- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 19, 2016

CLEVELAND — Republicans’ convention has done little to quell the worries of Donald Trump’s skeptics within his own party, with one prominent GOP senator saying Tuesday the strident rhetoric emanating from the speakers is actually chasing swing voters away.

Sen. Jeff Flake, an Arizona Republican who’d earlier said he’d be home mowing his lawn rather than attending his party’s confab in Cleveland, said he watched the first night on television and was dismayed at the attacks on Democrats’ presumptive nominee, Hillary Clinton, including calls to jail her.

“Watching the convention last night, and I did watch a lot of it, it was concerning that so much of the talk may play well for the audience there, but you have to remember, you have a broader audience out there,” Mr. Flake told KFYI radio. “I wish that we would try to expand the base a little rather than try to restrict it.”

Mr. Flake is one of a number of Republicans who found reasons to skip this year’s convention. While some of the others have said they’ll support their nominee, albeit in some cases with great reservations, Mr. Flake said he’s not there yet.

Neither is Sen. Ben Sasse, who spent time ahead of the primaries this year campaigning for anyone but Mr. Trump. He was a no-show Tuesday night, even as nine other freshman Republican senators elected with him in 2014 took to the convention stage to back Mr. Trump.

Mr. Sasse doesn’t have a public schedule back in his home state of Nebraska, and his spokesman said the senator would “politely decline” to offer thoughts on how the convention was going so far.

But Mr. Sasse made clear he’s using convention week for other priorities. He posted several updates about his son’s baseball game on his personal Twitter account Monday night, just as the first night’s speeches were kicking off.

After Mr. Trump chased his final rivals from the race in May, some GOP leaders and conservative pundits had tried to entice Mr. Sasse or Ohio Gov. John Kasich to make a run as an independent. Those efforts fell short, but the criticism of Mr. Trump persisted.

Mr. Flake, for his part, has questioned whether Mr. Trump’s views “are compatible with the Republican Party.” He said Mr. Trump needs to change his stance and embrace free trade deals, and drop some of the more caustic barbs, to win his vote. He said in his radio interview Tuesday that the calls to imprison Mrs. Clinton were over the top.

“I don’t think anybody really should believe that. And we certainly don’t expand the base of the party when we use language like that. That language I think was very concerning,” he said.

The holdouts have their own critics though.

Arizona delegate Nancy Ordowski wrote off Mr. Flake as another establishment Republican upset that Mr. Trump had taken over the party.

“I don’t care if the establishment people want to support Trump or not,” said Ms. Ordowski, who was attending her first national convention. “The whole bunch of them haven’t done us any good. It’s time to get rid of all of them.”

Arizona state Rep. David Livingston, a delegate to the convention, said he was not concerned about what Mr. Flake said about Mr. Trump, and he defended the tenor of the convention.

“Some of it was red meat and some of it was generic. I don’t think it was out of line at all,” he said, adding that he expects inflammatory rhetoric from the Democratic National Convention next week in Philadelphia.

Among other prominent GOP Trump critics:

Sen. Mark Kirk, who is up for re-election in Illinois, released a campaign video pronouncing himself “Mr. Illinois” and answering questions about his favorite Chicago pizza and his recommendations for tourists. He also repeatedly blasted the Obama administration over new damaging reports about the Iran nuclear deal.

Mitt Romney, the party’s 2012 nominee, has gone dark, with his Twitter feed silent for more than a week ahead of the convention.

Mr. Kasich, who was among Mr. Trump’s final opponents, has refused to appear at the convention despite it occurring in his home state. But he’s been quite visible, making the rounds of state delegations and insisting he’ll support down-ballot Republicans, though saying he still can’t stomach Mr. Trump.

Former Sen. Tom Coburn allowed his name to be floated over the weekend as a potential last-minute recruit for those seeking an alternative to Mr. Trump. But GOP leaders steamrolled insurgents’ efforts to change the rules, which cemented Mr. Trump as the nominee and nipped the pro-Coburn efforts before they got any traction.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who was crushed in this year’s presidential primary, fired a shot at the convention just before it kicked off, penning an op-ed in The Washington Post saying he remains adamantly opposed to Mr. Trump. He said he’s still deciding whether to vote for the Libertarian Party or write someone in on Election Day.

That didn’t sit well with Republican leaders who have gotten over their reluctance about the billionaire businessman.

“It is a binary choice,” New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said on CNN. “If you are a Republican and you are not voting for Trump, you are voting for Hillary.”

Seth McLaughlin and S.A. Miller contributed to this report.

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