Barbershop: The GOP, The RNC And What It Means
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Now it's time for the Barbershop. That's where we gather a group of interesting folks to talk about what's in the news and what's on their minds. This week we took it on the road. In advance of the Republican National Convention meeting in Cleveland, we decided to go to Cleveland to speak with Republicans in the area to talk about what it means to be a Republican during this election year.
We were joined by Joyce Banjac, a small business owner. Christian Pancake is a rising senior at Kent State University. He's also the co-chair of Ohio College Republicans. Steve Herbik joined us. He's the co-chair of Trump for Cuyahoga County. He's a retired banker and a full-time caregiver. Also Stacey Polk - she's the co-chair and president of a small business focused on diversity training, consulting and sustainability. And they were all with me at member station WCPN Ideastream in Cleveland.
I just want to ask each of you just very briefly to just tell us the story of why you became a Republican. And, Joyce, I understand that you used to be a Democrat.
JOYCE BANJAC: Yes. I was raised as a Democrat. I became a Republican after I graduated from college, began working and actually started to own my own business. So I became an entrepreneur, and I began to see things a little bit differently and realize that as the Democratic Party - which I thought was the party of the working class and I was supportive - seemed to be fading in that platform position. And I felt very strongly about limited government and free enterprise. So this is why I became a Republican.
MARTIN: OK. Christian, what about you? I understand, though, you're actually born into the faith - as a...
CHRISTIAN PANCAKE: Yes. I grew up a Republican. My parents were Republican. Not my whole family is Republican, so I will say that. And I grew up in a rural agricultural area. I grew up on a farm in the family of a small business my family's owned for 42 or 43 years now.
So I think that's where a lot of it comes from. I did do a lot of exploring when I was a young kid just getting into politics about what I really believed in, so I thought that was very important to me. But self-reliance and limited government and the idea of, you know, pulling yourself up and hard work - and that's why I'm a Republican.
MARTIN: Steve, what about you? I understand - are you a former Democrat too?
STEVE HERBIK: No.
HERBIK: I have always been a Democrat - Republican.
MARTIN: Always been a Republican - but you come from a very Democratic family.
HERBIK: I come from an extremely Democratic family. My father was a UAW autoworker for Ford for 48 years. And when I graduated from Ohio State during the debacle of the Jimmy Carter and the Iranian hostage situation kind of guided me towards the Republican Party, you know, a position more of strength.
And being the lone Republican in a Democratic family has posed tremendous problems. I sent Ronald Reagan a Christmas card. My father didn't talk to me for two weeks. I converted my mother to a Reagan Republican. And my father took her car keys, so she couldn't cancel out his vote.
MARTIN: That is very serious.
MARTIN: And, Stacey, your story is also for some maybe a little bit different. You are African-American. I hope it's OK if I point that out and...
STACEY POLK: I proudly acknowledge your pointing that out. Thank you. It's a blessing that I share with the world.
MARTIN: And you're also a former Democrat.
POLK: Yes, I am. I'm a third generation Republican, yet not a lifelong Republican. So how - some can say I saw the light after I graduated from college and began working in a small but mighty law firm and then got a real opportunity to see, view and participate in economic development and what it brought about.
And it was actually my mother who pointed out to me based upon several of our family discussions that I should consider joining the Republican Party.
MARTIN: So Steve was telling us that it hasn't always been easy for him to be a Republican just because of his own family relationships.
MARTIN: And I was wondering about you, Stacey. Has it ever been hard for you to be a Republican - and do rest assured I'll be asking the same questions next week when I visit the Democrats at the Democratic - in advance of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia - but I did want to ask if it's ever been, you know, hard?
POLK: It is it is challenging, but I make my concerns known either to my party leadership locally that we have open ongoing pathways of communication. And I enjoy rigorous discussions between and among my Democrat friends and several members of my family as well.
MARTIN: But what's been the point of tension though? What - you said it's - what has made it more...
POLK: Well, there are any number of things. Right now is a good season for discussion and challenge in light of some of the positions of the presumptive nominee, but it's not all squarely in his lap. Just sometimes the - I'd say it's the alignment of the national media presentation at a platform versus local relationships that I enjoy here in the party.
MARTIN: Steve, you're the man of the hour because the person you support is going to be named the nominee of the Republicans.
MARTIN: It's no secret that a lot of Republicans have a problem with him. So why don't you start by telling me why you support him. We're talking about Donald Trump in case anybody didn't get that memo.
HERBIK: Correct. The reason I support Donald Trump is I come from a military family. And when Donald Trump came out with his strong support for veterans and the care that they need, that's what pushed me to the Trump campaign. He says what's on his mind. And I think that's what generates a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of people that are - are actually drawn to him.
Has he made mistakes? Of course. What politician or what candidate has not made mistakes? However, I think his mistakes are exaggerated to the tenth degree compared to other things that are not effectively covered.
MARTIN: Does he make you proud to be a Republican?
HERBIK: He makes me proud to be an American. I'm - during this campaign cycle, I've become completely disillusioned with the Republican Party, and I think they've shown some true colors, shown themselves not to be the party of the people, but to be an elitist organization that desires to keep themselves in power. And Mr. Trump is going to shake that up.
MARTIN: OK. Christian, what about you? Now, I don't want to put you in an awkward position because you are a party official, in essence, as the co-chair...
PANCAKE: Something like that.
MARTIN: ...Of the Ohio College Republicans. Do you feel comfortable telling me how you feel about your nominee?
PANCAKE: You know, something that gets misunderstood about Republicans in general is that we're all one thing. We're all this, this, this...
POLK: That's right.
PANCAKE: ...And this and I think that, you know - and I know...
MARTIN: I'm seeing a lot of head nodding here...
MARTIN: For those who can't - who aren't here with me. All four of my guests are nodding their heads.
PANCAKE: Yeah. And I think we have a wide spectrum of what a Republican is. For example, you know, the Trump wave is a different - and it's a new kind of a Republican. I think a lot of young kids are more moderate. So, no, do I think that he represents my generation of Republicans really well? No, but I think at the end of the day, we want someone who cares about those values we care about, which is job creation, economic growth, limited government, lower taxes.
MARTIN: Does he make you proud to be a Republican?
PANCAKE: You know, not always, but I don't think that one candidate is going to represent everyone. You know, I'm never going to get my perfect candidate. You know, I supported John Kasich very strongly in the primary election. And he was about as close as you get, but he didn't even represent me in every single possible category. That's not possible.
So, I mean, I think that's a kind of a tough question, you know. Does he make me proud to be a Republican? Well, you know, sometimes - sometimes no, sometimes yes.
MARTIN: Joyce, what about you?
BANJAC: How do I feel about the presumptive nominee? I sometimes feel very depressed when I hear him speak because I understand people say that he is just speaking his mind, which I can respect and appreciate, but then I wonder what's on his mind if he is saying the kind of comments that he's making? And I won't repeat them all here, but a number that are very incendiary, very hateful.
So when I look at that, I am not really a Trump supporter, but I will be a Trump voter which is a different scenario. Donald Trump does embody hope for the United States, despite all of the negatives that I just shared with you and that is a hope because he is the candidate that is talking about making America great again. So I think it's like a sweet and sour sauce. It's hope, but then at the same time there's that sort of incredulous at times when you hear his comments. So I think that's how I feel.
MARTIN: So you're all going to vote for Donald Trump? Is that correct?
MARTIN: You, Steve...
POLK: I'm not there yet.
MARTIN: Stacey's not there yet.
POLK: I'm not there yet.
POLK: I would...
MARTIN: And Christian didn't say.
POLK: My vote always has to be earned, and I'm just not there yet.
PANCAKE: I don't know who I'm voting for, but I'm not going to vote for Hillary Clinton. The last four years...
MARTIN: So what option for you might be not to vote for the...
PANCAKE: I'm not sure (laughter).
MARTIN: ...To leave that ticket - to leave the top of the ticket blank?
PANCAKE: Yes, yeah. That's an option just like voting for Donald Trump is an option or voting for, you know, Gary Johnson or Hillary Clinton just like all of the other - you know, it's an option as much as any. You know, we spent four years...
MARTIN: Gary Johnson being the Libertarian.
MARTIN: A Libertarian nominee for president.
MARTIN: This has been a really interesting conversation because one of the things that you kind of always appreciate is when you talk to people is that, you know, you see what's on social media - right? - and you see a lot of these rallies and the tone is so aggressive. And yet when you kind of get people together, you talk to them in a room, people can all talk together, right?
MARTIN: You know what I mean? There's a respectful exchange of views.
MARTIN: You know, the conversation we're having is in no way reflected in the kinds of stuff that I see constantly on social media that I've seen in these rallies throughout the course of the year. I just wonder why? Why is that? I don't know. Steve, why is that?
HERBIK: Well, I'm not sure what you mean by...
MARTIN: We keep hearing anger, anger, anger...
HERBIK: ...Your reference to a tone of anger at his rallies and certainly not by...
MARTIN: Not just his rallies, no. I'm talking about throughout the political season.
HERBIK: I think the overall perception of Trump in the Trump campaign is being masterfully manipulated by the media. I've seen the narratives twisted and turned to support liberal agenda, to support the Hillary Clinton campaign, and I think there's tremendous hypocrisy in the part of the media.
MARTIN: So the negative perception that people have of him you feel is solely due to manipulation by a hostile media? Is that - that's your point of view?
HERBIK: I didn't say soley. I said that the vast majority of media - I mean, Donald Trump can go to McDonald's and order a hamburger, and the headline the next day would be Donald Trump hates cheese. His own party has come out against him.
MARTIN: You don't think - they don't have the right to?
HERBIK: Oh, everybody has a right to their opinion, but at this stage in the game, this is the problem that I have with the Republican Party. The Republican Party should be supporting Donald Trump wholeheartedly. There is too much at stake to have infighting within the party.
They must unite and hopefully after he takes the reins of the Republican Party after this convention that there won't be a lot of options left for some of these Republican leaders that are trying to retain control of the party.
MARTIN: OK. We're in Cleveland, and we see the signs going up. And we see the welcome being - mat being rolled out kind of literally - when we arrived at the airport, people were literally putting down that...
MARTIN: ...Signs. So are you excited about the convention being held here?
BANJAC: Absolutely. I'm thrilled. I want to make sure I am here. I'm supposed to be a volunteer during the convention. I'm - family members will say, are you - what are you crazy? Well, they know I am, and so I don't mind. I love all the activity, and I think we're going to do a phenomenal job here. I really truly do.
MARTIN: Are you getting - are you excited, too?
POLK: Absolutely excited. I think that conventions have become maybe in the last 15 or so years fait accompli for four days. OK? The process has been streamlined, some might say truncated, if you're - if you study American politics. This is taking us back to the prior negotiated conventions, the sharing of ideas, the meeting of the minds and as well the opportunity for delegates to truly participate.
So this allows for a - I believe - a more fulfilling experience. And, as I was saying with some friends just yesterday - and I say to it today - the greatest episode of "The Apprentice" happens next week...
POLK: ...Because you have someone who's applying for a position...
MARTIN: It took me a minute to get it. OK. I got it.
POLK: ...There you go - who's applying for a position, he's made the initial cut - OK? - and there's an offer on the table. And the final opportunity will come in November.
MARTIN: Well, there are some people who are nervous. I mean, some people don't like having big, public events in their city because they think it's a hassle and all the policing. Everybody else is - everybody's ready. Everybody's excited.
PANCAKE: It's going to be great for the city of Cleveland.
POLK: Yeah, definitely it is.
PANCAKE: You know, all the development that's happened, you know, I'm from here, but when I first came to college three years ago, I fell in love with this city so, you know - and just to watch it grow in the short time that I've been around is like amazing. It's a whole new place. It's awesome.
BANJAC: Yeah. Look, we had a 1.3 million people downtown a few weeks...
PANCAKE: Yeah, absolutely.
BANJAC: ...And hardly any incidents. I mean, we were - it was electrifying to be down there. So...
MARTIN: Yeah. We didn't even mention the Cavs.
BANJAC: Yeah. We didn't say their name, but we did...
MARTIN: We didn't even mention the Cavs. I'm from New York. I'll just be quiet.
BANJAC: All right.
MARTIN: I'll just sit here quietly and not talk about it. That's Joyce Banjac, who is a small business owner, a consultant, along with Steve Herbik. He is the co-chair of the Trump campaign for Cuyahoga County. Stacey Polk, who is a small business owner and the co-chair and president of LCR Enterprises and Christian Pancake. He's a rising senior at Kent State University. He's also the co-chair of Ohio College Republicans. He was here with me at Ideastream in Cleveland in advance of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. Thank you all so much for joining us.
POLK: Thank you, Michel.
PANCAKE: Thank you.
HERBIK: Thank you.
BANJAC: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.