By Nathaniel Dove
OGDENSBURG, N.Y. – It was a surprise victory. Most Republicans in the small town of Canton, N.Y. did not expect Donald Trump to become the president-elect of the United States. In fact, Republican Tim Knapp, 21 and President of the Potsdam College Republicans, didn’t become optimistic until Trump won Ohio. He wanted to, and expected to, retain Congress, but to win the presidency came as a surprise.
Earlier in the day, the chairperson of the Republican Party in St. Lawrence County, Thomas Jenison, was looking to the future of his political movement.
And unless he wins, that future is not Donald Trump, said Jenison.
That future now seems very different than it did 24 hours ago. Donald Trump has beaten Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Presidential Election and in doing so squashed any ideas of party fragmentation or disunity. “Trump will have lasting influence whether or not he is elected president,” Jenison said in an interview earlier in the day. In Jenison’s view, Trump had struck a chord, especially among many who haven’t voted before or in recent years.
Jenison made it clear that he was only supporting Trump out of party loyalty. “Do I support Trump? I support the Republican Party candidate, and that happens to be Trump,” Jenison said. He used to be a supporter of John Kasich, but since Trump won 55 per cent of the New York vote Jenison had to sign a paper saying that he would support Trump.
Jenison was so loyal that he seemed able to shake off many of the controversies facing Trump. On the sexual harassment allegations against Trump, Jenison quickly points to Bill Clinton, saying that the former president is not “squeaky clean” either, that neither candidate has a perfect past.
On immigration Jenison said he does not believe in a wall, stating that the proposed wall between the United States and Mexico “to me is a no-brainer that it’s not going to [address] the issues.”
On banning Muslim immigration, Jenison agrees, in part, with Trump. “He’s probably right, to a certain level. The amount of immigrants that are coming in undocumented, unvetted, for a better word, is not to the level where we feel, a lot of people feel, it’s safe. You can really empathize with that.”
Yet he doesn’t believe that Trump would ban all Muslims from entering the country anyway. “No politicians are 100 per cent. No one ever gets elected and goes back and says ‘Oh, I said that and I’ve got to do this.’ It doesn’t work that way.”
Jenison’s best defence of Trump is that he is not Clinton. “You’ve got a real bad choice, then you have the next level up,” Jenison said. “The bad choice is Hillary.”
“It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to realize that she has some issues behind her that still haven’t come out yet. I think most of Trump’s have come out.”
In this election then, according to Jenison, “you’re probably voting for the one which is the best of the worst.”
Trump, then, was the best of a bad lot for Jenison. But as for the future of the Republican Party, Jenison foresaw someone other than Trump in the leadership role: the current Republican House leader, Paul Ryan.
But now? He seems elated with the victory. “We have a new president, his name is Donald Trump. And it’s an amazing victory… so yes, I’m excited.”
As for what Trump means for the Republican Party, Vice-Chairmen of the St. Lawrence County Republican Party Fred Bean said he believes that Trump is going to change the party “back to where it should be,” back to the values that he believes it originally embodied, without the liberalism. And he sees Trump’s being a political outsider as a benefit. “We needed a businessman to run the country because, quite frankly, the country is a big business,” he said.
Bean also said that he is hoping for new blood in the G.O.P. “I’m hoping that all those politicians will run and leave and not be there anymore. And hopefully we can have a new influx of people, of younger people who want to change the country because I don’t like the direction the country is heading. And I don’t like the liberalism. We used to have moral values and we need to bring that back and I’m hoping Mr. Trump will do that.”
As to how Trump will inspire change, Bean said he thinks that Trump’s apathy and wealth provide him with an advantage. “I think it’s because he doesn’t care. I mean, he doesn’t care what he says… he’s rich enough that he doesn’t need it. He really doesn’t need to be president of the United States, he really doesn’t need the headaches. But I believe he believes in America.”
Bean said he’s so fed up with the direction in which the country is going that he hopes Trump takes chances, even if those chances fail. “Trump is not part of the system and sometimes that’s what you need to make a drastic change and that’s what this country needs; a drastic change… Trump is not part of the system and sometimes that’s what you need to make a drastic change and that’s what this country needs; a drastic change.”
It is this drastic change that the Republican Party will now have to rally around. Gone are the discussions of Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan as a potential leader for the future GOP. Now it is Trump, president-elect.
Thomas L. Jenison, chair of the St. Lawrence County Republic Committee [Photo © Marc-André Cossette]