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Oklahoma's Republican congressional delegation offers lukewarm support for Trump

Andrew W. Griffin / Red Dirt Report
(From l-r) U.S. Reps. Steve Russell, Markwayne Mullin, Jim Bridenstine, Tom Cole and Frank Lucas. Also pictured is Tulsa World news editor Mike Strain.
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OKLAHOMA CITY – Pressed to say whether or not they endorsed the candidacy of controversial Republican presidential candidate Donald J. Trump, Oklahoma’s five U.S. House members all agreed to support the candidate, albeit rather tepidly.

The remarks by the five Republican congressmen reflected a somewhat ambiguous view of the billionaire businessman who is famous for off-the-cuff and offensive remarks of a racist, fascist, bigoted and misogynistic nature. 

But, at least Trump isn't Hillary Clinton, they said.

Tulsa World news editor Mike Strain, acting as moderator for the congressional encounter Saturday morning, as part of the annual Oklahoma Press Association convention at the Sheraton Hotel in Oklahoma City, raised a question about Trump, which was noted earlier via a question by Red Dirt Report, aimed at Gov. Mary Fallin, whose name has been bandied about as a possible Trump vice-presidential candidate. Fallin did not explicity say she would accept Trump's offer but seemed honored to be considered.

Strain began: “Donald Trump. Everybody is asking about him. I’m curious. The thoughts on this race have been nothing like anything I’ve seen in my lifetime, do you endorse him or not?”

U.S. Rep. Frank Lucas (R-Cheyenne, Okla.) representing Oklahoma’s 3rd congressional district

“The real bottom line question is: Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton? Hillary Clinton? Eight more years of Obama? It’s a clear choice,” Lucas said, adding, “Should the governor be invited to be on the ticket, I would hope she would accept that invitation for the country and the state.”

Tom Cole (R-Moore), representing Oklahoma’s 4th congressional district

“I’ve said from the very beginning I would support the Republican nominee. I certainly intend to keep that commitment. So, Donald Trump is the presumptive nominee … and he’ll have my support.”

Cole added that the race from here won’t be a positive, Reagan-esque “Morning in America” sort of campaign. Instead, Cole said, it will be an effort by the roundly unpopular Trump and Hillary Clinton to attack one in another in hopes of making the other “more unpopular.”

“Sadly, that’s what you’re going to see,” Cole said.

He added: “I’m occasionally bothered by some of the things Mr. Trump says, but I’m more bothered by the things Secretary Clinton does and has done. So, I think the choice here is pretty clear. It will a hard-fought campaign and a pretty close one.”


Before concluding his questions aimed at Cole, who is a member of the Chickasaw Nation, Strain also asked a question brought up by a representative from the Stigler News-Sentinel. The questioner wondered if Trump’s racist comments about Native Americans in reference to Oklahoma native and U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) being called “Pocahontas”  troubled Cole.

Cole responded with a lengthy, “political” answer, where he said personal attacks are not helpful when trying to get your message across.

“There’s a strong case to made against Elizabeth Warren, policy-wise, across the board. She’s not exactly a shrinking violet when it comes to language,” Cole said. “My view of the use of the pejorative term like ‘Pocahontas’ is (it’s) totally inappropriate and it will bother a lot of Native Americans.”

U.S. Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Tulsa), representing Oklahoma’s 1st congressional district

Having been absent from previous OPA encounters, Bridenstine came across as strident and aggressive in the face of a roomful of journalists.

“The decision is now binary. Either you are for Donald Trump or you are for Hillary Clinton,” Bridenstine said. “And here in the state of Oklahoma I don’t see how we could rally behind someone who is continuing to advance policies that are very damaging to all of our constituents. And so being where we are now, we are seeing Donald Trump lay out policies. We are seeing who he will pick for the Supreme Court and we’re seeing who he’s going to surround himself with. And that being the case, I’m getting more comfortable with him as our nominee and I hope others do as well. I intend to vote for him.”

U.S. Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-Westville), representing Oklahoma’s 2nd congressional district

“I think it’s pretty cut and dry,” Mullin said of the Trump question. “I’m not voting for Hillary, so it’s Trump.”

Added Mullin: “Here’s where I try to make it right in my head: I’m an optimistic individual by nature and I look at Hillary and you see a person and you know exactly what you’re going to get. The world is a very volatile place right now. Military morale is in the tank and we know they don’t trust her.

And then you take Trump and people take the brush to paint him being a racist and this and that and you don’t hear that coming out of his business,” said Mullin, who also runs a successful plumbing company. “He’s a successful business guy,” having hired many, “diverse” individuals.

“A lot of second generations have squandered the first generation’s success,” Mullin said, noting that Trump had not done that. “A thing called the ‘prodigal son’ out of the Bible talks about that, right? He’s successful and can be successful. So, I’m being optimistic about what he can accomplish and he can surround himself with the right people and the right individuals.

Now, I think he sometimes runs a little loose in the mouth, but at the same time I’m going to be optimistic enough that I’m excited that we have a nominee now. It’s not Hillary, it’s Trump. So, I’ll be voting for him.”

U.S. Rep. Steve Russell (R-Choctaw), representing Oklahoma’s 5th congressional district

“I’m not sure I can trust Donald Trump to always do the right thing. I am certain I can trust Mrs. Clinton to do the wrong thing,” Russell said. “The choice that all Americans have is pretty much like this: When it comes to the First Amendment, the Second Amendment, the Fourth Amendment, the Tenth Amendment, three Supreme Court justices, foreign policy, national defense … I know where Mrs. Clinton’s policies take us.

On the policy end, I know where that takes us. If it’s on a personality contest, my goodness, my mother raised me better than to act like either one of them. You have to look at the policy piece. The choice is really, with eyes wide open, do I walk off a cliff and know exactly where it will take me, or do I go down a dark tunnel and hope there will be a light at the end of it? With that, I’m going to preserve my life a little bit longer and walk down the tunnel and vote for Mr. Trump.”


The lukewarm embrace of Trump may be reflected by the criticism U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who is the House Speaker, has received in the days since his official endorsement of Trump. At a recent, private Mitt Romney-led confab in Park City, Utah, Ryan was grilled by Meg Whitman, the chief-executive of Hewlett-Packard and a one-time California gubernatorial candidate who was defeated by Jerry Brown in 2010. As reported last week in The Washington Post, Whitman was angry and disgusted by Ryan's odious decision. And while the event was not allowed to be covered by the media, attendees, speaking on condition of anonymity told the Post quite a bit about what happened:

"Whitman asked Ryan how he could endorse someone with, in her judgment, such poor character and whose campaign has been based on personal attacks and division. According to two people present, Whitman said Trump is the latest in a long line of historic demagogues, explicitly comparing him to Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini. (emphasis ours)

Ryan explained the difficult political situation he was in, as the leader of House Republicans. While spending a couple of weeks last month deliberating about an endorsement, many of his members increased pressure on him to back Trump. Many of them represent districts where Republican voters are strongly supportive of Trump, Ryan explained."

Red Dirt Report will continue to monitor this situation as the summer progresses.

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Andrew W. Griffin

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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