BRANSON, Mo. - Less than a month after most Missouri Republican leaders favored anyone but Donald Trump, those same officials told hundreds of party activists that they now had no other choice.
Failure to help Trump means victory by Hillary Clinton. And that, said a parade of GOP speakers, is unthinkable.
“We don’t need another Obama third term,’’ said U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt on Saturday as he addressed close to 1,300 Missouri Republicans attending the party’s once-very-four-years convention.
Blunt was among several who warned the crowd that the philosophical leanings of the U.S. Supreme Court, perhaps for decades, will depend on whether Trump or Clinton wins the White House.
The future of the nation's highest court is “reason enough" to back Trump, Blunt said.
The senator, who is seeking re-election, also emphatically rejected the idea, floated by some Republicans, of launching a third-party bid featuring a GOP candidate that some in the party might find more palatable than Trunp.
Such an idea is “ridiculous," the senator said, and will guarantee a Clinton win.
Blunt’s comments were part of a broader message by top state Republicans, beginning with party chairman John Hancock, that unity was now key. The time for infighting is over.
Trump, Cruz allies engage in last rumble
Not all of the conventioneers agreed. Allies of Trump and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who’ve been jockeying for influence for months, engaged in one last power play Saturday.
The two camps each presented proposed 50-person slates of delegates and alternates, to counter the official “compromise slate" assembled by Hancock and other state party leaders.
Hancock’s slate won handily. The slate members include Missouri House Speaker Todd Richardson, state Senate President Pro Ron Richard, St. Louis County Councilwoman Colleen Wasinger and Eagle Forum founder Phyllis Schlafly.
Most will be committed to Trump on the first ballot. Richardson has been a supporter of Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, but says he’s now comfortable with Trump’s likely nomination.
Richardson was among several conventioneers who noted that recent polls show Trump and Clinton neck-and-neck, or Trump slightly ahead.
“I think Trump is sparking some enthusiasm among some groups of voters that we haven’t seen anything out of in a long time," Richardson said. In any case, he added, "The priority for Republicans is to stop Hillary Clinton in November."
U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, arguably Missouri’s top Democrat, told reporters Friday that she hoped voters in the state and elsewhere understood their choices.
“This is a reality TV star (Trump) who is risky and reckless and shoots from the hip,’’ McCaskill said. “He’s a loose cannon and loose cannons misfire.”
But at the convention, Hancock contended there was little doubt that Trump will carry Missouri in November. The only question, he added, is whether Trump carries the state by 2 percentage points over Clinton, or 10.
The margin, said Hancock, will depend on whether Clinton’s campaign actually spends time and money in Missouri – or sends those resources to other states deemed more winnable.
If the latter is the case, he added, a strong Trump showing in Missouri could spell victories for other statewide Republicans as well, including Blunt and the eventual GOP nominee for governor.
Hancock was heartened by the generally civil behavior between the Trump and Cruz forces in Branson. He had feared a nastier confrontation at the state convention over delegate selection and, possibly, the party platform. The latter was handily approved, with few additions.
“I am pleasantly surprised," Hancock said, sporting a broad smile after the convention completed its business.
Missouri GOP will seek 'closed primary' for 2020
The state Republican Party’s central committee voted Friday to formally ask the GOP-controlled General Assembly to consider changing the state’s primary system.
Missouri now has an “open primary" setup, where any voter can take any party’s ballot. And no records are kept as to which party's primary was chosen.
Under a “closed primary" system, voters would be required to register their party affiliation with their local election authorities. And those records would be open to the public. Those registered as "independents'' could not vote in any party's primary.