Pritzker predicts “cult of personality” will spark contest to see which GOP candidate is more ‘Trumpy’
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (NEXSTAR) — State senator Darren Bailey (R-Louisville) picked Stephanie Trussell, a former radio talk show host and Tea Party activist from the Chicago area, as his running mate in the Republican primary race for governor. But before she could introduce herself to voters, her old tweets and remarks disparaging Donald Trump as “disgusting” surfaced, forcing the campaign to hide her Twitter page and prepare a scripted response for her to read to supporters on the campaign trail.
“Some people are saying that I don’t support President Trump,” Trussell read aloud to a crowd of a few dozen supporters at a pool hall in Bloomington on Tuesday. “Well, let me be clear: I support President Trump 100%.”
Five years prior, said on her radio program that then-candidate Trump was “a man of very little character. He’s uncouth. He’s disgusting.”
Her pronouncement was little surprise for many Republican voters who long ago discarded their concerns about a brash candidate and donned his red caps. But as a media personality, Trussell’s criticisms of Trump went well beyond privately held reservations and spilled over into outspoken activism to try and defeat him.
“Those Trump people, if they lose, they’re the biggest crybabies and whiners that the system is rigged, but if the system is rigged in their favor then they shut up and they’re quiet,” she said, voicing frustration in the Trump hardball campaign’s tactics against Texas Senator Ted Cruz.
On May 6th, 2016, the day after candidate Trump tweeted a picture eating a taco bowl and declaring his love for Hispanics, Trussell, a Black woman, tweeted that she was, “Waiting for the #Trump pic of him eating fried chicken and watermelon under the heading: ‘I Love Black People.” #Buffoonery!”
Two months after Trump had already won the Illinois Republican primary contest, Trussell still held out and refused to support him.
“I’ve got so much footage of me just not liking him that all of a sudden, I’m gonna, ‘I am Team Trump?’ That would just be so robotic and so fake,” she said in mid-May of 2016.
At a campaign stop in Springfield, Trussell raised the controversy again, and sought to reassure a handful of older voters in attendance that they don’t need to question where her loyalties lie.
“I got on the Trump train and I became the conductor, and I was on the crazy train telling everybody, ‘You got to vote for President Trump,'” she said. “In 2020, I campaigned and voted for Trump. I was all over Trump and I still am.”
State representative Kam Buckner (D-Chicago), chair of the Illinois House Black Caucus, called Trussell’s explanation of her past comments about Trump, “mental gymnastics” and “disappointing at best.”
“There’s a somersault from an unapologetic statement, to a faulty explanation, to finger pointing and blame,” Buckner said. “There are real issues for folks around this state — folks of all genders, folks of all races, folks from all socio economic backgrounds. We’ve got to figure out ways to talk about those and continue to do the work instead of getting caught up in this nonsensical satire.”
Governor J.B. Pritzker reacted to news of Trussell’s past statements at a press conference on Tuesday.
“It’s a complete mess over there,” he said of the GOP primary field. “I do not know how they’re going to resolve all of this. The cult of personality around Donald Trump is a major factor in the Republican Party, seemingly, and I think they’re gonna have lots of disagreements about who’s more ‘Trumpy’ than the other person.”
Trussell went on to blame Democrats and “left wing media” for asking her to reconcile her past comments with her current views, though she never explained how she became a convert, or whether her conversion was “robotic and fake.”
Fact check: elected Republicans were the ones who first brought Trussell’s tweets about Trump to light
She could’ve cleared up those questions at either campaign stop, but Bailey’s campaign manager Jose Durbin and spokesman Joe DeBose denied multiple requests for interviews, and deployed campaign staff to whisk them away, and physically shielded them from reporters who attempted to ask questions. In Bloomington, the campaign went so far as to pull their bus around behind the building so Bailey could escape reporters out the back door.
Background of Bailey’s refusal to answer questions rooted in anger over Coronavirus coverage:
On July 27th, in an on-camera interview, Bailey invited WCIA cameras to his family farm “this fall” for a feature interview about his life and background. Later in the interview, he took issue with questions about his vaccination status, and refused to answer. Earlier that month, Bailey told a room full of Republican voters he was not vaccinated, and raised questions about the ingredients in common measles, mumps, and rubella vaccines.
The next day, on July 28th, WCIA reported that a severe case of COVID-19 pneumonia hospitalized one of Bailey’s unvaccinated family members. The campaign has not responded to any questions from WCIA since then. When the first-term state senator made a public media appearance at the Illinois State Fair in August, he lashed out at a question from a WCIA reporter and said he was “so sick of what you did” in covering his role in opposing Coronavirus safety measures while the virus impacted his own family.
At both campaign stops in Bloomington and Springfield, Bailey and Trussell railed against masks in school classrooms, mandatory vaccines, and against what they perceive as a “woke left political agenda” in public school curriculums.
“It’s time to teach our kids to chase their dreams, not to be a victim or not to hate one another,” Trussell said. “They are determined to tell us that one group is the oppressor and the other group is the oppressed, and we know that that not to be true.”
“It appears that many folks are trying to bottle up the energy that has been emanated across the country when it comes to things like critical race theory, and try to use it as a way to divide us further,” Buckner said. “I don’t think we should fall for it. I don’t think we should embrace it.”
“I served with Representative Bailey,” Buckner said, “and I didn’t expect him to pick Mother Jones or Jane Addams as his running mate. This is absolutely par for the course and there’s no surprise here.”