CLEVELAND — David Blaska, a Wisconsin delegate to the Republican National Convention, came here hoping to see the party nominate anyone other than Donald Trump.
But after a week of hearing speeches from top GOP brass and hobnobbing with fellow party members from across the country, he has come up with a justification for how he’ll vote in November.
“I’m going to vote for Pence,” Blaska said, referring to the vice presidential nominee, which will effectively count as a vote for Trump. “I’m swallowing hard.”
Blaska, a well-known conservative blogger and former Dane County board member, said the best things that Trump have going for him are Pence, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who Republicans fear will be replaced by a liberal justice, changing the composition of the court for decades.
That fear about the court lurching to the left was part of Gov. Scott Walker’s message to the Wisconsin delegation Thursday. He said the three words “that should instill absolute and total terror in your hearts and minds: Justice. Elizabeth. Warren.”
Walker also provided a more detailed defense of Trump than he gave in his convention speech Wednesday night.
“I believe that Donald Trump is fundamentally prepared to change Washington and take power out of that city and send it back to our states,” Walker said.
“By putting Mike Pence out there as his (vice presidential) candidate, it should send a message: This is a guy who’s ready to govern. He’s not just talking about shaking things up in Washington, he’s prepared to do it.”
Walker also noted Trump was not his first pick (“I was my first pick,” he joked), but while Trump may not be perfect, “the last time there was a perfect person on this planet was 2,000 years ago.”
The focus Wednesday night was supposed to be on Pence, but Texas Sen. Ted Cruz stole the spotlight by, rather than endorsing Trump, urging conservatives to vote their consciences in November.
Speaking with reporters Thursday, Walker reiterated that during a debate in Cleveland last August, he pledged to support the nominee and is endorsing Trump because he meant what he said. Walker declined to criticize Cruz for not endorsing, saying that voters will have the ultimate say on Cruz.
“Vote your conscience” was a rallying cry of the anti-Trump forces that unsuccessfully tried to change the rules of the convention to deny Trump the nomination.
Although Cruz didn’t criticize Trump, his pronouncement ripped the scab off the party’s wounds, emboldening those like Bill Folk, an alternate delegate from Racine who remains anti-Trump and is considering voting for libertarian Gary Johnson.
“Even if that means Hillary Clinton wins, so long as I don’t vote for her, so be it,” Folk said. “The nation needs to grow up a little bit more in order to support the values I truly believe in as a Republican.”
“To be perfectly blunt, I don’t know that (the convention) brought unity,” Folk added. “If I heard ‘We must unite’ one more time I was going to pull my hair out.”
A far greater number from the state delegation who responded to the State Journal supported Trump heading into the convention and said the event fostered unity.
“Oh yeah, the convention is helping Republicans unite,” said Keith Best, an alternate delegate from the 5th Congressional District.
“The grassroots teams understand why we need to unite,” said Sue Lynch, an alternate delegate from the 3rd congressional district and a past president of the National Federation of Republican Women.
“Every delegate I talked with from other states — and I talked to lots of them — said they were supporting Trump, enthusiastically,” said Bob Spindell, a delegate from Milwaukee.
Many delegates “if not becoming pro-Trump, are really taking (seriously) the reality that we have to be anti-Hillary and that being anti-Hillary means voting for Donald Trump,” said Brian Westrate, a delegate from Eau Claire.
He said for the most part he encountered two groups of Trump voters at the convention: People whose primary motivation is that they don’t like Hillary Clinton and people whose primary motivation is they like Donald Trump.
“If both of them go into the polling place in November and cast the same ballot we can win,” Westrate said.
Roger Stauter, a delegate from Monona, said he still won’t vote for Trump, especially after he made comments suggesting he would abandon the nation’s European allies.
Stauter said while he has seen some of the unification that tends to happen at conventions, there is an undercurrent of unease, which he described as “regretful guarded hopefulness.”
“The regret is that everything was teed up for a Republican victory,” Stauter said.
“The hopefulness is guarded because of the unfiltered comments Trump makes. There is a hopefulness because Hillary Clinton is carrying a ton of baggage as a candidate and may be very defeatable.”