Republicans: Earnestly, Why Are You Giving Donald Trump an Award?

The Sarasota County, Florida GOP is naming him "statesman of the year." The party's reasoning sheds light on the role he's playing in Election 2012.

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On seeing that Donald Trump would be honored by Sarasota County, Florida Republicans as their "Statesman of the Year," I thought to myself, "Now why would they go and do a thing like that?" Luckily, the Republicans of Sarasota County were willing to explain themselves in an interview. I spoke to their chairman, fourth-generation Sarasotan Joe Gruters, by phone, and his answers shed light not only on the actions of his local party, but on why Romney is associating himself with Trump this election cycle.

There's been a big reaction to the announcement that Donald Trump will receive the Sarasota Republican Party's "Statesman Award." A lot of what I've seen has been negative, along with a few positive reactions. Let's start with the background. How did this award come to be? Is it something that's given out every year?

I've been chairman since 2008 in Sarasota and we've given out three statesman of the year awards. Last year we gave it to Governor Haley Barbour of Mississippi while he was sitting chairman of the Republican Governors Association. What we do is try to find individuals who are national in nature that also fit the mold of what we feel is a statesman and someone who is worthy to carry the title and receive the award.

What kind of attributes are you looking for?

We go back to that definition of what is the statesman. It's a wise, proven, and respected leader. I certainly think that Mr. Trump meets all those attributes. He is willing to make difficult decisions and take difficult positions regardless of the political consequences. When he was running for president, when he was mentioned as a possible candidate for president last year, he immediately shot to the top of the polls in the Republican primary. And he is one of the few people in America that can command the respect of people from of all walks of life.

Although there are some negative comments on the blogs about the award, at the end of day Mr. Trump is a statesman. He certainly is skilled and has wisdom. I'll just say that. He meets that criteria. He's a skilled, you know, respected leader.

I don't think you'll get any disagreement when you say that he is willing to take controversial stands. That seems beyond dispute. His fans would probably say that he has wisdom; his detractors would say the opposite. What is it about him that demonstrates wisdom?

Well, here is one thing. While everyone else is struggling around the country, he continues to excel. He's had his own ups and downs over the course of his life, but the guy is a job creator. Election 2012 is all about jobs and the economy. Another thing we wanted to do is since he's been active with the Romney campaign trying to help the governor get elected in November, his stock continued to rise. Because with his background as a job creator and the focus of the upcoming election being jobs and the economy, it made perfect sense and he was the perfect fit for us at this time.

What's the purpose of having the award? Is it sending a signal to the public? Is it having a speaker that you want to hear to an event? Is it drawing a crowd? Is it making a national statement?

Well, I hate to say this but it's probably all of the above. Prior to me becoming chairman they had some local dignitaries that received the award. We stepped up and made it a more national-type award, and obviously with Gov. Barbour receiving it last year and Donald receiving it this year it's now truly a national award. At the end of the day Sarasota is a battleground county. You know, Obama lost Sarasota County by 211 votes in 2008 and it is expected to be as close in 2012. So the one thing about Sarasota is we have a lot of incredible grassroots activists. We've got some good donors, and because were right in the center of all the action we can attract some of the bigger names because of our significance as a county. And likewise, because we can draw big names, we want to draw the best names that we possibly can, and Donald Trump was at the top of that list.

What happens now that he's been selected? Well he definitely attend an event for you guys?

He's going to attend on August 26. We are going to have a dinner with around 650 people and he'll except the award. We're less than an hour drive from Tampa where the convention is and this is the eve of the convention, the night before the convention starts. My guess is that he'll except our award in Sarasota, take a short drive, and be at the convention the next day.

Do you think that he'll get the base excited in Sarasota, and have a positive impact on a battleground county?

No question. An individual like Trump has the ability to mobilize and energize both your base and your opponent's base. But at the same time, what I personally like about Mr. Trump is that he has the ability to mobilize and energize both sides, and although he has his detractors, the guy is a proven success, he's a proven conservative, and he's a champion of free enterprise. When we're thinking about jobs and economy, and how important that is, and how important is that we get Gov. Romney elected, to have a surrogate like Donald Trump attend our event for the benefit of the party -- he's coming to receive the award but at the end of the day, he's coming here to ensure Romney's victory because every dollar that we raise at this event will go to our get out the vote efforts. It will go directly to helping ensure victory for Gov. Romney in November.

"There's no bigger name in America than Donald Trump, political or nonpolitical."

How much do you expect to raise from it?

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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