CLEVELAND — Missouri U.S. Rep. Billy Long is arguably the state’s version of Donald Trump.
Long was a well-known auctioneer and radio talk-show host in Springfield, Mo., who emerged from a seven-person GOP field in 2010 to win the congressional seat that had been held by fellow Republican Roy Blunt until Blunt opted to make his successful shot for the U.S. Senate.
Long says he was impressed with Trump when he first met him in 2011, just months after Long arrived in Washington. The occasion was a charity event, and Long approached the billionaire businessman to thank him for his charity support.
“Here I am, a no-name, nothing congressman from southwest Missouri,’’ Long recalls.” And he said, ‘Do you have a moment, congressman? Sit down, sit down.' He talked to me very engagingly for 20, 25 minutes."
What became clear then, and is reinforced now, said Long, is that Trump believes in “K-I-S-S: Keep It Simple, Stupid.”
“He tells people he’s going to protect their family, he’s going to protect their kids, he’s going to bring jobs back,” Long said. “That’s all you’ve got to say. You don’t have to get in the nuance of the policy of how you’re going to do it.”
For that reason, Long contends it’s ridiculous for some Republicans to refuse to get behind Trump because of policy differences. “It doesn’t do any good to pontificate and come up with all these beautiful policy positions, if you can’t implement them,” the congressman said.
And the only way to put any GOP policies in place, Long continued, is if the party retains control of the House and Senate, and wins the White House. He notes that GOP control of the Senate is up for grabs this fall.
"If you don't have the Senate, if you don't have the White House, you don't have anything,” Long said.
So his advice to wary Republicans boils down to this: "Lay down your policy pen for awhile, pick up your Trump pin, and go out there and promote, get the voters to the polls,and get Donald Trump and Mike Pence elected."
“The Democrats cannot beat Donald J. Trump,’’ Long added. “But the Republicans can. That’s why the Republicans need to get over their hard feelings, not coming to support him and not showing up at this convention.”
He said that the decision of Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who made an unsuccessful bid for president, to avoid this week's convention and not endorse Trump is "repugnant."
Many candidates in both parties skipping conventions
Most of Missouri’s six Republican members of the U.S. House have stopped by Cleveland, although it’s unclear if any of them are staying all week. Blunt, who is running for re-election, remained in Missouri to campaign — a decision that Blunt had announced in early May. Blunt has made clear, though, that he is supporting Trump.
None of Missouri’s Republican statewide candidates is showing up in Cleveland either, especially because many face competitive primaries on Aug. 2.
Blunt’s Democratic rival, Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander, has dropped plans to attend next week’s Democratic convention, although Kander has repeatedly said he backs Hillary Clinton. It’s expected that Missouri’s two Democratic members of the House, Reps. Lacy Clay and Emanuel Cleaver, will show up in Philadelphia.
Long lauds Pence
Long said that he long has admired Pence, a former congressman and now the governor of Indiana. When he first arrived in the House, said Long, he was told, “You don't need a legislative staff, just walk in and see how Mike Pence is voting."
That’s because Pence had solid ratings with conservative groups on economic and social issues. Long said he’s confident that Pence will stick with his conservative principles as vice president.
Long emphasizes that he’s convinced the Republican establishment underestimates the appeal and savvy of Trump.
"When I go to the store, the checkout person says, 'I'm voting for Trump,’ “ Long said. “When I sit down to get my hair cut, it’s 'I'm voting for Trump.' When I go out to get some meat out of the meat department, it’s 'I'm voting for Trump.' "