Few people will be under more pressure — or scrutiny — this week than Matt Borges. The chairman of the Ohio GOP is not only playing host to thousands of Republicans in Cleveland, he’s been a well-known skeptic of the party’s presumptive nominee Donald Trump (Borges supported John Kasich’s bid for the presidency ).
Roll Call recently talked to Borges about the convention, Trump, and why he thinks the Republican Party is perfectly situated to win an election at this moment in history. A conversation edited for length and clarity follows.
Q. Action on the convention floor aside, there’s a lot of talk about security at the RNC. Are you nervous? A. This is the seventh convention I’ve been to. Every year, in every city, there’s always the paid protest crowd. There certainly were in Philadelphia and definitely in New York.
In one of the more stupefyingly strange decisions , [U.S. District Judge James] Gwin in the Sixth Circuit … just moved [all the protesters] closer to the convention. But the team was able to quickly adapt. They came up with a negotiated settlement with the groups that want to protest.
These delegates will ultimately be safe and able to make it around. I wouldn’t not come to Cleveland because of concerns about what’s happening to protesters.
Q. What are you watching for during the convention? A. I’m looking forward to what the RNC and the Trump team come up with. His vision for what will make for good theater is probably what I’m most interested in seeing.
It’s less about any individual speaking and more about understanding how they’re going about coming up with a plan for the whole thing.
Q. You’ve been critical of Trump in the past. What does he need to say during his acceptance speech to satisfy you? A. I’ve not been quiet over the many months. I believe that from a tone and from a messaging standpoint, they have been, in my opinion, deficient. But it did not prevent him from becoming the nominee.
Q. How can Trump win Ohio? A. He knows he has to win [in Ohio]. And we know the message you have to have to carry here.
Look where we’ve gotten to in Obama’s America. It’s got to the point where I’m afraid to read the news right now because of the horrifying thing happening in the country, one with such deep division. I’m hoping to get to a point where we all can come together.
And I think the Republican Party is the perfect catalyst for that kind of movement, if you look at the history of the party.
If we can find a way back to that kind of message and that kind of vision, we’ll become dominant.
Q. But is Trump the right candidate to bring a message of unity? A. I think it’s more about our party.
Look, we saw Hillary Clinton, seemingly with a wink and a nod between her and the administration, have charges swept under the rug.
Where’s the Democratic outrage? Where are the Democrats speaking out about what they should fix in their party and their nominee? I don’t see that.
It’s the narrow-mindedness and bullying of liberals versus what we needed to do, which is bring an overarching theme of prosperity for everyone, opportunity for everyone, and lifting this country by doing it together instead of more deeply dividing Americans the way I have seen Barack Obama do.
It’s about more than just one person or personality.
Q. Is the Republican Party and the Trump campaign building the kind of campaign necessary to win Ohio? A. We’ve had an operation in Ohio that the RNC has funded for 50 some-odd employees, working hand in hand with the [Sen. Rob] Portman campaign .
We got a tremendous head start here on the Democrats. We have a million new Republicans in Ohio. Turnout on the Democratic side is down.
The fundamentals of this campaign are such that we should win it.
Q. Have you been in contact with the Trump campaign? A. Yes. [Trump campaign Chairman Paul] Manafort and I speak regularly. I’ve spoken many times with Mr. Trump and his political director, Jim Murphy.
We had an ongoing dialogue.
You know, now I’m Trumpkin. No, just kidding.
Q. What have you told your party’s presidential nominee? A. Privately, candidly, before we met with him [prior to a recent campaign rally in Ohio], I gave him my opinion and point of view on some things. I know for a fact he took some of my advice because he used them in his remarks.
We’re already doing a terrific job and had a lot of folks who were loyal to him in the primary working for him now.