New Mexico Republicans kick off their state convention in Texas

·5 min read

May 15—AMARILLO, Texas — Ronald Solomon may be one of former President Donald Trump's biggest fans.

"I love Donald Trump," he said. "Oh my God, I love Donald Trump."

The smooth-talking businessman was among the first faces members of the Republican Party of New Mexico, which is holding its state convention in Texas this weekend to bypass New Mexico's stricter COVID-19 restrictions on large gatherings, encountered Friday in the foyer of a downtown Hilton here where the group is meeting.

Solomon, a 6-foot-3, 62-year-old New Yorker who is president of a company that sells MAGA hats and T-shirts and what he calls "other conservative and patriotic products," said the Republican Party is the party of Trump — and any politician who isn't in lockstep with the former president risks political suicide.

"I would say that 90 percent of the members of the Republican Party are supporters of the [former] president," he said, adding that an "overwhelming majority" of county party chairpersons also back Trump.

"Actually, you'll see a big cleansing in the party of all these Republicans in name only — RINOs as we call them — coming up next fall," Solomon said. "If these people somehow think they're going to survive this, they're going to be destroyed. As a matter of fact, that's why I made my 'It's RINO season' T-shirt with President Trump in a hunting outfit with his rifle."

The dispatches have already begun.

The New Mexico Republican Party's convention, which runs through Sunday and features keynote addresses from South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem and U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, both outspoken Trump supporters, comes on the heels of GOP lawmakers stripping Wyoming Congresswoman Liz Cheney of her House leadership post after she criticized Trump for his unproven claims of election fraud and then voted to impeach him in connection with the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.

As the GOP wrestles over whether it's the party of Trump, some Republicans have discussed the possibility of leaving the party altogether, though it's a small faction.

Ethel Maharg, executive director of the Albuquerque-based Right to Life Committee of New Mexico, said she was unsure whether the party was grappling with an identity crisis of sorts.

"I don't necessarily think it's the party of Trump," she said. "He's our president, and he's Republican, so we stand with our Republican president."

While the highly energetic pro-Trump base of the party exerts major power, party leaders say the GOP doesn't belong to any one individual.

"The Republican Party is bigger than any single person," Republican Party Chairman Steve Pearce said, though he added that "Trump spoke to a lot of Republicans because he followed through on his commitments."

Brett Kokinadis, a former congressional candidate who serves as second vice chairman of the Republican Party of Santa Fe, pointed out that Trump is no longer president and that what New Mexico Republicans care about today "is about what's going to put us on a better track."

"What we really have to focus on now is New Mexico, the issues in New Mexico," he said. "It's not about Trump today. But a lot of the principles that he brought to light about putting Americans first, about putting New Mexico first, that doesn't matter what president brought those values. He restored patriotism, and he restored what's important to the people."

Asked whether candidates for political office would have to be loyal to Trump, Kokinadis said that's a question for voters to decide.

"I think you've created a vacuum from one of the greatest presidents that America has ever seen," he said.

"He may not have said things the correct way to the media or on Twitter, but you'll see memes today that say, 'I'll take a mean tweet and low gas prices any day,' " he added. "I think that the Republican Party is trying to figure out where their leader is now. I think that's really what's going on. The president is still there, behind the scenes. We've seen him on TV. He's being questioned about if he's going to run for reelection, so I think everyone is just going through a process of readjusting and figuring out which way is north again."

For the Republican Party of New Mexico, the direction was east, at least for its state convention.

"We didn't get to make the decision; our governor made that decision for us," said Kim Skaggs, the state GOP's executive director, referring to mass gathering restrictions under the state's public health order.

Pearce, a former congressman who ran unsuccessfully for governor against Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, echoed that sentiment.

"When we signed all the contracts, New Mexico wasn't open," he said. "Yeah, we would've preferred to be in New Mexico, but the rules didn't allow us to set this kind of an event up that far in advance. It's just the way it turned out."

In a news release, the Democratic Party of New Mexico said hundreds of New Mexico Republicans traveled to Texas "to hold an unnecessary political convention in a state that they feel better aligns with their values."

"This political stunt put the NM GOP's lack of New Mexico values on full display, as they pumped nearly $350,000 into another state's economy in hopes of creating headlines," the Democratic Party said.

"The New Mexico GOP has made it clear that their values are more aligned with Texas than with New Mexico," Democratic Party Chairwoman Jessica Velasquez said in a statement. "While they hold an unnecessary and risky political convention, Democrats will continue to hold our events where we can engage New Mexicans and support local businesses."

Noem was the keynote speaker Friday night, but the news media was prohibited from covering the event, which the Republican Party of New Mexico dubbed "Operation Freedom/Positive Change for New Mexico."

Follow Daniel J. Chacón on Twitter

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