The GOP's dirty secret: Behind closed doors, Republicans like Rep. Sean Duffy, come clean on their Trump fears

In public, Republicans have nothing but praise for Trump, but in more private meetings, the doubts come out

By Amanda Marcotte
July 21, 2016 7:33PM (UTC)
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Sean Duffy speaks at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, July 18, 2016. (AP/J. Scott Applewhite)

Thursday morning, all the political chatter about Ted Cruz's speech is focused on the why. Everyone has a theory about what kind of "House of Cards" scheming is behind Cruz's choice to instruct people to "vote your conscience," instead of specifically telling them to vote Donald Trump.

(My personal theory is Cruz just hates Trump and couldn't bring himself to endorse the man, a theory backed up by Cruz's own statements after the fact.)


But an equally interesting question is how: How did Cruz know that the phrase "vote your conscience" would be so widely and immediately read by Republicans as a hostile gesture towards Trump?

After all, to hear Republicans both on the podium and on the convention floor speak, Trump is a great guy with a wonderful family and absolutely no baggage worth discussing. Everyone you speak to, with few exceptions, is holding the line, arguing that they just love that Trump guy and can't imagine voting for anyone else.

If that's how they really feel, then Cruz's request to "vote your conscience" would have registered as a bland statement of patriotism, instead of a tacit wink at those who are considering voting for Hillary Clinton (or Gary Johnson) instead.


But what Cruz almost certainly knew going into his speech was that, while the public face of the party is all "we want Trump!" and unity talk, behind closed doors, a very different discussion is going on.

I got a small taste of the private talk of Republicans on Wednesday afternoon, when I went into an RSVP-only happy hour for the Young Republican National Federation, in a private club downtown. Rep. Sean Duffy spoke, and, in doing so, offered a perfect illustration of the contrast between public and private views of Republicans.

Monday, Duffy, with his wife Rachel Campos-Duffy, offered an upbeat convention speech portraying Trump in a positive light.


"We need to unify behind a new president who can strengthen and protect and restore our nation for the next generation," Duffy said.

"We can make America great again," he added, using Trump's slogan.

But at the more private event, Duffy, of Wisconsin, was striking a much different tone, speaking candidly about how hard it is to hold your nose and vote for Trump.


"Some will say, I wish I had a different choice," Duffy said. "I wish there was a different candidate!"

"Listen, you have two choices," Duffy scolded. "You have Donald and you have Hillary. And you have no other choice."

Duffy argued that the problem with President Barack Obama — and presumably with Clinton — is that they don't meekly go along with what congressional Republicans want. The clear implication is that Trump will, was clearly meant to reassure the room that Trump is no threat because congressional Republicans will control him.


Duffy's speech made it clear that, whatever they may say publicly, many Republicans continue to worry that Trump is a loose cannon and a real threat to the country.

It's this private fear that Cruz was speaking to when he told audiences "vote your conscience". The crowd immediately picked up on Cruz's implication, and the ugly reaction he got was a direct result of having their dirty laundry aired out where all can see it.

Amanda Marcotte

Amanda Marcotte is a senior politics writer at Salon and the author of "Troll Nation: How The Right Became Trump-Worshipping Monsters Set On Rat-F*cking Liberals, America, and Truth Itself." Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte and sign up for her biweekly politics newsletter, Standing Room Only.

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Donald Trump Elections 2016 Republican National Convention Sean Duffy Ted Cruz