As Republicans gather in Cleveland, three Arizona governors say they know what it will take for Donald Trump to unite the party behind him.
Trump’s campaign to date has been largely defined by his random and off-script comments. And current Gov. Doug Ducey, and predecessors Jan Brewer and Fife Symington aren’t sure those headline-grabbing pronouncements are necessarily a bad thing.
But in separate interviews with Capitol Media Services they said that uniting the party — and building a team and political support to win in November — will require a consistent message that is not drowned out by other things the candidate might say.
Symington said Trump has a chance at the convention to make his case that he is a serious, thoughtful candidate, despite the occasional off-hand comments.
“I would have three or four key things that are very important to the hearts and minds of Republicans of all persuasions and just try to lay it out,” he said.
Symington said that means Trump acknowledging that there are those who many not like certain aspects of his personality or the way he says things. But then, he said, Trump needs to say, “You have to move beyond that and look at the substantive policy differences … and what a vote for me would mean and what a vote for Hillary would mean.”
Ducey has a specific suggestion.
“I do think you would unify a lot of people if you pointed out Washington, D.C. doesn’t work,” said Ducey. “It tries to do too many things, most of them poorly.”
He said that’s a message that would resonate with many voters. And the bonus, Ducey said, would be to allow Trump to contrast himself with Hillary Clinton.
“She will be the queen of a bigger and larger government,” Ducey said. “And if Donald Trump said, ‘I’m going to downsize Washington, and I’m going to allow the citizen at home to be larger and make more of their own decisions,’ I think that would be a winning theme.”
“I think he needs to focus on policy,” said Brewer.
“It’s all about policy,” she said. “And that’s about the economy, taxes, jobs, security and the vets. And law enforcement.”
The bottom line, Brewer said, is Trump “needs to really focus on the policy and let people know that he is a leader, he can be trusted, that he will surround himself with good people and that he is a good listener.”
But Brewer said Trump also has some work to do on social issues.
“He needs to shore up his commitment to pro life,” she said.
In 1999 Trump pronounced himself to be a supporter of abortion rights. He has since argued that he has “evolved” on the issue and now has reversed his stance. But he also has said this year he supports the right to an abortion in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother, a position inconsistent with the party platform.
“I know that people change,” Brewer said.
“That’s why we’re out there talking to people about pro life,” she continued. “Some people just need to be educated and learn.”
Brewer, an early Trump supporter, said she thinks some of the controversy will have died down by the time the convention opens.
She said his pick of Mike Pence as a running mate “is going to bring in people to the camp.” And then there are the speakers.
“I think now with (House Speaker) Paul Ryan as a speaker that brings credibility,” she said. And Ted Cruz, who waged a bitter battle with Trump for the nomination, also is on the list.
“I think that will help a lot with the Cruz people that feel like they are not being represented,” Brewer explained. “And then when you have people like (Newt) Gingrich and … (Chris) Christie, that’s a broad spectrum of people that are probably all going to speak.”
But all three governors acknowledged that some of what Trump has had to say so far on policy issues gets overshadowed — and drowned out — by the other things he says.
That started early in the campaign with references to Mexican migrants as rapists, questions about whether Muslim immigrants are terrorists, shedding doubt on the ability of a judge hearing cases against Trump because of his Mexican heritage and, most recently, saying while Iraq strongman Saddam Hussein was a “really bad guy,” praising his efficiency in killing terrorists.
“These are the things that are up to him,” he said. “You’re in front of the microphone, you get to talk about what you want to talk about.”
Brewer said there’s a good reason for those apparently off-hand comments that grab the headlines.
“A lot of that comes from the excitement of it all and the audience and the feedback, the cheering and the jeering and those kinds of things,” she said. And Brewer conceded it’s easy to get caught up in all that.
“It’s like you almost forget you’re running for president or governor or any political office, because you get caught up in that moment,” she said. “And it never sounds as harsh when you’re in that environment as it does when it’s replayed, if you will, on TV.”
Still, Brewer said she doesn’t see all the dust-up from Trump’s comments as necessarily working against him.
“He’s his own man,” she said.
“There’s no doubt about it,” Brewer said. “There’s a lot of supporters that enjoy the straight-forwardness of his comments.”
He said that in most political match-ups, each candidate tries to define the other early in the campaign in the most negative ways. But in this case, Symington said, voters think they already know Trump, undermining the millions Clinton is spending to paint a different picture of him.
“They’ve seen him on TV and in various venues,” he said of the former reality TV star best known for his “You’re fired!” catch phrase.
“And along with that definition in the minds of the public is the sort of almost eccentric behavior that he exhibits sometimes when he’s talking, Symington continued. “It’s like they forgive him for it. Or they expect it. And so it’s not a shocker.”
What that means, he said, is that the headlines about Trump’s comments just don’t stick.
“It’s like water off a duck’s back with the public because there’s something about Trump that it doesn’t stick to him,” Symington said.
“They understand that it’s almost this verbally playful side that comes out,” he said. “And, in fact, they’re kind of sitting back, waiting for the next chapter to unfold.”
Symington called the whole phenomenon “fascinating.”
“I’ve never seen anything like it.” he said.
“It’s like there’s a more acceptable operating norm of behavior for him as a public figure than you find with others,” Symington said. “The more intense the attacks on him, it just further solidifies his base.”
While all three governors support Trump for president, there is one area where Ducey and Symington think that the candidate is off base: his desire to build a wall along the border with Mexico.
“We’ve worked hard in this administration to build that relationship with Mexico,” said Ducey. “I think separating out the relationship we have with Mexico as a neighbor, the issue of immigration, and the issue of public safety, and treating them as three unique and different issues, each with their own policy prescriptions, would be a good and positive start.”
Symington was more direct.
“His beating up on Mexico is, to me, just terrible,” he said. “He shouldn’t be doing that.”
Instead, Symington said Trump should call for a cooperative effort on immigration with Mexico “to solve our mutual problems instead of talking about building a wall and sort of stick it in their face, stick it in their eye.”
“I’ve been very upset about that approach because his approach isn’t going to work, for sure,” he said.
But Brewer, who made a national reputation of sorts for herself on the issue of immigration, said Trump is on the right track and should not tone down his rhetoric, at least not on the issue of a wall. In fact, she noted, the draft for the new party platform to be voted on in Cleveland, which has in the past mentioned a fence, is being rewritten to specifically include Trump’s demand for a wall.