CLEVELAND —After Donald Trump’s speech Thursday night, U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger said he hopes that millions came away with the same thought that he had — the Republican nominee needs to be the next president of the United States.
Pittenger, a second-term incumbent, was a delegate at this week’s Republican National Convention in Cleveland. It was his sixth convention since 1976 when President Gerald Ford was unsuccessfully challenged for the GOP nomination by Ronald Reagan.
“I haven’t ever been to a convention where there wasn’t a lot of emotional appeal for the candidate of one’s choice,” Pittenger said. “It’s a bit of Americana, a lot of pageantry, good speeches. I think it has begun to bring people together to realize we have a common objective — we need to elect Mr. Trump and make sure Mrs. Clinton is not elected.”
Pittenger said Trump’s selection of Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana indicates his willingness to work with more establishment Republicans.
“Here is a governor who has also served with great distinction in the House, on the Judiciary Committee, the Foreign Relations Committee,” Pittenger said. “He’s a very smart legislator. I think he will help build bridges. He has an understanding of how to enact policies.”
When Trump met with House Republicans earlier this year, the businessman embraced their ideas for tax, immigration, health care and budget reforms, said Pittenger, whose 9th District seat now includes Scotland County.
“That was a turning point for me and for many people,” Pittenger said, “When he expressed value in what we all want. We need to be partners in a team to change the direction of this country.”
Pittenger, who chairs the House of the Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare, said he is encouraged that Trump has reached out for national security and foreign policy advice.
“If we don’t get national security right, nothing else matters,” Pittenger said. “That’s first base and we’ve got to secure this country. We have to protect ourselves from some very major adversaries.”
The Charlotte Republican is concerned that the threats have been made worse through the Obama administration and through the actions of Clinton as former secretary of state.
“This has not been been on the radar screen of this administration, including Mrs. Clinton,” Pittenger said. “I think without a question, Mr. Trump understands this. He sees the threats and I believe he will lead with a very clear vision and a clarion call to defeat Islamic terrorism. That will unite our allies. They will be encouraged. They have felt so disengaged by this president — heads of state all over the world on a frequent basis.”
On Wednesday, Sen. Ted Cruz, the last Republican candidate to abandon a presidential campaign earlier this year, was loudly booed during his convention speech after he appeared to have no intention of endorsing Trump. Cruz and Trump had engaged in a contentious battle for the GOP nomination.
Pittenger said Cruz should have embraced party unity.
“Mr. Cruz values his own leadership,” Pittenger said of Cruz’s speech. “As much as I value his support of the constitution, I think he needs to see clearly that Mrs. Clinton showed no respect for the rule of law as secretary of state. As president of the United States, she would appoint very liberal judges who believe the constitution is a living document that can be changed according to cultural vicissitudes.”
Pittenger will face Democrat businessman Christian Cano in November.
Mark Schenck, chairman of the Scotland County Republican Committee, said local support of Trump has grown.
“I’ve heard several people say they were a little apprehensive about Donald Trump, but the more they see of him, the more they are drawn to him. It’s just a matter of them getting over that superficial shell that he has as his professional persona,” Schenck said. “There is a real deep, sincere, honest person underneath there. I think people are finally getting to the point to where they see that.”
Asked about Trump’s remarks that often offend people and draws fire, Schenck said he believes the nominee will adjust.
“I think Donald Trump will do what he needs to do and if he sees he needs to have a little different persona, I think he’ll adjust to that.”
Schenck said Trump was unaccustomed to using a teleprompter to deliver televised speeches, but he has grown as a candidate.
“He’s always just said what he thought,” Schenck said. “Sometimes when you say what you think, you get into trouble. I think as he gets more used to using the teleprompter, I don’t think those wild cards will come flying out of the deck so much.”
Schenck said he believes most, but not all, Republicans in Scotland County will support Trump. With so much on the line, including national security and upcoming seats on the U.S. Supreme Court, Schenck said the GOP believes this is an election of vital importance.
“We’re at a real tipping point in this country,” Schenck said. “We could even go towards socialism.”
Reach Terri Ferguson Smith at 910-506-3169.