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GOP Rep. Cole Comments On Presumptive Nominee Donald Trump


If there is one certainty this presidential election, it is this. The Republican Party's highest elected officials did not want Donald Trump to be their presidential candidate. But now that he is the presumptive nominee, they are dealing with that. And to talk about this we're joined by Republican Congressman Tom Cole of Oklahoma, a frequent guest on our program. Congressman, welcome back.

TOM COLE: Hello, David. Thank you.

GREENE: Let me ask you this. You're one among many Republican officeholders who have seemed to choose your language carefully, saying you're going to support whoever is the party's nominee rather than out rightly saying I endorse Donald Trump. I mean, is that an important distinction you've been trying to make?

COLE: No, it's really not. You know, I said that from the very beginning when I had no earthly idea who the nominee was going to be.

GREENE: There were just a few of them running.

COLE: Yeah, yeah. Seventeen, a lot of them were friends. And that made it very difficult at the beginning. But regardless, I mean, we're here now. And so Mr. Trump won the nomination. I assume he'll be nominated in a matter of a few weeks. And if he's the Republican nominee, I fully expect to be - I certainly will support him.

GREENE: You excited about him?

COLE: You know, we'll see. You know, frankly, there are aspects about him - his ability to project a message, his emphasis on tax reform and deregulation - those kinds of things that are traditionally Republican that I like. There are other things about him in terms of being a sort of a shoot from the hip candidate, if you will, and saying things that are provocative that I don't like.

But you know, the choice is now Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. And, you know, in this case, I know enough about Hillary Clinton having watched her in office and having been disturbed by everything from Libya to Syria to the Iranian debacle to her switch on positions on a number of issues that I think are politically calculated to saying now that's not the person that I want to be president of the United States. So, you know, it's a choice. And I know that choice. So I'm going to have to support my nominee.

GREENE: Let me ask you this. I said are you excited about him, you sort of paused and said we'll see. I mean, this is the man who is going to be standing there in Cleveland next month at your party's convention. Is that an uncomfortable spot to be in when you're not, you know, totally ready to give a full-throated endorsement?

COLE: I think he is a work in progress. He really is. I mean, most candidates change over the course of a campaign, any campaign. And this is his first campaign. So, you know, how he evolves as a candidate, how he changes, I think is very unclear right now. So again, would I prefer somebody that I knew better that had more of a public track record, having held office, having cast votes, those sorts of things? Probably so. But again, I also respect my voters.

And they're very much in the mood for change. Republicans are, frankly, I think Democrats are. So it's really Hillary Clinton's great weakness in the campaign. She's a status quo candidate. She's running for a third term of Barack Obama. For a lot of the country and certainly for Republicans, that's not an acceptable position.

GREENE: It sounds like from what you're saying on our air here that a lot of what we might be hearing from Republicans like yourself is not going to be pro-Trump. It's going to be anti-Hillary Clinton this election season.

COLE: No, I think a lot of what we're hearing from the Democrats is anti-Trump and not pro-Hillary. I don't see a lot of a Democrats saying, gosh, I'm really comfortable with how she handled the whole server issue, or I think she responded well to the inspector general report that condemned her position, or I'm really enthusiastic about what we did in Libya or what she engineered.

So there's a lot of that on both sides of the aisle. I don't think there's a lot of pro-Hillary Clinton sentiment out there on the Democratic side, otherwise Senator Sanders wouldn't have done as well as he has.

GREENE: Just a little time left. You know, you said that Donald Trump is a work in progress, not knowing exactly where this is going to go. What is the thing that keeps you up at night when you think about where this is headed for your party?

COLE: You know, the thing that disturbs me the most is that the country has worked itself into a situation where two candidates that are the major party nominees are more unpopular than popular. And that's really disturbing. I mean, we are not in a position where I think either side thinks they've got their best choice at the top of the ballot.

GREENE: All right. We've been speaking to Republican Congressman Tom Cole representing the state of Oklahoma. Congressman, always great to have you on. Thank you.

COLE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.