Two of Arizona’s delegates to the Republican National Convention resigned their positions, saying they refused to go to Cleveland to vote for Donald Trump.
And a handful of others were elected as delegates at a fractious Arizona Republican Party convention, only to step down after determining that they just had other things to do that week.
Nine of the 58 Arizona delegates to the July 18-21 GOP convention in Cleveland have resigned, including some of Arizona’s top elected officials.
Maricopa County Supervisor Denny Barney, Attorney General Mark Brnovich, state Treasurer Jeff DeWit and Secretary of State Michele Reagan have all stepped aside, as has former California Congressman Frank Riggs, former Arizona Congressman John Shadegg, Yuma Republican Paul Marchant and Phyllis Ritter, a delegate elected from the 1st Congressional District. Zuhdi Jasser, a doctor and Muslim reform advocate, resigned after learning that he’d be bumped up from an alternate to a voting delegate.
DeWit is the Arizona chairman for Trump’s campaign, and Ritter was elected as a delegate on the developer’s slate as well. But the other resigned delegates largely ran on the slates for U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who, at the time of the state convention, were holding out hope that they could wrest the nomination from Trump in Cleveland.
Two of the delegates who resigned – Jasser and Riggs – explicitly said they did so out of opposition to Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee.
Riggs said his primary reason for stepping aside was because he needs to help his wife, Cathy, with her campaign for justice of the peace. The convention comes shortly before early ballots go out, and Riggs said he’s his wife’s “number one volunteer.”
But a major contributing factor to the decision, he said, was his opposition to Trump.
“I have very serious reservations about Donald Trump as the Republican Party nominee, and just frankly after some soul searching realized that I couldn’t go to Cleveland in good conscience and vote for his nomination,” said Riggs, who ran for a delegate position on the unified Cruz-Kasich slate. “I just can’t. I guess if there are political consequences, I’ll face those down.”
Despite the need to stay in town for his wife’s campaign, Riggs said he agreed to run for a delegate spot on the Cruz slate because there was still a chance at the time that the Texas senator could win the nomination at a contested convention. But now that Trump is unopposed and has reached the 1,237 delegates needed to secure the Republican nomination, that possibility is gone.
If Trump and Cruz were still heading into a contested national convention, Riggs said it’s likely that he would’ve taken a few days off from the campaign trail to go to Cleveland.
“I think I would have felt an obligation to go under those circumstances, although honestly I probably would have tried to get in and out and spend as little time there as possible,” he said.
‘Daily embarrassment to conservatism’
Jasser, too, said he couldn’t bring himself to vote for Trump. He said he was willing to go to Cleveland and cast his first vote for Trump, as Arizona law requires, as long as he didn’t have the 1,237 delegates needed to clinch the nomination. But with the race over, he decided to take a pass.
“I cannot at the altar of our party lend my name to the daily embarrassment to conservatism that Mr. Trump represents,” Jasser wrote in a resignation letter to party officials. “I have supported many GOP candidates over the years with whom I differed on certain very important issues, but never has a GOP candidate in my recollection fallen almost every day so far below the bar of what I can explain and take ownership for with myself and my family and my public integrity.”
The Phoenix doctor has a unique vantage point. He said his primary opposition to Trump is as a conservative Republican, and in that regard, he has many of the same criticisms as the presumptive nominee’s other GOP critics.
But Jasser is also a Muslim, a demographic that Trump has antagonized throughout his campaign, calling for a temporary halt to all Muslim immigration to the United States and claiming that crowds of Muslims cheered after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack in New York.
Jasser is a hardliner against ISIS, Islamic extremism, terrorism and the embattled regime of Bashar Assad in Syria, from which his family fled in the 1960s. Like Trump, he criticizes President Obama for his refusal to use the term “radical Islamists.” And he said he believes the U.S. should temporarily halt all immigration until it can implement a vetting process that would more effectively weed out jihadists and Islamic extremists.
However, Jasser said he has a problem with Trump’s demonization of Muslims in general and his call to temporarily halt immigration specifically of Muslims. Jasser said he ultimately wants to see the U.S. welcome many more refugees from war-torn Syria.
“The inability of a presidential candidate who has one of the largest platforms on the planet to thread the needle between identifying Islamism, the theocratic ideology of political Islam, as a threat, and Muslims and Islam coming to terms with modernity as a solution, is beyond a liability,” he said.
Trump’s call for a temporary ban on Muslim immigration plays into ISIS’s hands, Jasser said.
“It’s a bit nativist, not to mention strategically a candidate running for office should be able to telegraph that if the solution to political Islam is Muslims that embrace religious liberty, then you can’t surrender that idea to ISIS, which is what he did by saying that we’re going to ban immigration of Muslims without being able to parse through identifying Islamists as the problem,” he said.
Jasser, a Marco Rubio supporter who switched to Cruz when the U.S. senator from Florida dropped out of the race, said he would have voted for any of the other 16 candidates who sought the Republican nomination. But he won’t vote for Trump, nor will he vote for a Democrat. Jasser said he’ll either leave the presidential race blank on his ballot or vote for a third-party candidate.
The Arizona GOP’s April 30 convention in Mesa was a hotly contested affair. The Cruz and Trump campaigns, and to a lesser degree, Kasich’s team, hustled to elect delegates who would support their candidates if a contested national convention went to a second ballot or beyond, where anti-Trump forces hoped to wrest the nomination from the controversial real estate mogul.
A joint slate by Cruz and Kasich’s teams prevailed, winning at least 39 of the 55 delegate spots that were up for grabs. But that victory only mattered for less than a week. Three days after the Mesa convention, Trump won Indiana’s GOP primary, prompting Cruz and Kasich to drop out of the race.
Two of the delegates who withdrew as delegates said their decisions had nothing to do with any opposition to Trump. But they suggested that their primary interest in going to Cleveland was to attempt to block him on a second ballot.
Shadegg, who represented the north Phoenix area in Congress for 16 years, said he’s been to many conventions, and decided that it would be better to give his delegate spot to a party worker who hasn’t had the privilege of attending before.
But Shadegg, a Rubio supporter who ran on the Cruz-Kasich unified slate at the Arizona GOP state convention, acknowledged that it was the now-irrelevant delegate fight got him into the race in the first place.
“Delegate spots were hot and heavy at the time. And I was asked to run and I said, ‘Sure,’ as a favor to some people involved in the process. But that’s no longer kind of an issue,” he said.
Barney’s resignation as a delegate was a result of family commitments, said his campaign consultant, Chad Heywood.
“He originally could only go for two nights to begin with. And then he’s got a son going on a mission this summer and a kid’s volleyball tournament. He just thought it would be better to let someone who had the whole week attend,” Heywood said.
But Heywood, too, noted that there’s less of a point to going to Cleveland now that the nomination fight is over. Barney ran on the Cruz and Kasich slates, along with the “unity slate,” a ticket comprised of supporters of all three candidates that the Arizona Republican Party put together for the state convention.
“Now that the nomination is clinched, he felt like it would be better from a family perspective and just kind of an impact perspective to give that position to someone who was really wanting to go and could stay the whole week,” Heywood said.
A spokesman for Brnovich said the attorney general also had commitments he had to take care of in Arizona during the convention and wasn’t going to be able to attend the entire event, so he felt that a grassroots volunteer should take his place.
“(He) wasn’t going to be able to attend Convention for duration and wanted a grassroots volunteer to attend in his place,” Brnovich spokesman Ryan Anderson said in an email to the Arizona Capitol Times. “Too many things going on around the Convention and he is choosing to spend time with his family instead.”
Matt Roberts, a spokesman for Reagan, said she, too, had professional responsibilities she needed to focus on, specifically the preparation for Arizona’s Aug. 30 primary election.
“At this time, she feels the convention would be a distraction from her focus on the August primary,” Roberts said.
Neither Brnovich nor Reagan resigned as delegates out of any opposition to Trump, their spokesmen said. Both ran for delegate positions on all four slates at the state convention – Cruz, Kasich, Trump and unity. They were the top two vote-getters in the delegate contest at the state convention.
Constantin Querard, a Republican consultant who led Cruz’s efforts at the state convention, said his understanding is that Marchant, a supporter of the Texas senator, had a timing conflict with a family event.
Resignations not a problem
Arizona Republican Party Chairman Robert Graham said he doesn’t view a small number of resignations as a problem, even with a couple delegates saying they refuse to support the presumptive nominee. He said Republicans are coalescing around Trump and that there are “many more people doing that than people who are naysayers.”
“People are passionate and engaged. So if they don’t want to support Donald Trump, that’s their prerogative. And I support a person’s individual position on candidates. However … we will have a full delegation going into this event, and I have no concerns about it whatsoever,” Graham said.
Other party insiders, however, said the number of resignations, as well as the overt refusal by two delegates to vote for the Republican nominee, is highly unusual.
Some longtime party operatives say they’ve never heard of a delegate resigning in opposition to the nominee. Furthermore, they found it strange that such high-level elected officials were resigning those positions.
Lobbyist Kurt Davis, a fixture in Arizona’s Republican political scene since the 1980s, said he thinks it may have happened before, possibly in 1988 or 1996. Nonetheless, he said he can’t remember so many delegate resignations since at least the 1980 convention.
“Those numbers are definitely higher than the typical,” Davis said. “It has happened. But that’s clearly more than I would ever recall.”
DeWit, a prominent Trump surrogate who speaks frequently on cable news programs in defense of the candidate, said he stepped down from his position as a delegate from the 8th Congressional District in order to open up spots for two others. His resignation allowed state Rep. Phil Lovas, the first alternate elected from CD8, to take a spot as a voting delegate. And Lovas’ elevation allowed Barbara Wyllie, whom DeWit called “one of the strongest Trump supporters in the state,” to take the Peoria lawmaker’s alternate spot.
The treasurer said he’ll still attend the convention, and expects to have some kind of role with the Trump campaign in Cleveland.
“If this was going to be a contested convention, maybe we’d analyze it differently, but once Ted Cruz dropped out, it’s a moot point. So it’s better for me to be helping with the campaign and take care of two really good Trump supporters,” he said. “I’m a worker. I’ll be doing something. I’m the kind of guy who has no problem being in a high-level meeting or taking out the trash.”
For the most part, DeWit took the delegates who said they weren’t resigning because of Trump at their word. But he said it’s a common trait of people in politics to not disclose their real motivations for doing things.
DeWit said he isn’t surprised that delegates are dropping out. Many of the pro-Cruz delegates were only interested in going to the convention – and spending $5,000 to do so – when they thought there was a chance of a brokered convention, and DeWit said he predicted that some would back away once that possibility evaporated.