Donald Trump campaigns in Indy

Donald Trump stands back from the podium as an audience applauds his comments on building a wall along the Mexican border during an April 20 rally in Indianapolis.

Joe Garza / Terre Haute Tribune-Star

WASHINGTON - Donald Trump may be the Republicans' presumed nominee for president, and his face has been ubiquitous for months.

But as the Republican National Convention opens Monday, he is still a man of mystery for many delegates.

Many Republicans arriving in Cleveland for the party's convention said they are struggling over whether Trump is conservative enough, religious enough or repentant enough for the polarizing comments he's made on the campaign trail.

“His message to the American people has been right on target. We’ve suffered through eight years of Obama,” said Ray Myers, a delegate for Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, and one of those still conflicted over Trump.

“But what a lot of conservatives are wondering about Trump is if he’s telling us the truth” about embracing conservative principles, Myers said.

Hearing Trump promise to appoint conservatives to the U.S. Supreme Court would go a long way, said Myers, who is chairman of the Tea Party in Kaufman County, Texas.

The Rev. Tony Suarez, a pastor in Norfolk, Virginia, said he accepted Trump's invitation to serve on an evangelical advisory committee, but that doesn't mean he's endorsing him.

“I still have concerns about some of the things he said, like his call to ban Muslims, which I think is an attack on our religious freedoms,” said Suarez, who is executive vice president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.

Suarez was among a number of Republican delegates who said in interviews in recent days that they are hoping to see a change in tone from Trump.

“Hispanic people are still hurt by what Mr. Trump has said in the past,” said Suarez, who cited Trump’s comments in June questioning the objectivity of U.S. District Court Judge Gonzalo Curiel.

A Mexican American born in Indiana, Curiel is presiding over a lawsuit against Trump University.

“It would help to hear him say, 'I shouldn’t have said that' or 'I should have said it in a different way,'” Suarez said.

Short of that, Suarez said a “realistic immigration policy” would make him feel better about Trump.

The United States should redouble efforts to keep immigrants from entering the country illegally, he said.

"Build the wall. But it’s unrealistic to say you’re going to deport 14 million people," said Suarez, who noted that mass deportations would break apart families and hurt the children of people living in the country illegally but who themselves were born in the United States.

“You cannot say you’re pro-life and pro-family, and say that,” he said. “We need an immigration policy that’s humane and respects the rule of law.”

Like some other evangelicals, Suarez said he’s also concerned about Trump’s commitment to opposing abortion, given his different stances on the issue over the years.

“I want to hear him say he’s going to protect life from birth to tomb,” he said.

But some Republicans going to the convention are hopeful that Trump will throttle back on some of his campaign rhetoric, especially given recent appearances.

Suarez noted that Trump said he would stop talking about Curiel - and he did.

Craig Dunn, a delegate from Kokomo, Indiana, who has expressed concern about some of Trump’s remarks, also took hope from Trump’s press conference in Scotland last month, in which he addressed Great Britain's vote to leave the European Union.

“He took a presidential tone, with a little less belligerency,” Dunn said.

During a call with reporters last week, Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley said he’s seen Trump’s tone change over a long period of time.

U.S. Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., said in an interview that he would not tell Trump how to speak.

“This is his moment. … He doesn’t have to reassure me," Cole said.

But, he added, Trump can't win without Republicans.

"If he wants to broaden his appeal or change his tone, this is the time to do it. He won’t get a bigger audience is his life," he said.

More people will be watching Trump now than during "all of his television shows," Cole said.

"If he’s smart politically, he won’t just boviate but do something like George H. W. Bush’s 'Thousand Points of Light' -- a really defining speech.

But Trump’s unfiltered comments are what attracts many of his supporters.

“I don't think that Trump should soften his tone," said Andy Shektor, a Trump delegate from Berwick, Pennsylvania, in an email. "But I think he absolutely must think before he speaks and must learn to take the advice of his advisers and campaign managers."

Dave McElwee, a Trump delegate from near Sunbury, Pennsylvania, said Trump should stay focused.

"Build the wall," he wrote in an email. "It’s what got Donald to this point.”

After months of campaign rhetoric on the campaign trail, those still struggling with their feelings for Trump said they need to hear more specifics.

Conservatives are particularly troubled that Trump hasn't said more about respecting limits to presidential powers -- a touchy issue since President Barack Obama used his executive power to grant amnesty to prevent deportations and to tighten gun regulations.

“I've been trying to get there, but I need to hear that he understands the concept of federalism and conservative principles,” said Rachel Little, from Atlanta, a delegate for Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. “Not just vague soundbites. I need to hear (from him) a solid understanding of conservative principles and that he truly believes in what Republicans believe.”

Trump would be better than expected Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, she said.

"But I want to be able to go door to door and be able to say something more than 'He's better than Clinton,'" she said.

Myers said Trump’s selection of Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, a strong conservative and evangelical, as a running mate was a start.

But there are still delegates who would rather not see Trump at all.

Some, like David Hancock of Gwinnett County, Georgia, and Cecil Stinemetz, a Cruz delegate from Iowa, are still hoping that the convention will find a way to not nominate Trump as the GOP's presidential candidate.

Odds of that appeared to dim on Thursday, when the Republican rules committee voted down a proposal by anti-Trump forces to free delegates from having to vote for him.

To Stinemetz, there’s not much that Trump can do to win his support.

“It doesn’t matter who his VP pick is, it doesn’t matter what speech he gives, it doesn’t matter what he says," he said. "He is who he is, and that isn’t going to change, and neither are the reasons I will never vote for him."

Kery Murakami is the Washington, D.C. reporter for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach him at

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