaign has also been in touch with aides to chief primary rival, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who has been trying to win a speaking slot. Other national leaders under consideration include former United Nations Ambassador John Bolton, West Virginia Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, Washington Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Gingrich.

Some celebrities backing Trump have passed on the chance to be a part of the show. Among them: former Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka, who told the Chicago Tribune last week, “I spoke with Mr. Trump this afternoon, and he invited me. But I don’t think I’m going to go.”

Clinton’s speaking program, too, isn’t without its uncomfortable riddles. There’s no public sense yet of what role she’ll give to Bernie Sanders, the Vermont senator whose surprisingly strong challenge in the Democratic primary has yet to officially come to an end. Sanders says he’ll vote for Clinton, but he’s yet to formally endorse her and is pushing for changes to the Democratic platform.

Ivanka Trump predicted in a recent radio interview the GOP convention would be “a great combination of our great politicians, but also great American businessmen and women and leaders across industry and leaders across really all sectors, from athletes to coaches and everything in between.”

“I think it will be a convention unlike any we’ve ever seen,” she said. “It will be substantive. It will be interesting. It will be different. It’s not going to be a ho-hum lineup of, you know, the typical politicians.”

And that will still leave room for complaints from Trump’s Republican skeptics.

“Whatever you want to say about Trump, he’s been a showman. And I expect something completely different,” said former Kasich adviser Jai Chabria. “I find it hard to believe that that’s going to be enough to put him over the top.”

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

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DIVIDED AMERICA: Evangelicals feel alienated, anxious

Pastor Richie Clendenen stepped away from the pulpit, microphone in hand. He walked the aisles of the Christian Fellowship Church, his voice rising to describe the perils believers face in 21st-century America.

“The Bible says in this life you will have troubles, you will have persecutions. And Jesus takes it a step further: You’ll be hated by all nations for my name’s sake,” he said.

“Let me tell you,” the minister said, “that time is here.”

EDITOR’S NOTE — This story is part of Divided America, AP’s ongoing exploration of the economic, social and political divisions in American society.

___

The faithful in the pews needed little convincing. Even in this deeply religious swath of western Kentucky — a state where about half the residents are evangelical — conservative Christians feel under siege.

For decades, they say, they have been steadily pushed to the sidelines of American life and have come under attack for their most deeply held beliefs, born of their reading of Scripture and their religious mandate to evangelize. The 1960s ban on prayer in public schools is still a fresh wound. Every legal challenge to a public Nativity scene or Ten Commandments display is another marginalization. They’ve been “steamrolled,” they say, and “misunderstood.”

Religious conservatives could once count on their neighbors to at least share their view of marriage. Those days are gone. Public opinion on same-sex relationships turned against conservatives even before the U.S. Supreme Court legalized gay marriage nationwide.

Now, many evangelicals say liberals want to seal their cultural victory by silencing the church. Liberals call this paranoid. But evangelicals see evidence of the threat in every new uproar over someone asserting a right to refuse recognition of same-sex marriages — whether it be a baker, a government clerk, or the leaders of religious charities and schools.

America’s divisions — right-left, urban-rural, black-white and more — spill daily into people’s lives, from their relations with each other, to their harsh communications on social media, to their decisions in an acrimonious presidential election campaign. Many Christian conservatives feel there is another, less recognized chasm in American life, and they find themselves on the other side of the divide between “us” and “them.”

Clendenen, preaching on this recent Sunday, reflected on the chasm between his congregants and other Americans.

“There’s nobody hated more in this nation than Christians,” he said, amid nods and cries of encouragement. “Welcome to America’s most wanted: You.”

___

For evangelicals like those at Christian Fellowship, the sense of a painful reckoning is not just imagined; their declining clout in public life can be measured.

The turnabout is astonishing and hard to grasp — for them and for other Americans — since the U.S. remains solidly religious and Christian, and evangelicals are still a formidable bloc in the Republican Party. But a series of losses in church membership and in public policy battles, along with America’s changing demographics, are weakening evangelical influence, even in some of the most conservative regions of the country.

“The shift in the last few years has really been stunning,” said Ed Stetzer, executive director of Lifeway Research, an evangelical consulting firm in Nashville, Tennessee. “Nobody would have guessed the pace of change. That’s why so many people are yelling we have to take our country back.”

The Protestant majority that dominated American culture through the nation’s history is now a Protestant minority. Their share of the population dipped below 50 percent sometime after 2008.

Liberal-leaning Protestant groups, such as Presbyterians and Lutherans, started shrinking earlier, but some evangelical churches are now in decline. The conservative Southern Baptist Convention lost 200,000 from its ranks in 2014 alone, dropping to 15.5 million, its smallest number in more than two decades.

The trend is reflected in the highest reaches of public life. The U.S. Supreme Court is now comprised completely of Jews and Roman Catholics. In the 2012 presidential election, the Republican nominees were a Mormon, Mitt Romney, and a Catholic, Paul Ryan.

“We’ve lost our home field advantage,” Stetzer said.

At the same time, the Bible Belt, as a cultural force, is collapsing, said the Rev. Russell Moore, head of the Southern Baptist public policy agency.

Nearly a quarter of Americans say they no longer affiliate with a faith tradition. It’s the highest share ever recorded in surveys, indicating the stigma for not being religious has eased — even in heavily evangelical areas. Americans who say they have no ties to organized religion, dubbed “nones,” now make up about 23 percent of the population, just behind evangelicals, who comprise about 25 percent, according to the Pew Research Center.

Christians who have been only nominally tied to a conservative church are steadily dropping out altogether. When Moore was growing up in Mississippi, any parent whose children weren’t baptized by age 12 or 13 would face widespread disapproval, he said. Those times have passed.

“People don’t have to be culturally identified with evangelical Christianity in order to be seen as good people, good neighbors or good Americans,” Moore said.

Politically, old guard religious right organizations such as the Moral Majority and the Christian Coalition are greatly diminished or gone, and no broadly unifying leader or organization has replaced them. In this year’s presidential race, the social policy issues championed by Christian conservatives are not central, even amid the furor over bathroom access for transgender people.

Clendenen said many in his church backed Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who had positioned himself in the Republican primaries as the standard bearer for religious conservatives. Chris Haynes, a church band member and communications professor, said he voted for Ohio Gov. John Kasich. Some congregants now support presumptive nominee Donald Trump — a thrice-married, profane casino magnate with a record of positions at odds with social conservatism. “It’s like we’re scraping the bottom of the barrel,” for candidates, said Haynes’ wife, Brandi, who teaches at the Christian Fellowship school.

White evangelical voters remain very influential in early primaries. About two-thirds of Iowa caucus voters this year said they were born-again Christians. In Mississippi, eight in 10 primary voters were evangelical. And they turn out at high rates in general elections.

But white evangelicals can’t match the growth rate of groups that tend to support Democrats — Latinos, younger people and Americans with no religious affiliation. In 2004, overwhelming evangelical support helped secure a second term for President George W. Bush, a Christian conservative who made social issues a priority. In 2012, evangelicals voted for Romney at the same rate — yet he lost.

This is a far cry from 1976, which Newsweek declared the “Year of the Evangelical,” when born-again candidate Jimmy Carter won the presidency and more conservative Christians were drawn into politics. Four years later, Ronald Reagan famously recognized the emerging influence of the religious right, telling evangelicals in Dallas, “I know you can’t endorse me, but I endorse you and what you’re doing.”

No issue has more starkly illuminated conservative Christians’ waning influence than the struggle over same-sex marriage.

Evangelicals were “all in” with their opposition to gay rights starting back with the Moral Majority in the 1980s, said Robert Jones, author of “The End of White Christian America.” In the 2004 election, Americans appeared to be on the same page, approving bans on same-sex marriage in all 11 states where the measures were on the ballot. When President Barack Obama was first elected in 2008, just four in 10 Americans supported gay marriage.

But three years later, support rose to more than five in 10. And now the business wing of the Republican Party is deserting social conservatives on the issue, largely backing anti-discrimination policies for gays and transgender people. Younger Americans, including younger evangelicals, are especially accepting of same-sex relationships, which means evangelicals “have lost a generation on this issue,” Jones said.

“This issue is so prominent and so symbolic,” said Jones, chief executive of Public Religion Research Institute, which specializes in surveys about religion and public life. “It was such a decisive loss, not only in the actual courts, the legal courts, but also in the court of public opinion. They lost legally and they lost culturally.”

Clendenen said he saw “a lot of fear, a lot of anger” in his church after the Supreme Court ruling. He said it made him feel that Christians like him had been pushed to the edge of a cliff.

“It has become the keystone issue,” he said, sitting in his office, where photos of his father and grandfather, both preachers, are on display. “I never thought we’d be in the place we are today. I never thought that the values I’ve held my whole life would bring us to a point where we were alienated or suppressed.”

Trump uses rhetoric that has resonance for Christian conservatives who fear their teachings on marriage will soon be outlawed as hate speech.

“We’re going to protect Christianity and I can say that,” Trump has said. “I don’t have to be politically correct.”

___

If culture wars and the outside world once felt remote amid the soybean and tobacco farms around Marshall County, Kentucky, change of many kinds is now obvious to Clendenen’s congregants.

Latino immigrants are starting to arrive in significant numbers, drawn partly by farm work. Muslims are working at chicken processing plants in the next county or enrolling at nearby Murray State University. On a recent weeknight, a group of women wearing abayas shopped in a Dollar General store near campus. Some gays and lesbians are out in the community, and Clendenen says he occasionally sees them at Sunday worship.

It was on the other side of Kentucky, in Rowan County, where clerk Kim Davis spent five days in jail last year for refusing on religious grounds to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples since the licenses would include her name. Gov. Matt Bevin recently tried to defuse the conflict by signing a bill creating a form without a clerk’s name.

In New Mexico and Oregon, a photographer and a baker were fined under nondiscrimination laws after refusing work for same-sex ceremonies. Daniel Slayden, a Christian Fellowship member and owner of Parcell’s, a popular bakery and deli near the church, has never been asked to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple but already knows how he’d respond.

“If a homosexual couple comes in and wants a cake, then that’s fine. I mean I’ll do it as long as I’m free to speak my truth to them,” said Slayden, taking a break after the lunchtime rush. “I don’t want to get (to) any point to where I have to say or accept that their belief is the truth.”

The problem, many religious conservatives say, is that government is growing more coercive in many areas bearing on their beliefs.

They say some colleges — citing a 2010 Supreme Court ruling that required school groups to accept all comers — are revoking recognition for Christian student clubs because they require their leaders to hold certain beliefs.

Some faith-based nonprofits with government contracts, such as Catholic Charities in Illinois, have shuttered adoption programs because of new state rules that say agencies with taxpayer funding can’t refuse placements with same-sex couples.

And religious leaders worry that Christian schools and colleges will lose accreditation or tax-exempt status over their codes of conduct barring same-sex relationships.

A 1983 U.S. Supreme Court ruling allowed the IRS to revoke nonprofit status from religious schools that banned interracial dating. In the Supreme Court gay marriage case, U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, representing the government, was asked whether something similar could happen to Christian schools, which often provide housing for married students. He responded, “It’s certainly going to be an issue,” causing a meltdown across the evangelical blogosphere.

It has come to this: Many conservative Christians just don’t feel welcome in their own country.

They say they are either mocked or erased in popular culture. “When was the last time you saw an evangelical or conservative Christian character portrayed positively on TV?” Stetzer asked.

“The idea of what we call biblical morality in our culture at large is completely laughed at and spurned as nonsense,” said David Parish, a former pastor at Christian Fellowship and the son of its founder. “The church as an institution, as a public entity — we are moving more and more in conflict with the culture and with other agendas.”

How to navigate this new reality? Most conservative Christians fall into one of three broad camps.

There are those who are determined to even more fiercely wage the culture wars, demanding the broadest possible religious exemptions from recognizing same-sex marriage.

There are those who plan to withdraw as much as possible into their own communities to preserve their faith —an approach dubbed the “Benedict Option,” for a fifth-century saint who, disgusted by the decadence of Rome, fled to the forest where he lived as a hermit and prayed.

There is, however, a segment that advocates living as a “prophetic minority,” confidently upholding their beliefs but in a gentler way that rejects the aggressive tone of the old religious right and takes up other issues, such as ending human trafficking, that can cross ideological lines.

Clendenen is cut from this mold. Now 38, he came of age when the religious right was at its apex, and he concluded any mix of partisan politics with Christianity was toxic for the church.

A congregant once lobbied him to participate in Pulpit Freedom Sunday, an annual conservative effort to defy IRS rules against backing politicians from the pulpit. Clendenen stood before the congregation and endorsed … Jesus.

He prays for President Barack Obama, considering it a Christian duty no matter his opposition to the president’s policies. But Clendenen believes few Americans who support same-sex marriage would show him or his fellow evangelicals a similar level of respect. “On any front that we speak on, we’re given this label of intolerance, we’re given this label of hate,” Clendenen said. (He said evangelicals are partly responsible for the backlash, however, because of the hateful language some used in the marriage debates. “I don’t see the LGBT community as my enemy,” he said.)

He uses the word persecution to describe what Christians are facing in the U.S., even though he feels strange doing so. He has traveled extensively to help start churches in other countries, and knows the violence many Christians endure. A map of the world is posted in his office with pins in the places he’s visited, including Romania and Kenya. And yet, he feels the word applies here, too.

He ruminated on all of this as he prepared to head into his sanctuary to lead the Sunday service.

Some good may come of these hard times, he believes. Conservative Christians who have been complacent will have to decide just how much their religion matters “when there’s a price to pay for it,” he said. Christianity has often thrived in countries where it faces intense opposition, he noted.

Preaching now, Clendenen urged congregants to hold fast to their positions in a country that has grown hostile to them. And as the worship service wound down, he issued a final exhortation.

“Don’t give up,” he said. “Don’t let your light go out.”

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

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Donald Trump’s campaign investment tops $43 million

Donald Trump poured more than $7.5 million of his own money into his presidential campaign in April, bringing his total personal investment to more than $43 million since he declared his candidacy, new campaign finance reports filed late Friday show.

The billionaire businessman, who swatted away 16 Republican rivals and relied heavily on wall-to-wall media coverage of his outsized personality and often inflammatory remarks, reported spending about $56 million during the primary, which lasted until his final two rivals, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, dropped out of the race at the beginning of May.

In April alone, Trump spent nearly $9.4 million, according to his monthly filing with the Federal Election Commission. Trump’s largest expense in April, about $2.6 million, was for advertisements. The campaign also spent more than $930,000 on direct mail. Other big-ticket items included roughly $585,000 in airfare paid to Trump’s TAG Air Inc.

While much of Trump’s money has come from his own pocket, he reported about $1.7 million in donations last month. Those contributions have come largely from people buying Trump’s campaign merchandise, including the red “Make America Great Again” ball caps, and giving online through his campaign website. Trump didn’t begin developing a team of fundraisers until recently, after he became the presumptive GOP nominee.

Almost all of Trump’s personal investment has come in the form of loans. That leaves open the possibility that he can repay himself now that he’s aggressively seeking donations. A new fundraising agreement he struck with the Republican National Committee and 11 state parties explicitly seeks contributions for his primary campaign.

Yet Trump said in a statement this week that he has “absolutely no intention” of paying himself back.

Instead, he will be able to use any primary money he raises, in increments of up to $2,700 per donor, on expenses such as salaries, advertising and voter outreach over the next nine weeks. After the GOP convention in late July, Trump will officially become the nominee and be restricted to spending money that’s earmarked for the general election.

His likely rival, Democrat Hillary Clinton, has a head start on building a war chest for the November election. She partnered with Democratic parties months ago and has been raising millions of dollars for them. In April alone, she collected almost $800,000 in campaign money for the general election.

By contrast, Trump will hold his first campaign fundraiser next week, an event in Los Angeles where the minimum price of admission is $25,000, according to the invitation. Those donations are to be split among Trump’s campaign and his Republican Party allies.

In addition to the Trump campaign’s financial health, the filings also show that when Cruz dropped out, money wasn’t the issue: He had $9.4 million in his campaign coffers at the end of April, just days before his defeat May 3 in the Indiana primary prompted him to end his bid. At the time, Cruz said he left the race because he saw no path forward.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

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Stunned Donald Trump foes face diminished options at GOP convention

Still shaken by Donald Trump‘s triumph, Republican and conservative foes of the billionaire can still cause headaches for the party’s presumptive presidential nominee at this summer’s GOP convention. But their options are shrinking by the day.

With Trump’s last two rivals — Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich — abandoning their campaigns, there’s no remaining talk of snatching the nomination away from him with a contested, multi-ballot battle when Republican delegates gather in Cleveland.

Instead, anti-Trump forces are trying to figure out how to use this July’s GOP meetings to keep him from reshaping the party and its guiding principles, perhaps with fights over the platform or even his vice presidential pick.

Many expect Trump to build momentum as the convention nears, narrowing his opponents’ options. Even so, here’s what may be in store:

___

IT’S OVER? WHAT NOW?

Trump’s foes concede he’s likely to arrive in Cleveland exceeding the 1,237 delegates needed to become the nominee. Yet many are still reeling from the contest’s unexpected finale last week and are just starting to think about what they could do at the convention that would be productive.

“There’s going to be a lot of thinking, a lot of praying and a lot talking between all of us,” said Kay Godwin, a Cruz delegate from Blackshear, Georgia. “I wish I could give you an answer right now but I think if I did, it would be out of emotion.”

“There are probably some who hope Trump will stick his foot in his mouth or some scandal will come out and that they’ll be able to rally everybody at that point, but at this point there’s really nothing they can do” to block his nomination, said Jason Osborne, a GOP consultant.

___

CONTAINING THE DAMAGE

Many Trump opponents see the Republican platform, the party’s statement of ideals and policy goals, as a place for a stand in Cleveland. The convention’s 2,472 delegates must approve the platform before formally anointing the presidential nominee.

All — including those chosen to support Trump — can vote however they want on the platform. Many conservatives say they will use that vote to keep Trump from reshaping GOP dogma against abortion, for free trade and on other issues.

While it seems likely Trump would prevail, a showdown could be an embarrassment he’d seek to avoid by not pushing divisive changes.

“If the party walks away from any of its clearly cut social, family values issues, it will be an issue,” said Tony Perkins, president of the conservative Family Research Council and GOP delegate from Louisiana. “We’re not just going to fall in line because he’s the nominee.”

Trump has said he would seek to include exceptions for rape and incest to the GOP platform’s opposition to abortion. He’s also flouted the party platform by repeatedly criticizing trade deals and calling NATO obsolete.

“We’d want to make sure the platform is protected from Donald Trump,” said Rory Cooper, senior adviser for the Never Trump political committee.

Trump aides did not return messages seeking comment on his views about the platform.

___

A RUNNING MATE

Trump has said he’d like a vice presidential candidate with government experience.

Yet, as with the platform, delegates can vote as they please in choosing Trump’s running mate. Some opponents suggest they may challenge his choice, either as a protest or to try forcing him to make a different selection.

Recent GOP conventions have formally approved vice presidential candidates by acclamation and no roll call. But if delegates make enough of a fuss, a roll call with plenty of votes for a rival vice presidential candidate is possible.

“He’ll probably pick somebody, and that person is not going to have the automatic ratification status that’s been traditional,” said Roger Stauter, a Cruz delegate from Madison, Wisconsin, who said he would never support Trump.

Others said the convention would likely defer to Trump’s thinking about a strategically smart choice.

“He could pick somebody we’d all get pretty excited about,” said Shane Goettle, a Cruz delegate from North Dakota.

Conservative talk show host Erick Erickson, a Trump opponent, said he expected delegates to accede to Trump’s selection, saying that by July, “the phases of depression and anger” will subside as Republicans accept “their coming defeat.”

___

MUST-WATCH TV?

Many expect Trump — star of his own TV reality shows “The Apprentice” and “Celebrity Apprentice” — to run a more watchable convention than usual.

Beth Myers, GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney‘s campaign manager in 2012, was not a Trump supporter during the primaries. But she said Trump knows TV and expects his convention to outshine the Democrats’ in stagecraft and draw millions more viewers than usual.

“My guess is that the Republican convention will not be a chaotic, contested convention,” she said. “Rather, it will be a production of Trump, Inc., and it will be pretty good live television.”

Some of that glitz may not be by choice. Many Republican bigwigs are expected to shun the convention and avoid giving primetime speeches on Trump’s behalf.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

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Mitch Perry Report for 5.5.16 – Requiem for a would-be contender

John Kasich dropped out of the Republican race for president yesterday, conceding that he won’t be the “White Knight” fantasized by #NeverTrump acolytes over the past few months.

The Ohio Governor’s departure came less than 24 hours after Ted Cruz “suspended” his campaign, so now we have a full half-a-year to contemplate a TrumpClinton showdown in November.

Although at times it seemed a bit embarrassing, Kasich’s decision to remain in the race despite the fact that he only captured one state and ultimately finished with fewer delegates than Marco Rubio always made sense, because of one simple fact: public opinion polls consistently showed that unlike Trump, Cruz, Rubio, Jeb Bush or any other Republican running, Kasich actually had enough general election potential to become president. If you were to have a contested convention, why not just choose the man who had hung in the race and was a candidate who could go the distance (the RNC Grand Poohbah’s would have had to have changed the rules about the nominee having to win eight primaries or caucuses, however).

However, like every other Republican other than Trump, GOP primary voters simply weren’t compelled to vote for him.

Kasich was the last Republican to officially to enter the race, announcing his candidacy last July. He immediately jumped to the forefront of what at the time was considered the serious, top-tiered branch of candidates who had the credentials to go far.

You know, that same list that included, Bush, Rubio and Scott Walker.

But as CNN reported, whether it was his plan to use a New Hampshire win to vault himself into contention in the states that followed (he finished second), or a big win in Michigan to vault him into his Midwest swing (he finished third), or the clear advantage he claimed to hold in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic (second or third in all), seemingly little that Team Kasich predicted would occur actually happened, other than taking his home state of Ohio.

If folks are mentioning Marco Rubio as a possible running mate (and they are), you can bet they’ll throw Kasich in the mix. The fact that he was an operator on Capitol Hill for a long time and yes, he’s from the crucial battleground state of Ohio, will keep his name in the media until he vows that he doesn’t want it to be. And with the RNC taking place in Cleveland, he’ll be a presence at the convention.

Speaking of Rubio, the Florida Senator was hammered for missing so much time on his day job in Washington, but curiously, you rarely heard criticism of Kasich taking so much time off from his duties as Ohio Governor to do the same thing.

So if nothing else, Kasich can now get back to work and actually do his job, and hopefully, do it well.

In other news …

The economic analysis paid for by the Tampa/Hillsborough Film & Digital Media Commission says that the County Commission’s $250,000 incentive plan for the producers of the upcoming film, “The Infiltrator” provided a nearly 4:1 return on investment.

The West Central Florida Federation of Labor has opted not to endorse in the three-way battle for the Hillsborough County Clerk of the Courts race.

Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine to propose raising everybody who works in his city to make at least $13.31 an hour.

Philip Stoddard, the Mayor of South Miami, says he’d like to build a “Wall of Shame” in his region for all the Florida lawmakers who’ve done nothing to fight climate change.

Now that Eric Lynn is out of the race for CD 13, Rick Kriseman is now on the record as backing Charlie Crist in that contest.

Mark Ober’s fundraising numbers are up in his race for re-election for Hillsborough State Attorney, and he’s got powerful businessman John Sykes asking his supporters for more.

And Lake Worth activist Cara Jennings has more to say to Rick Scott in a new video.

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