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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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Marco Rubio leads Carlos Beruff 71% to 7% in new AIF poll

Marco Rubio holds a 60-plus point lead over Carlos Beruff.

That’s according to a new Associated Industries of Florida poll of likely Republican primary voters. The survey — conducted on June 27 and June 28, one week after Rubio announced he was running for re-election — found 71 percent of respondents said they would support Rubio in the primary.

Seven percent of voters said they would vote for Beruff, while 18 percent said they were still undecided.

Rubio announced last week he was running for a second term in the U.S. Senate, reversing a previous decision to return to private life when his term ended. The decision cleared the field, with Republicans Ron DeSantis, David Jolly, Carlos Lopez-Cantera and Todd Wilcox all bowing out of the race.

Beruff, a Manatee County homebuilder who has poured a significant amount of his own wealth into the race already, said he would continue to run for the seat. He has said he is prepared to put another $10 million to $15 million more into the race.

Rubio has received the backing of several top Republicans in Florida, including Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, and former Governor Jeb Bush. He’s also received support from the National Republican Senatorial Committee and Sen. Ted Cruz.

One top Republican that hasn’t thrown his support behind him? Gov. Rick Scott.

In a Facebook post last week, Scott stopped short of endorsing Beruff, but said the “Florida voters deserve the opportunity to consider his candidacy alongside Senator Rubio and make their own decision.”

While the AIF polling memo notes that Rubio’s entry into the race creates an entirely different field than just a few weeks ago, it also points out Rubio was leaps and bounds ahead of Republicans even before he got into the race.

When AIF conducted a similar survey in April, 50 percent of Republicans said they would support Rubio. The April survey found 5 percent of respondents would support Beruff, while 26 percent said they were undecided. Jolly was in second in the April survey by AIF, with 8 percent support.

The AIF poll is in line with another poll released this week. A survey conducted for News 13/Bay News 9 found 63 percent of Republicans would vote for Rubio in the Aug. 30 primary, while 11 percent said they planned to support Beruff. In that survey, 13 percent of respondents were undecided.

The most recent AIF poll surveyed 750 likely voters on June 27 and June 28. The survey has a margin of error of 4 percent.

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Many experienced GOP strategists unwilling to work for Donald Trump

Donald Trump has finally acknowledged that to best compete against Hillary Clinton he needs more than the bare-bones campaign team that led him to primary success. But many of the most experienced Republican political advisers aren’t willing to work for him.

From Texas to New Hampshire, well-respected members of the Republican Party’s professional class say they cannot look past their deep personal and professional reservations about the presumptive presidential nominee.

While there are exceptions, many strategists who best understand the mechanics of presidential politics fear that taking a Trump paycheck might stain their resumes, spook other clients and even cause problems at home. They also are reluctant to devote months to a divisive candidate whose campaign has been plagued by infighting and disorganization.

“Right now I feel no obligation to lift a finger to help Donald Trump,” said Brent Swander, an Ohio-based operative who has coordinated nationwide logistics for Republican presidential campaigns dating to George W. Bush.

“Everything that we’re taught as children — not to bully, not to demean, to treat others with respect — everything we’re taught as children is the exact opposite of what the Republican nominee is doing. How do you work for somebody like that? What would I tell my family?” Swander said.

Trump leapt into presidential politics with a small group of aides, some drafted directly from his real estate business, with no experience running a White House campaign. An unquestioned success in the GOP primaries, they have struggled to respond to the increased demands of a general election.

As in years past, the primary season created a pool of battle-tested staffers who worked for other candidates, from which Trump would be expected to draw. But hundreds of such aides have so far declined invitations to work for him.

They include several communications aides to Chris Christie, as well as the New Jersey governor’s senior political adviser, Michael DuHaime, who has rejected direct and indirect inquiries to sign on with the billionaire.

Chris Wilson, a senior aide to Ted Cruz, said the Texas senator’s entire paid staff of more than 150 ignored encouragement from Trump’s team to apply for positions after Cruz quit the presidential race. Wilson said that even now, many unemployed Cruz aides are refusing to work for the man who called their former boss “Lyin’ Ted.”

That’s the case for Scott Smith, a Texas-based operative who traveled the country planning events for Cruz, and earlier worked on presidential bids for Bush and Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

“It’s very clear that none of us are going to work for Trump,” Smith said. “Even if I wanted to work for Trump, my wife would kill me.”

Smith, like many experienced strategists interviewed for this story, noted the intense personal sacrifice required of presidential campaigns. Many advisers do not see their families for long stretches, work brutal hours on little sleep and enjoy no job security.

With Trump, Smith said, “I would feel like a mercenary. I can’t be away from my young children if it’s just for money.”

Trump’s need for additional staff is acute. His paltry fundraising network brought in less than $2 million last month. He has just one paid staffer to handle hundreds of daily media requests and only a few operatives in battleground states devoted to his White House bid.

Last month, Trump fired Rick Wiley, who was the campaign manager for Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a former 2016 candidate, and was brought on to run Trump’s nationwide get-out-the-vote effort. On Monday, Trump fired campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, who acknowledged he lacked the experience needed to expand Trump’s operation.

“This campaign needs to grow rapidly,” Lewandowski told the Fox News Channel. “That’s a hard job and candidly I’ve never grown something that big.”

Trump credited Lewandowski with helping “a small, beautiful, well-unified campaign” during the primary season. “I think it’s time now for a different kind of a campaign,” Trump told Fox.

Campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks did not respond to multiple requests for comment about the campaign’s hiring. A former adviser, Barry Bennett, played down any staffing challenges, suggesting the campaign should be able to double its contingent by the party’s national convention next month.

Trump announced four new hires in the past week, including a human resources chief to help with hiring, to supplement a staff of about 70. That’s compared with Clinton’s paid presence of roughly 700, many of them well-versed in modern political strategy.

Trump’s senior team, including campaign chief Paul Manafort and newly hired political director Jim Murphy, largely represent an older generation of political hands more active in the 1980s and 1990s. The campaign’s new Ohio director, Bob Paduchik, led state efforts for Bush’s 2000 and 2004 campaigns.

A new generation of top talent active in more recent years has shown little interest in Trump. In Iowa, experienced operative Sara Craig says she will not work for Trump or even support him. “I am more interested in working on down-ballot races,” said Craig, who helped elect Joni Ernst to the Senate from Iowa and directed a pro-Bush super political action committee.

Ryan Williams, who worked on Mitt Romney‘s presidential campaigns, said he’s happy working for a consulting firm, where he’s involved with various other elections across the country, as well as with corporate clients.

“When you sign up for a campaign, you’re putting your name on the effort. Some of the things that Trump has said publicly are very hard for people to get behind,” Williams said.

But Paduchik offered the kind of positive perspective expected of a campaign on the move.

“It’s been great, the response I’ve gotten,” Paduchik said. “Republicans in every corner of Ohio are excited about Mr. Trump’s campaign.”

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

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Ted Cruz endorses Marco Rubio in his re-election bid

A one-time opponent is throwing his support behind Marco Rubio.

On Wednesday, Sen. Ted Cruz said he was “glad to support” Rubio in his re-election bid. Cruz, a Texas Republican, was one of more than a dozen Republicans who ran for president earlier this year.

“Marco Rubio a friend and has been an ally in many battles we have fought together in the Senate. I’m glad to support him in his bid for re-election,” he said in a Facebook post shortly after Rubio’s announcement. “Marco is a tremendous communicator and a powerful voice for the American Dream. At this time of great challenges, we very much need strong leaders in the Senate who will fight to restore economic growth, to defend our constitutional liberties, and to ensure a strong national security for our nation.”

According to Elaina Plott with the Washingtonian, Rubio reached out to Cruz to confirm he intended to run. The Washingtonian reported that Rubio asked Cruz to send out a statement urging the Miami Republican to run for re-election, but Cruz declined because he didn’t want to be seen as pushing Rep. Ron DeSantis out of the race.

DeSantis has not said publicly what he plans to do, but many expect him to end his Senate bid and run for the House.

Rubio announced Wednesday he was planning to run for re-election, reversing a previous commitment to return home at the end of his term in January.

While Rubio said he made the decision at home with his family, not in Washington, he did have the support of several top Republicans.

Rubio also appeared to get support from Ohio Republican Gov. John Kasich, another one-time presidential opponent. In a tweet Wednesday, Kasich said “keeping (Rubio) serving in the Senate is good news for the people of FL & our entire nation. Good luck, Marco!”

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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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In Tampa, Donald Trump complains about his treatment from fellow Republicans

Coming off one of his most tumultuous weeks on the campaign trail since becoming the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, Donald Trump took his act to the Tampa Convention Center at high noon on Saturday, where he spoke to a less than capacity crowd at the Tampa Convention Center for approximately 50 minutes.

Trump has been under fire from many in his own party for his comments about federal judge Gonzalo Curiel, the magistrate involved in the case involving disgruntled customers of what is known as Trump University. Trump said he couldn’t get a fair hearing from the judge because of his Mexican heritage, a comment that House Speaker Paul Ryan said was the definition of racism (though he’s still supporting him for president).

“I’ve had more opposition from the Republican Party than I have from the Democrats,” Trump complained on Saturday. “It’s crazy. I’m an outsider. They’re not used to it.”

On Friday night, Mitt Romney said that Trump’s election could legitimize racism and misogyny, ushering in a change in the moral fabric of American society.

The Donald returned the fire in Tampa, mocking Romney for calling him a misogynist. “I don’t think he knows what misogynist is.”

On racism? Not close, said Trump, saying that he has been given the Good Housekeeping seal of approval by none other than boxing impresario Don King. “I am the least racist person that you’ve ever met. Believe me.”

The several thousand in attendance were backing their man up regarding the controversy over the judge.

“I think he’s doing the best he can, but things have a way of getting twisted,” said Kathleen Bass from Tampa. “You say something, not with the intention, but they (the media) put a spin put on it and people interpret it in a way that it wasn’t intended.”

The Curiel imbroglio is “just a distraction,” insisted Plant City resident Mike Borders.”If people really researched the things that they’re hearing on the news, they’d realize, this is all bullsh*t. It is.  When people take the the time to figure out the facts and not what the news is telling them, they’ll learn the truth.”

And what is that, we asked?

Borders went on to repeat comments that conservative media have reported in claiming that Trump is getting a raw deal in the Trump University case – such as the fact that law firm that brought the lawsuit against Trump is a Clinton donor.

Lake Wales resident Clyde Smith also said he felt that Trump wasn’t prejudiced, but had had his words “twisted.”

“He shouldn’t have said a couple of things, but then he straightened up. He ain’t reading from other people’s literature, and so everybody makes mistakes, but that wasn’t anything.”

Much of Trump’s speech trod over familiar territory  – he talked about the bad trade deals that the U.S. has made, how he’s really not mad at China or Mexico but actually U.S. leaders who have negotiated poor deals with them, and how often he’s made the cover of Time magazine over the past year.

He spent a few minutes bashing Hillary Clinton, saying she has made the nation vulnerable by using a private server. “It’s illegal, it’s wrong….why would they let it go so long?” he asked of the FBI investigation.

And on policy, he again falsely claimed that Clinton would rid the country of the 2nd Amendment if she were to be elected.

You’ll always see something different at a Trump rally. At one point he began crowdsourcing the audience on who he should pick as his running mate, with the presumptive nominee repeating the names of Newt Gingrich, Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (who got a huge cheer).

As advertised, Florida Governor Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi were among the speakers who appeared leading up to Trump’s appearance, which came a full hour after the scheduled 11 a.m starting time.

“Come November, Donald Trump won’t just win Florida, he will have a big win across the entire United States,” predicted Scott, who compared his surprising 2010 initial victory in Tallahassee to Trump’s emergency in the Republican primaries this past year.

There was some speculation that Bondi would be a no-show, after she was put on defense this week with more reporting on the fact that she personally solicited a financial contribution from Trump in 2013 at the same time that her office was contemplating joining a multi-state lawsuit against Trump University.

But she didn’t disappoint her supporters. “I don’t mess around, and no longer does Donald Trump,” she said approximately 15 minutes before Trump appeared on stage.

Bondi railed against “the liberal elite,” who she said accepted “mediocracy {sic) and excuses defeat.” And she offered a personal anecdote to impress upon the crowd what type of great man Mr. Trump actually is.

She said she called “Donald” and left him a message the night that Ted Cruz suspended his presidential campaign.

“He called me right back, and I could hear I think Melania and his whole family say ‘you gotta get up on stage,” and the world was waiting for him on live TV. You know what he asked me about? He said, ‘Hi, Pam. How’s your mom?’ That’s the Donald Trump I know.”

 

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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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Darryl Paulson: Donald Trump goes a-courting

On May 18, 2016, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump releases a list of 11 judges that he would “most likely” use to select his appointees to the Supreme Court.

The list of 11 names included 11 whites and eight males. Six of the 11 were appointees of George W. Bush, and the other five are currently serving on their states’ supreme court.

The average age of the potential nominees is 50, compared to the average age of 68.75 on the current court. The youngest nominee is David Stras of the Minnesota Supreme Court. Stras, if nominated, would be the youngest candidate put forward for the court since the FDR administration.

The response to Trump’s list of potential nominees was as expected. On the political left, Nan Aron of the Alliance for Justice Action Campaign, said the nominees “reflect a radical-right ideology that threatens fundamental rights.”

Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, called the list “a woman’s nightmare,” and said the judges would overturn Roe vs. Wade.

Conservative attorney John Woo praised Trump for starting to unify the party. “Everyone on the list,” noted Woo, “is an outstanding legal scholar.” Woo called the selections a Federal Society all-star list of conservative jurisprudence.”

Carrie Severino of the Judicial Crisis Network, said the nominees have “a record of putting the law and Constitution ahead of their political preferences.”

The Trump campaign said the list was “compiled, first and foremost, based on constitutional principles, with input from highly respected conservatives and Republican Party leadership.”

The following is a quick summary of Trump’s potential nominees to the Supreme Court:

Stephen Colloton: Member of the Court of Appeals 8th Circuit since 2003. Clerked for Chief Justice William Rehnquist.

Allison Eid: Colorado Supreme Court justice since her 2006 appointment by Rep. Governor Bill Owens. Clerked for Clarence Thomas.

Raymond Gruender: Appointed to Court of Appeals for 8th Circuit by George W. Bush in 2004. On the Heritage Foundation list of possible conservative Appointees to the Supreme Court.

Thomas Hardiman: On the Court of Appeals for 3rd Circuit since 2007. Appointed by George W. Bush and unanimously confirmed. Clerked for Antonin Scalia.

Raymond Kethledge: On the Court of Appeals for 6th Circuit since appointed by George W. Bush in 2008. Clerked for Justice Anthony Kennedy.

Joan Larson: Appointed to Michigan Supreme Court in 2015 by Rep. Governor Rick Snyder. Clerked for Scalia.

Thomas Lee: Associate Justice on Utah Supreme Court since 2010. Brother of Utah Senator Mike Lee, a Trump critic, and backer of Ted Cruz.

William Pryor: On Circuit Court of Appeals for 11th Circuit since 2004. On Heritage Foundation list of conservative appointees to the Supreme Court.

David Stras: On the Minnesota Supreme Court since 2010. Appointed by Rep. Governor Tim Pawlenty. Clerked for Clarence Thomas.

Diane Sykes: On Circuit Court of Appeals for 7th Circuit since 2004. Previously on the Wisconsin Supreme Court. Ex-wife of conservative radio host Charlie Sykes, who was an outspoken critic of Trump during the campaign.

Don Willett: Appointed to Texas Supreme Court by Rep. Governor Rick Perry in 2005. Willett was a frequent Twitter critic of Trump during the campaign. Among his Tweets: Can’t wait till Trump rips his face Mission Impossible-style & reveals a laughing Ruth Bader Ginsburg. (Aug. 27, 2015) Low-energy Trump University has never made it to #MarchMadness. Or even the #NIT. Sad! (March 15, 2016) We’ll rebuild the Death Star. It’ll be amazing, believe me. And the rebels will pay for it. (April 8, 2016)

Whenever lists are announced, there is an interest in both who is on the list and who has been left off. Missing from Trump’s list of possible court nominees are Judge Brett Kavanaugh of the DC Circuit Court and former Bush Administration Solicitor General Paul Clement. Both Kavanaugh and Clement appear on most lists of conservative court nominees.

It is unusual to put out such a list before assuming office. Why would Trump put out such a lengthy list at this time?

First, it is an attempt to solidify support among the Republican base, in particular among those who are skeptical of Trump’s conservative credentials.

Second, Trump may be trying to show he is open-minded by selecting several individuals who clearly were not Trump supporters during the campaign.

Finally, several of Trump’s nominees come from battleground states such as Colorado, Minnesota, Michigan and Texas that Trump needs to win if he hopes to get elected.

Although many conservatives and Republicans were pleasantly surprised by the names on Trump’s list, some are still skeptical. Conservative writer Charles Krauthammer noted that Trump said that nominations “would most likely be from the list.”

“Most likely” leaves too much wiggle room for many of Trump’s critics, who note he has flip-flopped on many issues during the campaign and, sometimes, on the same day.

___

Darryl Paulson is Professor Emeritus of Government at USF St. Petersburg.

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Donald Trump’s questioning of the value of data worries Republicans

Donald Trump says he plans to win the White House largely on the strength of his personality, not by leaning heavily on complex voter data operations that have become a behind-the-scenes staple in modern presidential campaigns.

Shortly after Trump explained his approach in an Associated Press interview — data is “overrated,” he said — one of the presumptive Republican nominee’s top advisers tried to clarify the remarks. Rick Wiley told AP the Trump campaign will indeed tap the Republican Party’s massive cache of voter information.

The national Republican Party has spent massive sums of money to develop the database since President Barack Obama‘s election set a new standard for using data in national campaigns, from deciding where to send a candidate and how to spend advertising dollars to making sure supporters cast a ballot.

The back-and-forth in the Trump camp leaves Republicans and Democrats alike wondering just how committed the candidate actually is to what has become accepted wisdom among political professionals. Some Republicans worry that Trump risks ceding potential advantages to likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton if he’s not willing to invest the money required to keep updating the data, and then use it effectively.

“It’s a big risk,” said Chris Wilson, who ran an expansive data operation for Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Trump’s stiffest competition in the Republican primaries. Jeremy Bird, who worked for President Barack Obama’s data-rich campaign, said: “Flying blind is nuts.”

The use of data has evolved over the past several presidential campaigns into a shorthand for using information — starting with simple lists of potential voters, then mated with extensive details about their habits and beliefs — to guide a campaign toward its ultimate goal: the 270 electoral votes needed to win the White House.

In his AP interview, Trump discounted the value of data: The “candidate is by far the most important thing,” he said. He said he plans a “limited” use of data in his general election campaign and suggested Obama’s victories — universally viewed by political professionals as groundbreaking in the way data steered the campaign to voters — are misunderstood.

“Obama got the votes much more so than his data processing machine, and I think the same is true with me,” Trump said, explaining that he will continue to focus on his signature rallies, free television exposure and his personal social media accounts to win voters over.

Buzz Jacobs, who was on the losing end of Obama’s success in 2008 as an aide to GOP nominee John McCain, said Trump oversimplifies the president’s victories.

“We lost in large part because Obama’s ability to use data was so much better than ours,” Jacobs said.

According to South Carolina’s Republican chairman, Matt Moore: “Elections to a great degree are won on … that last 1 or 2 percent that shows up or stays home. That group on either edge turns out because of data and digital. That’s a known fact.”

Republicans and Democrats with experience running campaigns question why Trump would give up a chance to reinforce with data his ubiquitous presence on television and inarguable success with large-scale rallies — a platform of personality that Clinton has yet to match.

Bird, whose consulting firm now works for the Clinton campaign, said Trump is giving himself a false choice.

“At a big picture level, sure, Barack Obama got the votes — his bio, his policies, his ability to communicate,” Bird said. “But we wanted to do everything we could to get him and get his message to the right people.”

Jacobs, who worked this year for a former Trump rival, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, said Trump is an outlier in being uninterested in data. The RNC and private groups, such as the billionaire conservative activist brothers Charles and David Koch, have spent hundreds of millions on their data programs since Obama’s election.

“It would be silly to leave those on the sidelines,” Jacobs said.

To be sure, Trump has not wholly abandoned data. His campaign spending disclosures show payments to multiple data firms, and the campaign maintains contact information collected when voters register for tickets to his rallies.

Wiley, a recent addition to the Trump team who previously worked for the national party, said he is “working with the RNC, putting together a state-of-the-art program.” He predicted it would be able to match what “Obama was able to do in 2008.”

But Trump’s in-house data shop is thin, and the candidate has said that he does not give priority to the ground game. Trump’s most significant loss of the primary season came in the leadoff Iowa caucuses, a victory for Cruz that was largely credited to the Texas senator’s sophisticated campaign effort to turn out voters.

Wilson said he used the Cruz campaign’s data to run nightly “models” leading up to the caucuses, which predicted turnout and outcomes and allowed the campaign to adjust its approach every day.

That means if Wiley and Trump’s other campaign staffers are able to persuade him to pay attention to the data, they’ll also need to persuade him to raise and spend the money to use it effectively in competitive states.

“He has to be convinced,” South Carolina chairman Moore said. Then again, he said, “We’ve all been wrong about Trump for pretty much this entire campaign.”

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

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On more than one issue, Republican Donald Trump sounds like a Democrat

As he tries to charm Republicans still skeptical of his presidential candidacy, Donald Trump has a challenge: On several key issues, he sounds an awful lot like a Democrat.

And on some points of policy, such as trade and national defense, the billionaire businessman could even find himself running to the left of Hillary Clinton, his likely Democratic rival in the general election.

Trump is a classic Republican in many ways. He rails against environmental and corporate regulations, proposes dramatically lower tax rates and holds firm on opposing abortion rights. But the presumptive GOP nominee doesn’t fit neatly into a traditional ideological box.

“I think I’m running on common sense,” he said in a recent interview with The Associated Press. “I think I’m running on what’s right. I don’t think in terms of labels.”

Perhaps Trump’s clearest break with Republican orthodoxy is on trade, which the party’s 2012 platform said was “crucial for our economy” and a path to “more American jobs, higher wages, and a better standard of living.”

Trump says his views on trade are “not really different” from the rest of his party’s, yet he pledges to rip up existing deals negotiated by “stupid leaders” who failed to put American workers first. He regularly slams the North American Free Trade Agreement involving the U.S, Mexico and Canada, and opposes a pending Asia-Pacific pact, positions shared by Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders.

“The problem is the ideologues, the very conservative group, would say everything has to be totally free trade,” Trump said. “But you can’t have free trade if the deals are going to be bad. And that’s what we have.”

Trump long has maintained that he has no plans to scale back Social Security benefits or raise its qualifying retirement age. The position puts him in line with Clinton. She has said she would “defend and expand” Social Security, has ruled out a higher retirement age and opposes reductions in cost-of-living adjustments or other benefits.

“There is tremendous waste, fraud and abuse, but I’m leaving it the way it is,” Trump recently told Fox Business Network.

It’s a stance at odds with the country’s top-ranked elected Republican, House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, who has advocated fundamental changes to Social Security and other entitlement programs. But it’s also one that Trump argues keeps him in line with the wishes of most voters.

“Remember the wheelchair being pushed over the cliff when you had Ryan chosen as your vice president?” Trump told South Carolina voters this year, referring to then-vice presidential candidate Ryan’s budget plan. “That was the end of that campaign.” Ryan was Mitt Romney‘s running mate in 2012.

Complicating the efforts to define Trump is his penchant for offering contradictory ideas about policy. He also has taken recently to saying that all of his plans are merely suggestions, open to later negotiation.

Trump’s tax plan, for instance, released last fall, called for lowering the rate paid by the wealthiest people in the United States from 39.6 percent to 25 percent and slashing the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 15 percent.

Trump described it as a massive boon for the middle class. Outside experts concluded it disproportionately benefited the rich and would balloon the federal deficit.

Close to clinching the nomination, Trump now appears to be pulling away from his own proposal. While he still wants to lower taxes for the wealthy and businesses, he now says his plan was just a starting point for discussions and he would like to see the middle class benefit more from whatever changes he seeks in tax law.

“We have to go to Congress, we have to go to the Senate, we have to go to our congressmen and women and we have to negotiate a deal,” Trump said recently. “So it really is a proposal, but it’s a very steep proposal.”

Trump has a similar take on the minimum wage. Trump said at a GOP primary debate that wages are too high, and later made clear that he does not support a federal minimum wage. Yet when speaking about the issue, he says he recognizes the difficulty of surviving on the current minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.

“I am open to doing something with it,” he told CNN this month.

On foreign policy, Trump already appears working to paint Clinton as a national security hawk who would too easily lead the country into conflict.

“On foreign policy, Hillary is trigger happy,” Trump said at a recent rally, He listed the countries where the U.S. had intervened militarily during her tenure as secretary of state and pointed to her vote to authorize the Iraq war while she was in the Senate.

Trump’s own “America First” approach appears to lean more toward isolationism. One of his foreign policy advisers, Walid Phares, recently described it as a “third way.”

“This doesn’t fit any of the boxes,” Phares said.

Clinton has advocated using “smart power,” a combination of diplomatic, legal, economic, political and cultural tools to expand American influence. She believes the U.S. has a unique ability to rally the world to defeat international threats.

She argues the country must be an active participant on the world stage, particularly as part of international alliances such as NATO. Trump has criticized the military alliance, questioning a structure that sees the U.S. pay for most of its costs.

“The best thing about Donald Trump today is he’s not Hillary Clinton, but he’s certainly not a conservative, either,” said GOP Rep. Tim Huelskamp, a member of the ultra-conservative Freedom Caucus and a Ted Cruz supporter in the 2016 race, in an interview with “Fox News Sunday.”

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

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