Alaska's Republican delegation returns ready to unite behind Trump

CLEVELAND — As workers here sweep up the last of the confetti from the Republican National Convention, quite a few Alaska delegates are heading home ready to join together behind presidential nominee Donald Trump.

Trump was not Alaska's first choice in the presidential preference poll — he was close behind Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. And for some delegates, he amounted to their third or fourth choice. The billionaire businessman does not have the kind of background that would usually endear him to the more socially conservative end of the GOP.

But Alaska's delegates at the RNC — many of them leaders in the state party — have their own reasons for pulling together behind the candidate. And after a tumultuous week at an unusual convention, it seems that for many of the delegates, what they believe about Trump depends on how they are inclined to see him: as a deal-maker, a good father, and foil to the hated Hillary Clinton.

Clinton drew a line in the sand for many pro-drilling Alaskans with her opposition to Arctic development. And there is hardly a figure that draws more vitriol from Republican party members than Clinton.

This week it came from Trump himself, the many convention speakers who talked far more about her than him, and the campaign operatives in the aisles who often started the crowd chanting "lock her up" repeatedly through the week in Cleveland.

And so, with a demonized opposition, there is Trump, the candidate they have learned to love — or better learn to love. So the discrepancies between Trump's past life and current positions, between the party platform approved this week and many of Trump's stated positions, and between what Trump says and what he does — well, that's OK, they said in numerous interviews. They trust him.

[For Alaska's GOP delegates, Trump delivers in a major way]


"I think he's the only one that has the guts to do what is needed" because he's not a politician, said Alaska delegate Peggy Wilson. She's particularly hopeful that he'll peel back regulations and provide a good environment for business, bringing manufacturing back from overseas.

Trump has promised to bolster manufacturing in America by levying tariffs on countries that produce many goods the U.S. buys. But his own clothing line has been manufactured in China and Bangladesh.

Asked how to reconcile that reality, Wilson said Trump's experience beating the system is why he'll know how to make a difference. And she said she doesn't think Trump is in the race for the money or notoriety.

Then there's the religious community. Trump counts himself as a Christian, but certainly doesn't have a pious past: three marriages, a long line of raunchy appearances on the "Howard Stern Show" and a cover-story in Playboy, among many other examples.

Nevertheless, Trump has had strong support from the evangelical community from the start.

Alaska delegate Glenn Clary, a pastor at Anchorage Baptist Temple, has long been a Trump supporter, and is co-chair of the candidate's Alaska campaign. But Clary isn't too concerned with Trump's secular New York ways, he said, noting the country is electing a president, not a pastor.

"I believe he will honor God in our country again and respect people from all walks of life," Clary said, noting he believed Trump would honor religious freedom.

That does seem to be Trump's intent. In his convention speech Thursday, Trump thanked the "evangelical and religious community" for its support throughout his campaign, noting, "I'm not sure I totally deserve it." And he offered up a big bonus: a promise to repeal a decades-old law that can strip churches of tax-exempt status for political pushes from the pulpit.

Other delegates have pointed to Trump's willingness to release a list of people he would consider appointing to the U.S. Supreme Court — a move that solidified his conservative credentials with many in the party.

And the speech given by Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, Trump's vice presidential pick, was broadly appreciated as a way of balancing out the ticket, and some of Trump's more off-the-cuff tendencies. So far that hasn't proved very likely: Trump contradicted Pence on foreign policy the same night Pence spoke at the convention. The governor seems fairly happy to stand quietly behind Trump, so far.

"I had no idea we'd actually be here," said delegate Jerry Ward, standing in the aisle of the convention floor by the Alaska delegation's seats, in the hours before Trump was to take the stage and accept the Republican nomination for president.

Ward, a former Alaska state legislator, chairs Trump's Alaska campaign, and he's been on board for about a year — after, he said, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin passed his name on to the then-new campaign.

Ward — along with about 15 members of the Alaska delegation — was among a group of supporters gathered Friday morning for a thank-you speech from Trump the morning after his convention speech. This one was not a teleprompter affair, but in a style closer to his campaign trail speeches: from the gut, stream-of-consciousness, no holding back.

During his convention speech, Trump nodded off chants of "lock her up" — the week's unofficial mantra, and said "let's beat her on Nov. 8," instead. (It is worth noting that many of those "lock her up" chants throughout the week were started by the Trump team's whips, stationed throughout the aisles of the convention floor, connected by Secret Service-style earpieces.)

But on Friday, he did not demur. Trump declared done and drummed up news with a broad swath of unusual declarations, that seemed to mean everything and nothing: Cruz has "intellect, but he didn't use it." He doesn't really think Cruz's father was involved in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, but the National Enquirer, where he read it, should probably win a Pulitzer Prize.

Ward spent a few minutes with Trump on Friday, he said. Trump told Ward, "I'm excited about Alaska," which Ward took to mean Trump is excited about the option to expand resource development in Alaska, drilling offshore and in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, he said.

Ward said he thinks Alaska is already moving toward unifying around Trump, after a primary season where "Alaska was very, very divided between Ted Cruz, Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders." Based on conversations he has had with people in the state this week, Ward said, "Alaska is united."


Asked about Trump's doomsday view of crime, immigration and international trade in his acceptance speech Thursday night, Ward reasoned Trump is "just saying what all of America's thinking right now."

Ward said he expects one of Trump's children — Eric, Donald Jr. or Ivanka — to visit Alaska over the next few months of the campaign.

Erica Martinson

Erica Martinson is a former reporter for the Anchorage Daily News based in Washington, D.C.