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Politics & Government

Recent Shootings, National Security Overshadow Republican Convention

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And we're here in the studios of WCPN ideastream in Cleveland, the scene of the Republican Convention, with NPR political reporter Scott Detrow and Roger Villere, who is chairman of the Louisiana Republican Party and also a delegate to the convention committed to Donald Trump. Welcome to the program, sir.

ROGER VILLERE: Thank you.

INSKEEP: Thanks for coming by early. What did you think about when you heard the news from Louisiana?

VILLERE: I was actually in church when I first got the news. It was - we were shocked. I have a lot of family that's involved in law enforcement. Nephew in state police and a nephew on the Jefferson Parish Police Department - and my brother, who's on the way up here to be with me, is retired New Orleans Police Department. So it's - it hit close to home. We were devastated. And, you know, we just have everyone in prayers. And, you know, we - law enforcement all over the country is hurting right now. And it's really rough.

INSKEEP: How have all the shootings of recent weeks affected the mood of people gathering here in Cleveland?

VILLERE: There's a lot of concern. There's a lot of concern for - it seems to me - it's almost like an anarchy going on in the country. It's - you know, it's a lot of prayers. You know, we had a big prayer service Sunday for the - a lot of the RNC members came together and did that. In Louisiana, well, a lot of us had gone to our own denominational churches.

We do have a prayer service set for this morning at 8:30 at our hotel. We have - Governor Asa Hutchinson from Arkansas is going to be coming in - and Willie Robertson from Louisiana and "Duck Dynasty" will be there. And we have a number of people. Everyone, you know, asks right away if we'll do something and put some kind of service together. And we did.

I know at the RNC this year - you know, we've been here for over a week in Cleveland. We had a prayer service in the middle of the week. And it really seemed to help all of us out.

INSKEEP: Scott Detrow?

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Well, I was just going to say there's been a lot of talk about open carry in Cleveland. That's been kind of the topic of conversation. And that came up again yesterday after these shootings.

INSKEEP: Carrying weapons on the streets?

DETROW: That's right. You're allowed to to carry a weapon openly. You're allowed to have a concealed weapon with a permit. And actually, after this latest round of shootings, a local law enforcement union asked Ohio Governor John Kasich to suspend those rules within the county around the convention for this week. But Kasich said he simply doesn't have the ability to do that.

INSKEEP: Let me - in this - oh, go ahead, Mr. Villere.

VILLERE: Oh, I was just going to say - what has open carry to do with what's going on? You have anarchists and criminals who are planning murders. And it has nothing to do with open - these aren't people walking down the street who decide to shoot one another. These are people who planned attacks. And if they're not going to use a gun, they'll use a bomb or a knife or something. That's a subject that we've seen to be going back on - has nothing to do.

INSKEEP: You've reminded us that this is a political event, and that joins, perhaps, part of the political debate - what to make of these incidents, what, if anything, to do about them. And that's one of the things that surely will be discussed at this Republican Convention.

Let me ask you a bit about the politics of this convention. It is an unusual convention because it's an unusual candidate being nominated. I'm told, Mr. Villere, that there were divisions in the Louisiana delegation about Donald Trump. How would you describe them?

VILLERE: Well, every - this is my fifth convention. And we've had divisions on every candidate because people get really passionate. They get behind a particular candidate that they love. And they've worked maybe a year on their campaign. They spend day and night - every weekend, they're bringing all their friends. They're raising money. They get personally involved in the campaign. And they get emotionally involved. And so it's passionate every - I don't think it's...

INSKEEP: But there were people emotionally involved against Donald Trump - still are people emotionally involved.

VILLERE: There are. There are people emotionally involved. But that's nothing new. What I'm telling you - that happens every election cycle.

INSKEEP: Scott Detrow, what happened to the Never Trump movement which had been talking about getting the convention rules changed in some way?

DETROW: The word that the Trump campaign used to describe what happened is crushed. And that's pretty accurate. There was a push to pass new rules that would unbind delegates, allow them to vote for any candidate they wanted. That was roundly defeated last week when the rules committee met to figure out what rules will govern this convention.

There's been talk about some sort of, you know, protest movement on the floor when the convention gavels into session and approves these rules today. But by and large, that basically fizzled out last week. They weren't able to get the votes they needed.

INSKEEP: You know, we got a chance to talk with Paul Ryan, the speaker of the house, the highest-ranking elected Republican. We had some of that recording on the air last week. And when asked about Donald Trump, who he's endorsed, he would not say when asked that he believes that Trump will make a good president - he will only say a better president than Hillary Clinton. This does seem like a difficult message for Republicans to go forward with - at least some Republicans.

VILLERE: Well, it might be for some Republicans. I really believe Donald is going to be an excellent president. I think it's someone that - he's going to show leadership. And I think that's going to make a difference. I really believe that he's going to do the job. And we're at a point - we need to come together. We need to heal this nation.

These last eight years have been very divisive. I think we're further apart than we've been in years. And, you know, we had a lot of hopes that Obama would do a good job when he first got elected. A lot of people, especially in New Orleans - New Orleans is a majority African-American city.

And a lot of people had a lot of hopes for Obama. And it wasn't there. Look, I'm personal friends with Steve Scalise, who's very involved with the leadership in the House Republicans. And we have hopes. We have hopes that he's going to be a good president.

INSKEEP: OK. Roger Villere, who is the Republican chairman in Louisiana, thank you very much for coming by this morning. We really appreciate it.

VILLERE: Glad to be here. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.