Trump's Arizona Campaign Chair, Jeff DeWit, Is Laughing All the Way to Cleveland

Arizona Treasurer Jeff DeWit, with his wife, Marina, at the AZ GOP convention last Saturday.
Arizona Treasurer Jeff DeWit, with his wife, Marina, at the AZ GOP convention last Saturday.
Stephen Lemons

Asked whether he'll be Donald Trump's commerce secretary, should the presumptive GOP presidential nominee KO the Dems' best shot at the White House, Hillary Clinton, in the fall, Arizona's Treasurer Jeff DeWit chuckles.

"Nah, I like my job," DeWit says. "I don't think so."

That's a somewhat odd answer. After all, the 43 year-old DeWit, who was named Trump's state campaign chairman in January and formally endorsed The Donald around the same time, already has stated publicly that he will not run again for the treasurer's post he won in 2014, claiming in one interview to be disenchanted with the "favor factory" at the state capitol.

DeWit's four-year term would be up in 2018.

Which, given Trump's big win in Indiana's GOP primary earlier this week, and the capitulation of his rivals, Texas U.S. Senator Ted Cruz and Ohio Governor John Kasich, makes one wonder: If Trump wins in November and asks DeWit to serve in his administration, would he step up to that plate?

"Oh, I don't know," DeWit claims, turning suddenly serious. "I do things just because I want to see good things happen. My support for [Trump] wasn't based on anything coming my way."

And yet, something has come DeWit's way: the respect accorded a guy who saw a winner in Trump when many politicos still saw a clown.

DeWit takes it on the chin from a hardcore Ted Cruz supporter at the January state meeting of the AZ GOP.EXPAND
DeWit takes it on the chin from a hardcore Ted Cruz supporter at the January state meeting of the AZ GOP.
Stephen Lemons

Indeed, DeWit's support for Trump stretches back to July 2015, when they met after the orange-skinned tycoon spoke to thousands at the Phoenix Convention Center; DeWit scored a one-on-one with the Donald aboard the latter's jet at Sky Harbor International Airport.

As the story goes, Trump encouraged DeWit to run against Arizona U.S. Senator and Trump critic John McCain, who has traded many a barb with Trump, calling Trump to task for having "fired up the crazies" during his Phoenix visit.

DeWit declined the notion, of course, but he said he saw something in Trump that would resonate in Arizona: the mogul's outsider status.

He says he thought it would work for Trump because it worked for him in the 2014 GOP primary (which, because the Democrats fielded no candidate that year for treasurer, decided the race).

"My whole sales pitch was, 'Who do you trust your hard-earned nest egg to? Do you trust it to a seasoned professional of 23 years, or do you trust it to a longtime politician?'" he recalls. 

DeWit, a businessman and former stockbroker, beat out two better-known Republican candidates that year, former Tempe Mayor Hugh Hallman and former state Republican Party chair Randy Pullen.

"Seeing how well that message resonated across the state," he says, "it had me convinced that Donald Trump could do very well with a similar message."

But in January, a lot of Arizona Republicans remained skeptical of Trump and his unique brand of populism. 

McCain's worried that Trump as the Republican nominee will hurt his re-election chances.EXPAND
McCain's worried that Trump as the Republican nominee will hurt his re-election chances.

At the state Republican convention in late January, after DeWit had been named Trump's man in Sand Land, Cruz backers gave DeWit guff for not backing a "true conservative" like Cruz.

Come March 22, though, Trump scored a 47 percent plurality, with Cruz, at just under 25 percent, a distant second in Arizona's Presidential Preference Election.

Because the Republican PPE was winner take all, Trump won the allegiance of all Arizona's 58 GOP delegates to the Republican National Convention this July in Cleveland.

Well, at least state law required those delegates to vote for Trump on the first ballot. Until Indiana, there was still the possibility that Cleveland would turn into a brokered convention, if Trump had not secured the nomination by that time.

Which meant that the loyalty of delegates on a second ballot would be crucial. At the Arizona Republican State Convention April 30, the Cruz camp joined with the Kasich forces to pull out a hypothetical upset, winning more delegates from their combined slates than did the Trump forces, led by DeWit.

DeWit was livid, telling reporters at the convention that the voting had been "rigged" and that Trump had been "cheated." He promised a lawsuit and a grievance.

But he concedes there's no longer a need for a formal complaint.

"I'm still very disappointed in how it went down," he says of the delegate fight. "But it's a moot point, anyways. So we're just moving on."

Now he wonders if all of those Cruz folks elected as delegates will wind up trekking to the convention for Trump's coronation.

"This is something I predicted beforehand," he says, adding, "I don't see these Cruz people showing up and paying five grand to go to Cleveland in July."

The Arizona GOP had previously estimated that it might cost a delegate $4,000 to $5,000 in expenses to participate in the national convention.

He worries the delegation could be "in a pickle" when the camera pans over to the Arizona section of the convention and there are empty seats "because the Cruz people played these games."

What about the concern of many Republicans that Trump's abrasive rhetoric will hurt down-ticket races?

For instance, Politico recently scored an audiotape of Senator McCain kvetching at a fundraiser that Trump's bid will cost him the Latino vote.

"If Donald Trump is at the top of the ticket, here in Arizona, with over 30 percent of the vote being the Hispanic vote, no doubt that this may be the race of my life," the Senator warned donors.

"If you listen or watch Hispanic media in the state and in the country," he added, "you will see that it is all anti-Trump. The Hispanic community is roused and angry in a way that I've never seen in 30 years."

DeWit pooh-poohs such gnashing of teeth.

"I think that's complete hogwash," he says. "To me, that's the equivalent of saying, 'Oh, wow, I have a lot more people coming to my birthday party, I'm afraid of getting fewer gifts.'"

DeWit believes "millions and millions more people are going to come out to vote on the Republican side" because Trump is nominee. 

"That's going to help all the down-ballot [candidacies]," he says. "I don't get how they even make an argument that it could be the opposite."

But certainly DeWit must concede that Trump, with his abrasive rhetoric toward women, Latinos, Muslims, the handicapped, you name it, will energize the Democratic base to show up on election day to vote against him?

He admits the Democrats will organize against Trump's message, but he contends that they would have done the same for a Cruz nomination, perhaps even more so.

DeWit's enthusiasm flies in the face of a recent CNN poll showing Hillary Clinton besting Trump by 13 points in the fall, the persistent #NeverTrump movement, and U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan's recent declaration that he's "not ready" to support Trump.

On the other hand, what do you expect from Trump's campaign chair in Arizona? Doom and gloom?

"I hope people listen to me this time," he says. "Because I've been saying for 10 months now that Trump's gonna win, even when there were 17 people in the race."


Sponsor Content

Newsletters

All-access pass to the top stories, events and offers around town.

  • Top Stories
    Send:

Newsletters

All-access pass to top stories, events and offers around town.

Sign Up >

No Thanks!

Remind Me Later >