Good morning Austin:
Of all the members of the Texas delegation to the Republican National Convention, no one had more reason to celebrate last night than Carl Tepper, the Lubbock County chairman, a native New Yorker (Long Island, like me) and former Austinite. Carl was, as far as I know, the first prominent Texas Republican to back Trump.
Yesterday afternoon, I spoke to Tepper.
FR: What drew you to Trump?
CT: When he started talking about immigration and the wall, and I thought, why don’t we just build a wall? And you can’t build it across the whole border but certain choke points, you could increase the choke points, the heightened vantage points for immigrants coming over, and then he really sealed the deal with me when he started talking about trade.
My farmers in Lubbock, with cotton and peanuts and sunflowers, farmers have been very annoyed with our trade deals with China and Brazil, the stockpiling of cotton, not only have the trade deals been unfair trade deals, but they’ve been cheating, so we are the 800-pound gorilla, the United States, and we think we should bring these trade deals back to the table. We’re all about trade, but it has to be fair trade.
You still can’t sell a Buick in Tokyo, but they sell hundreds of thousands if not millions of Toyotas and Nissans here, so what is the problem with these trade deals? It is not reciprocal. So when he started talking trade and these terrible deals, he sealed the deal with me.
FR: Were you already a Trump fan?
CT: I’d read his books on business, I’d watched the Apprentice.
I’m also in commercial real estate, so he’s not a novice in politics, I assure you.. When you’re in commercial real estate you’re involved in city councils all day long – the planning commission, zoning board of adjustments, the city council, sometimes the state legislature, so I wasn’t very surprised when he found himself floating around politics as easily as he did the real estate and the media world.
FR: What about Ted Cruz?
CT: I had been a very strong Ted Cruz supporter and quite inspired by his role in the United States Senate.
We’ve had some downsides. We haven’t seen him in Lubbock in a long time. My farmers have been wanting to speak to him.
So I think we needed a stronger change of direction than the usual government bureaucrat could give us. Ted Cruz rails against government but he has worked for the government his entire life in one way or another. Here (with Trump) was the true outsider who could maneuver in the political realm quite easily.
By the way, you don’t have to be a genius to be in politics, as I have learned the deeper I get in, how untalented some of these people really are. On the other hand, in my commercial real estate life, I’m against sharks every day, very clever people and very inspiring people. I mean they are building things that will last for generations. The people I work for have redeveloped a a big part of Lubbock, the largest privately-funded redevelopment ever in the country, sometimes I think they take for granted what they do. These developers are incredibly talented people, whether you are building a house, a strip center or a giant office tower, it’s hard.
FR: Did you take the Trump campaign seriously from the start?
CT: I thought it was a joke. I thought he was going to be an also ran. I saw him addressing a handful of volunteers on the television in New Hampshire and I thought, what a joke.
Scott Walker was my early-on favorite. Scott Walker or Ted Cruz or Rand Paul. I liked all three of them. But Trump vented our own frustrations into the media. Remember the Teflon Don? He was sort of the Teflon candidate, and the stronger and more bombastic he got the more popular he got, and it wasn’t hard for me to see there was something afoot in the American psyche.
I was also looking at the crowds. They were doctors, lawyers, developers, electricians, police officers and firefighters. I think there’s wisdom in the working men, and then I was invited to one of the rallies in Forth Worth and the crowd was incredible – black, white, Hispanic.
The Lubbock County Republican Party has a booth at a lot of events around town. One of the biggest ones is the gun show. It comes around every quarter. We’re stars of the gun show, and we could not keep the Trump signs in stock, the yard signs, and it was all black and Mexican construction workers who were remodeling our civic center and were grabbing these signs and bumper stickers and we could not keep them in stock. We had to keep running back to the headquarters, and they were clearly expressing the same frustrations that Donald Trump was expressing, and I just knew something was afoot.
I felt it in the air and he laid down the safe speak – saying everything in a safe, politically correct manner. He was saying things in a bombastic way and it was a much more fun campaign.
FR: But what about all the times he said and did things that people said would surely be the end of his campaign?
CT: I cringed. When he talked about John McCain, I cringed. When he talked about Carly Fiorina, about her looks, I cringed. I find her quite attractive, by the way.
So, yeah, I cringed. but Donald Trump talks in a manner like you’re hanging around the construction site. It’s bar talk or construction site talk, and it’s talk that you usually don’t broadcast. It’s talk that the guys talk around the construction site. You certainly don’t do it in public or in an interview, but he’s a billionaire, he doesn’t care. He says what’s on his mind, and it’s refreshing. So I would not have said the things he said and I don’t agree with some of the things he said, but we just appreciated the naked honesty and we hope to move onto the issues again of immigration, trade.
When Vladimir Putin started bombing ISIS, Trump said, “Great, let them use their bombs and spend a few billion dollars,” that absolutely reverberated with me.
FR: But is Trump presidential?
CT: I started looking at some presidential history. Andrew Jackson, Teddy Roosevelt, Ulysses S. Grant, very bombastic characters, very loud, sometimes obnoxious, and extremely successful.
I’m a big Teddy Roosevelt fan. I don’t trust the government and I trust big corporations little more. The Sherman Anti-Trust Act was desperately needed in its time, because corporations can abuse people as easily as government abuses people.
FR: Growing up on Long Island, do you have higher tolerance for Trump’s New York personality?
CT: Yes, I do have a higher tolerance for that New York personality. Quite frankly, Texas politics is not that tough. It’s very polite, compared to other states. Whereas South Carolina, New York are much more rough and tumble, so I have a much higher tolerance. Texas politics is very genteel. Austin politics isn’t that tough.
I’ve seen candidates who have gone negative and it’s absolutely sunk their campaigns. They don’t like negative politics in Texas.
FR: This is your first national convention. How are you liking it so far?
CT: It’s much more interesting than I thought it would be. Mostly because there is the Ted Cruz contingent that will just not accept Donald Trump as the nominee. And the Texas delegation is certainly more divided than I expected. The anti-Trump or the Never Trump contingent of the Texas delegation is very effective and very strong, and some of the best activists I’ve seen in a while.
The delegation is not as friendly, it’s quite divided, its not as spirited – many of the inspiring speeches so far, they are staying in their seats. They’re still coming to terms with Donald Trump as the nominee. They may never come to terms.
The Texas delegation is much more ideologically driven. The ideology with them comes before the personality, and they are committed to Ted Cruz. There is no changing their mind. They are Never Trump.
FR: Did you see the effort to change the party rules as part and parcel of the anti-Trump campaign?
CT: No, some people have been fighting for rules changes for years, but they also got caught up with the Never Trump movement. They found an unexpected ally in the Never Trump people. So they wanted it both ways. They wanted the help of these Never Trump people in the rules changes. On the other hand, they didn’t want to be identified as Never Trump people. In the end the party wanted to settle on its nominee and they didn’t get any of the changes they wanted, and they’re very upset and of course, the Never Trump people are very upset.
A lot of them were very thoughtful rules changes, which I would have supported.
FR: So, if it had come to a roll call vote, would you have supported the Rules Committee report, or voted “no” with the rules reformers?
CT: I would have prioritized for the nominee, I would have voted yes.
It’s a year where the sensitivity is very high. I’m a Trump supporter. We’ve got to get our nominee through, and I would have absolutely have voted yes, and been disappointed that it’s going to take another four years to get those desperately needed rules changes through.
FR: What did you make of the brief bit of chaos on the floor on the rules vote?
CT: If you’ve been to a county or a state convention, that’s part of the process and part of the fun of being in politics, and a very small part of me enjoyed it. It made the convention a little more interesting. I didn’t think it was that big of a deal. I thought it was kind of fun. I thought it was interesting the way the RNC handled it. They were not really prepared. I know two dozen county chairman in Texas who would have handled it a lot better on a county or a state stage than they did on national stage.
It’s County Chairman 101 and they failed.
I got in trouble because I tweeted the Art of the Deal and everybody’s really annoyed with me. I said three states dropped out – The Art of the Deal.
They dropped out. I don’t know why. Welcome to be the Big Leagues.
FR: What about complaints that Trump, the outsider, was now relying on the smoke-filled room?
CT: He’s a businessman. He’s maneuvered this entire primary season. Someone complained to me on my Twitter – “He’s just manipulated the system.” Yes, that’s what you do in politics. You manipulate the system.
FR: What do you think about his choice of Indiana Gov. Mike Pence for VP?
CT: Donald Trump was my first choice, Pence was not my first choice.
The feedback I’ve gotten back home has been very positive. It made them reassured. He will be able to walk into the Oval Office and say, `Mr. President, I’d like you to reconsider something,” on the basis of some kind of conservative notion , and he’s going to be more effective in guiding Trump toward an ideology that’s more conservative.
FR: Who would you have preferred?
FR: Wouldn’t Trump and Gingrich have been too much?
CT: No. How much is too much in politics? Star power. New Gingrich is clear, concise, intelligent, entertaining, experienced, so I’d lie if I said I wasn’t a little disappointed. Pence was an unknown factor to me, but he’s proving to be advantageous to the campaign.
FR: Who did you support for the 2012 nomination?
CT: I loved Herman Cain. 999. I loved it. I was starting to get Herman Cain bumper stickers. I thought he had something. Of course it all fell apart when we learned about some of his dalliances, it seems, alleged, but yeah I guess I am attracted to that same character. Yeah, I love Herman Cain. I think I ended up voting for Ron Paul.
I was never a Mitt Romney fan, at all, not a John McCain fan, at all. Nonetheless, I would put up the bumper stickers, the signs, walk the blocks. We do what we do as a political party.
I think we need to talk about that for a minute. I am very disappointed in the Never Trump movement. I feel that they are breaking the social contract. If Ted Cruz had become the nominee I would have happily walked the blocks, gone on a Strike Force to New Mexico or Ohio or wherever they wanted me to go. I am very disappointed that they have not reciprocated. I feel like it has been hypocritical, really feelings are hurt and I’m not sure I would reciprocate again, because I feel like I’m the only idiot who would have fallen in line like we’re expected to .
FR: Is it important that Ted Cruz endorse Trump when he addresses the convention Wednesday night?
CT: That’s what everybody is holding their breath for. What will the Cruz speech be? Will it be about America and values and ideology, or will he gave a full-fledged and enthusiastic endorsement of Donald Trump.
I’ve been very disappointed by the lackluster endorsements – “Well, it’s about the Supreme Court’s at stake, or lower taxes at stake.” I’ve been telling some local officials, “Don’t give an endorsement if it’s not an enthusiastic endorsement of Mr. Trump and making America great. If it’s not one of those endorsements, don’t bother. But if it’s going to be a full-fledged endorsement, we’d like to really highlight that.”
FR: But politically, would it be in Cruz’s own self-interest to endorse Trump?
CT: His own self-interest should not be considered right now. It’s the interests of the country. You can’t be selfish. You can’t worry about your self interest. That’s disgusting.
We believe the country is at stake. That’s why we put in all these hours and thousands of dollars and time and walking blocks and energy. It’s about the good of the country. What we believe is best for the country. Obviously, the Democrats see it a different way. So any politician who doesn’t have the country as their first interest needs to leave office.
FR: But the Trump-Cruz race got extraordinarily personal.
CT: I don’t remember any primary that doesn’t get personal at some point. They all steal each other’s signs. All kinds of silly things happen and we get caught up in it and we move on. I’ve been involved in all kinds of county commission races, countless congressional races, countless gubernatorial races. You fall behind the nominee enthusiastically for the interest of your city or your county or the city or the nation.
Certainly, we’re really beyond the turning point for the nation. Really, four years ago was the turning point and we lost, and so all this talk about self-interest and maneuvering needs to be put down for the good of the country.
FR: How do you like Trump’s chances against Hillary Clinton?
CT: Very bullish. I think he’s going beat her handily. I think the American public is not comfortable with Crooked Hillary. I think she has a long record of failure – from First Lady and Travelgate,and very mediocre U.S. senator, and her failures as secretary of state – Russia, Benghazi, ISIS. She was a failed presidential contender, beat by a no-name from Illinois. She almost got beaten for this nomination by a guy who wasn’t even a Democrat – Bernie Sanders. So she’s been a failure at everything she’s touched.
For her, thank God for Bill. I’m shocked she’s gotten as far as she has and the adjustments of the Trump campaign have been very sharp and I think he’s going to roll over her through the summer and into the fall.
FR: How do you think Trump will balance his usual free-style delivery with the demands of giving a presidential acceptance speech Thursday?
CT: We expect Donald Trump to be a little bombastic. We want Donald Trump to be a little bombastic. So Donald, please be Donald.
FR: What are you feeling as your candidate is about to claim the nomination?
CT: A deep sense of satisfaction that we got a man who reverberates with the real America.
JFK and Nixon changed politics with their debate. Reagan spoke around the mainstream media directly to the people, and Donald Trump has mastered the media, 24/7. I see a new candidate for a new age. This is a new era of politicians who have to be on all the time. It’s not relegated to the evening news anymore. They are in our Facebook. They’re on our tweets. They’re part of our lives, 24/7 now. We follow them as we would athletes or Hollywood movie stars.
He’s a new candidate for a new age.