WASHINGTON – Tens of thousands will flock to Cleveland this weekend for the start of the Republican National Convention that is expected to formally name businessman Donald Trump the party’s presidential nominee.
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Arizona, will reportedly be home mowing the lawn instead.
Flake may have given the cheekiest reason for his absence, but he is far from the only high-profile Arizona Republicans who is opting to sit out this year’s convention.
Most, like Sen. John McCain or Secretary of State Michele Reagan, pointed to looming primary elections in August as the reason their time would be better spent anywhere but Cleveland.
But political analysts point to the polarizing message of Trump as the more likely reason for the absentees.
“Many who are up for re-election believe that the message of staying home sounds good to voters,” said Jason Rose, a political consultant with Rose Moser Allyn Public Relations. He said later that for those candidates, “Trump could be an electoral disaster and they wouldn’t want any part of that for their campaign.”
Lauren A. Wright, a political scientist who will be giving television commentary at this year’s convention, said it’s more than just the election calendar at work.
“Clearly there’s something risky that’s causing Republicans not to go,” Wright said of the absences.
Arizona Republican Party spokesman Tim Sifert called it “nonsense” that state Republicans might be avoiding Trump. He noted that only about 20 of the state’s 113 convention delegates had resigned their seats, for any reason.
And many high-ranking state Republicans will be going, starting with Gov. Doug Ducey.
Others who said they are going include Treasurer Jeff Dewitt, Sheriff Joe Arpaio, Rep. Trent Franks of Glendale and former Gov. Jan Brewer.
Former Sen. Jon Kyl said that not going to the convention is not necessarily a political statement. He said he would not have gone if he were running for election this year, but would be out campaigning.
“If you don’t have to do it, there are much better things to do with your time,” Kyl said. “In John McCain’s case, he’s running for re-election. I think he’d rather be at home in Arizona than in Cleveland.”
McCain and Flake are not the only members of the state’s congressional delegation staying home. Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Prescott, is attending his daughter’s wedding and Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Mesa, said he has a personal conflict. Reps. Martha McSally of Tucson and David Schweikert of Fountain Hills did not return calls about their plans.
At the state level, Reagan will be joined by schools Superintendent Diane Douglas, who said she has meetings planned around the state.
There may be innocent explanations, but Wright said the number of absences this year is higher than it has been in the past. She pointed to a survey by The Hill newspaper last week of the 54 GOP senators that showed 18 staying away from the convention and four undecided.
But Sifert said it’s hard to read any meaning into those numbers, adding that comparing one convention to another “it’s like comparing apples to oranges.”
Mike Noble, a political consultant with MBQF Consulting, said, party officials “have to think about the Republican brand” with Trump at the helm.
He agreed with Wright and Rose that there is “electoral risk” for candidates associated with Trump – particularly in Arizona, where the large Hispanic population may not look kindly on Trump’s comments on immigrants and his pledge to build a wall at the Mexican border.
“Republicans don’t want to alienate Mexicans, who account for one-third of the population and 20 percent of the voting population,” Wright said.
Hispanics are not the only ones to chafe at Trump’s rhetoric. He belittled the Vietnam service of McCain, who served years as prisoner of war, by noting that he prefers those who don’t get captured.
Flake reportedly referenced that comment in a private meeting with Republican senators last week, causing Trump to say he could start to bring pressure on Flake, a senator who has “been very critical of me.”
Exchanges like that led to Flake’s off-hand comment that he would be home mowing the lawn rather than attending the nomination of a man he has called “boorish.”
Noble said that its no surprise Flake won’t be going to the convention because he’s “at odds with Trump.”
But Kyl said, Trump or not, those who skip the convention won’t be missing much. After being at a few conventions, he realized that it’s an event best left to a younger crowd.
“I mean if you like to party, if you like to stay up late and not get any sleep, if you like balloons … it’s a lot of fun if you haven’t done it before,” Kyl said.