At Lincoln Days, Republican faithful wonder about Trump's impact on Missouri

Feb 26, 2016

GOP presidential aspirant Donald Trump has promised that there will be so much winning if he’s elected that Americans will get bored of winning. But Frieda Keough isn’t sure that sentiment will carry the day in the Show Me State.

The Kirkwood resident is a supporter of U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, a Texas lawmaker who’s battling with Trump and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, for the GOP presidential nomination. With Trump’s path to the nomination looking stronger by the day, Keough is worried that his presence on the ballot could hurt Missouri Republicans. 

GOP gubernatorial candidate Eric Greitens and his wife Sheena listen to speeches during the Lincoln Day banquet in Maryland Heights.
Credit Jason Rosenbaum I St. Louis Public Radio

“If he wins the nomination, I’ll get behind him. But at this time, I really would like to see somebody else,” Keough said. “He’s just a bit too erratic. I’d like to see a coherent policy from him. He just shouts things off and the media just loves it.”

Keough joined hundreds of the Missouri Republican faithful for Lincoln Days, the biggest event of the year for the party. It comes in the midst of an unpredictable presidential contest where Trump has defied conventional wisdom and become the front-runner of a formerly large field.

While Missouri wasn’t a targeted state in 2012 and probably won’t be this year, presidential contests often have a spillover effect on other races. For instance: Barack Obama’s near-win in Missouri in 2008 probably helped Missouri Democrats win every statewide contest except for lieutenant governor. And some analysts have wondered whether Trump will help or hurt candidates running in competitive elections.

Some Lincoln Day attendees – including Missouri Alliance for Freedom’s Ryan Johnson – aren’t ready to crown Trump as the GOP nominee.

“I haven’t given up the ghost yet on the other campaigns. I think there’s still a long time left in the presidential election. Super Tuesday could be telling,” said Johnson, referring to next week’s slate of primaries. “And I also think we need to wait until the March 15 states before we really take a look who the potential nominee might be.”

While Cruz garnered support from some of the state party’s conservative wing, U.S. Rep. Jason Smith has joined GOP luminaries such as House Speaker Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff, in backing Rubio. The Salem Republican said Rubio would be a strong person to share a ticket with than the remaining candidates.

“I think the best candidate for the entire party to be successful and to grow the majority in the Senate is Marco Rubio. And that’s why I’m endorsing him,” Smith said. “I do have concerns about other candidates. I do think any of our candidates are better than any of their candidates. But hands down, Marco Rubio can grow our party.

“I think Rubio will be very competitive in the urban portions of the state. In Kansas City, St. Louis and Columbia area,” he added. “It shows how he’s done in South Carolina and other areas. It’s the rural areas that are a little more difficult. The rural areas tend to go toward Trump and Cruz. But I think Missouri’s going to be close. It will between Trump and Rubio.” 

Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder speaks to supporters during his social hour.
Credit Jason Rosenbaum I St. Louis Public Radio

For his part, Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder said that Trump may not be as big of a drag on the rest of the ticket as others assume.

“I think Trump is running very strong in Missouri. Should he be the nominee, I will run with him on the ticket. And he will bring all kinds of new votes I think to our banner,” Kinder said. “It’s certainly unconventional. It’s like nothing we’ve ever seen in American politics that I’m aware of. So we’re on uncharted seas. But I think it looks very promising. And I don’t think this state is going to vote for another four years of the Obama-Clinton agenda.”

Missouri Republican Party chairman John Hancock predicted that if Trump is the nominee, he would easily win Missouri. And he said Trump could defy conventional wisdom again and be a better candidate than people expect.

“You hope that candidates grow into becoming better candidates as they move on through the system. I certainly have seen a lot of our folks over the years that are far better candidates today than they were when they started,” Hancock said. “I would hope it would be the same thing for our nominee for president.”

'Every one of our candidates is better than Hillary Clinton'

The presidential race also loomed large during some of the speeches at Friday’s banquet. The headliner was U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, an Arkansas Republican who used his address to make a faux endorsement of one of his Senate colleagues. 

U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton speaks at Lincoln Days.
Credit Jason Rosenbaum I St. Louis Public Radio

“At a time like this when the stakes are this high, I think it’s important that you get off the sidelines,” Cotton said. “You make a decision. So I’m going to make some news tonight here: In the presidential election, I’m proud to announce my support for Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary.”

Without mentioning Trump by name, Cotton indicated that the remaining GOPs were far preferable to “two socialists,” a literal reference to self-described Democratic socialist Sanders and a put down for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

He went onto say that the presidential election was about “whether or not we want to have a third Obama term or not.”

“And a third Obama term means more weakness and humiliation abroad,” Cotton said. “And it means more fear and stagnation and frustration here at home. The world has grown gravely more dangerous over the last seven years.”

Before Cotton spoke, U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt declared that “we have five candidates running for president. Every one of them would be better than Hillary Clinton.” 

Blunt speaks at the Friday night banquet at Lincoln Days.
Credit Jason Rosenbaum I St. Louis Public Radio

“And every one of them would be better than Bernie Sanders,” he said. “And every one of them would be better than Barack Obama.”

The presidential contest will loom large for Blunt, a Republican incumbent facing re-election against Secretary of State Jason Kander. But like Cotton, Blunt predicted that his party could use the presidential contest to its advantage.

“We are very likely to nominate someone who’s never been elected to office or has been elected to office for a short period of time,” Blunt said. “And I can guarantee you the press and lots of other people say ‘Well, you all said for years that Barack Obama just didn’t have enough experience to president.’ Now we should not put up with that. Barack Obama’s problem was never that he didn’t have enough experience to be president. Barack Obama’s problem was he didn’t have respect for the Constitution or a vision for the country.

“Barack Obama has been president now for more than seven years,” he added. “Only two people alive have been president more than Barack Obama. He’s been president for seven years and he’s still terrible at it.”