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The first person to greet Hawaii Republicans as they entered the Koolau Ballrooms in Kaneohe on Saturday morning was Donald Trump.
True, it was just a life-size cardboard cutout. But the roughly 200 delegates to the 2018 Hawaii Republican Party state convention embraced the leadership of the real 45th president of the United States.
In their view, Trump’s successes include a federal tax cut that has returned an average of $800 annually to Hawaii taxpayers, national unemployment at just 3.9 percent and the potential for a historic agreement to officially end the Korean War 65 years after fighting ceased.
“We have a wonderful president right now, and I want you to know that,” said Miriam Hellreich, the state party’s national committeewoman. “Don’t listen to any of the noise going on.”
In the view of Hellreich, who had just returned from a Republican National Committee meeting in Miami, the party is “excited about this presidency” and plans to re-elect Trump two years from now.
Hellreich also dismissed notions of a “blue wave” — that is, a Democratic Party sweep of the U.S. House and Senate — in this year’s midterm elections. She said there are a lot more Trump supporters than people think, including in Hawaii.
“We are prepared, and we are not just going to defy history but rewrite it,” she said.
That would be a remarkable development, given the historical pattern for a party holding the White House to suffer at the voting booth in the midterms. The latest reports show at least 43 Republicans leaving the House of Representatives (including Speaker Paul Ryan) and prominent moderates like Bob Corker and Jeff Flake bailing in the Senate.
Should Congress change hands, there is talk is of impeachment proceedings. The local GOP scoffs at such an idea.
“Can you imagine that? We never said ‘impeach Obama,'” state Rep. Gene Ward said from the podium.
“Yes, I did!” shouted a member of the audience, generating laughs.
In spite of the levity, Ward, who also serves as his party’s national committeeman, warned that tensions in Washington, D.C., between the three branches of government are “testing the country.”
Ward said to beware of the “ides of May,” which he said would include a change in the Iranian nuclear deal May 12 followed by the 70th anniversary of the establishment of Israel (and the movement of the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem) May 14.
“We have a wonderful president right now, and I want you to know that.” — Miriam Hellreich, GOP national committeewoman
“It’s a big deal,” said Ward to an approving audience.
State Rep. Andria Tupola reminded her party that she and the four other Republicans in the House’s minority caucus have continually opposed tax increases in the Hawaii Legislature.
While the caucus was not able to see passage of its bill exempting food from the general excise tax, Tupola said the GOP was instrumental in defeating legislation that would have restricted the financial disclosures of members of state boards and commissions.
“People are already losing faith in their government because of a lack of transparency,” she said.
The state party platform, in contrast to Democrats’ state platform, includes positions on topical issues such as the following:
Convention attendees approved a resolution to oppose a proposed constitutional amendment on the November ballot that would allow the state to use property taxes for education.
And Hawaii Republicans continue to carp about the state’s high cost of living, which they blame squarely on the party that has controlled the islands for 60 years.
The Oahu GOP handed out door hangers that pointed out that half of Hawaii residents live paycheck to paycheck, that Hawaii has the second-highest tax burden in the entire United States and that Hawaii’s rents and housing prices are No. 1 in the U.S.
“It’s the economy, stupid,” said Ward, repurposing the 1992 campaign mantra of a top strategist for Democrat Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign.
State Party Chairwoman Shirlene DelaCruz Ostrov emphasized that a party is like a family and that there will naturally always be differences. She insisted that the GOP is united, however, in support for a strong defense, limited government and traditional values.
Ostrov said Republicans were aggressively recruiting younger candidates and she predicted that the more than 50 GOP candidates running locally this year “would make historic gains this election cycle.”
One of her keynote speakers was Mililani High School student Travis Afuso who, sounding like a combination of Charles Djou and Barack Obama, brought the audience to its feet with a resounding endorsement of the nation’s bright future under Republicans.
“Run for president in 2032!” someone yelled.
Divisions within the party are already clear in Hawaii’s top race, the governorship.
On Friday state Rep. Bob McDermott withdrew his support for the gubernatorial campaign of John Carroll. McDermott suggested in a press release that Carroll is somehow involved with Eric Ryan, who leads a dissident group of the party.
Last week, it was reported that Tupola — Carroll’s primary opponent — sought for the third time a temporary restraining order against Ryan, alleging harassment. The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Ryan said he has never met Tupola.
Ryan leads the Hawaii Republican Assembly. Its website frequently attacks Tupola, mostly for not being an authentic Republican. Ryan had much the same to say about Djou and Beth Fukumoto, two former Republicans who have since left the party largely because of their opposition to Trump.
Tupola’s first two TRO requests were rejected, but a state judge has set a May 25 hearing on the third request.
McDermott did not attend Saturday’s convention. Carroll did, but left before the traditional group photo of candidates. Tupola left early, too.
Hawaii’s Republicans met on the same day that Oahu Democrats held their county convention at Moanalua High School. The Democratic Party of Hawaii’s state convention will take place Memorial Day Weekend in Waikoloa on the Big Island.
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