Sen. Hatch: Trump will lead ‘the way we want him to’

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio — U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah on Wednesday urged Michigan Republicans to set aside any lingering concerns and back Donald Trump for president, suggesting the unpredictable billionaire businessman will eventually hew to GOP orthodoxy if elected this fall.

“Yeah, you can have some reservations, but I tell you this: He’s going to find when he gets there that the only way he’s going to lead, the only way he’s going to be able to have the strength to lead the way he should, is to lead the way we want him to,” Hatch said during a breakfast address before the Michigan delegation to the Republican National Convention.

Hatch told delegates he “evolved” into a big Trump supporter after initially backing former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in the Republican presidential primary and later endorsing U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida. He endorsed Trump in May after other candidates had dropped out of the race.

In an interview with The Detroit News following his speech, Hatch said he came around to support Trump after participating in two separate meetings between the presidential candidate and congressional Republicans.

“He’s a very bright man. He’s a very strong man. He feels deeply about his positions — I like that, it’s what I want in a leader — but he’s also capable of change,” Hatch said.

Trump has alienated some observers with his bombastic rhetoric and has challenged several traditional GOP policy positions, including his vocal opposition to trade deals like the North American Free Trade Agreement and the newly proposed Trans Pacific Partnership.

Hatch, a pro-trade senator who said Democratic President Barack Obama “is right” to pursue the TPP, explained that the policy difference does not diminish his support for Trump.

“He is gradually opening the door on international trade, but I share his view that we’re tired of being the doormat for the world, and it would be wonderful to even it up and have us do better in trade.”

Republican delegates officially nominated Trump for president on Tuesday night. Michigan rules allowed delegates to change their votes if the candidate they were bound to dropped out of the race, and Trump ended up receiving 51 of the state’s 59 votes.

Barbara Bookout of Grand Rapids, a delegate for U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, was one of the holdouts. She did not vote for Trump and said she was not persuaded by Hatch’s sales pitch.

At this point, she’s still considering a write-in vote in November and is concerned about what Trump’s nomination means for the future of the Republican Party.

“I’m a constitutional conservative, and I’m not sure he’s read the Constitution,” said Bookout. “I’m not sure he subscribes to our platform, and if he does, he would get my support. He hasn’t done anything to reach out to a constituency I represent, including me.”

Hatch, in his address to delegates, referenced another Republican who has not yet backed Trump: His “dear friend” and 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney, a Michigan native who now lives in Utah and is the uncle of Michigan Republican Party Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel.

“I wish I could get him to vote for Trump,” Hatch said of Romney. “I haven’t given up, I’ll put it that way.”

The 82-year-old Republican also returned to a recurring theme of the national convention, urging Republicans to find common ground in opposition to presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton “even if you don’t like Donald Trump.”

Hatch, who worked with Clinton in the Senate, said he thought Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey should have pressed charges against her. Comey said this month there is evidence she and her colleagues were “extremely careless” with sensitive information stored on a personal email server when she was U.S. secretary of state.

“But the fact of the matter is I’m glad he didn’t,” Hatch said, “because had he recommended an indictment she would have had to withdraw and (Vice President Joe) Biden would have come swooping in, and that would have probably have put him in as president.”

Michigan House Speaker Kevin Cotter also spoke at the Wednesday morning breakfast, urging delegates to “embrace our nominee” as Republicans work to maintain control of the state House in a presidential year, which typically favors Democratic candidates.

Cotter, R-Mount Pleasant, hosted a Tuesday brunch at a country club in suburban Cleveland, where former British Open Champion Ben Curtis met with Michigan delegates and posed for photos.

Ronna Romney McDaniel on Wednesday will lead delegates on a tour of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson will host a reception in downtown Cleveland before the national convention reconvenes at 7 p.m.