CLEVELAND – What a difference four years makes.
In the summer of 2012, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez was the belle of the ball at the Republican National Convention; a favorite surrogate of then-GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney and one of the marquee speakers during the convention’s prime-time television lineup.
To say things are different in 2016 – the year of Donald Trump – is an understatement.
Martinez is at the convention in Cleveland this year in her role as chairwoman of the Republican Governors Association and as chair of New Mexico’s delegation. But she has no speaking role and does not seem to be high (or anywhere, actually) on Trump’s list of favored Republican surrogates.
“I don’t have any ill will at all,” Martinez told me Tuesday in Cleveland. “Last time I was here, I was preparing constantly for my speech. This year, as the chairwoman of the RGA, that’s where I’m focused: making sure I’m meeting with people and letting them know how important the gubernatorial races are, and that people cannot stay home.”
Martinez, who is of Mexican descent, excoriated Trump late last year after he described Mexican immigrants as “rapists and drug dealers.” She also skipped Trump’s raucous rally in Albuquerque two months ago, saying she had other business. In return, Trump harshly criticized the governor’s job performance during his speech.
The rocky relationship hasn’t improved much since. Martinez hasn’t backtracked from her criticism of Trump, even though he is on the verge of accepting the GOP presidential nomination Thursday night.
If she did embrace Trump’s campaign – even grudgingly as House Speaker Paul Ryan has – she’d be back in the limelight faster than you can say “voter outreach.” Martinez is still viewed as a crucial link to America’s Hispanic community within the national Republican Party, but she isn’t ready to endorse her party’s nominee.
On Tuesday, Martinez officially introduced the New Mexico delegation to the convention and praised the state, then ceded the microphone to Samuel LeDoux, a delegate from Santa Fe, to announce that all 24 of New Mexico’s nominating votes would go for Trump.
”At the end of the day, it’s not about me,” Martinez told me when I pressed her on her opinion of Trump. “It’s about what his intentions are in reference to New Mexico. We have a huge military presence, the national labs and a large population of Hispanics. I just want New Mexicans to hear what his intentions are.”
So does Martinez think Trump needs to actively mend fences with Hispanics, some of whom are offended by his disparaging remarks about their ethnic group?
“Sure, I do,” the governor said. “I think he needs to reach out and speak to Hispanics just like he would any other voter about issues that are important to them: being able to work, having a good education, and what is it that he is going to do to be helpful for us to work together? I really think that is something I can talk to him about, and … I want voters to hear him and his message without that shrill kind of rhetoric. I think he can do that.”
Martinez, who told me she has met Trump only once, hedged when I asked her if there was any scenario in which she could envision publicly supporting his campaign.
“I’m absolutely not going to vote for Hillary Clinton,” Martinez said. “She is a flawed candidate, and I don’t have any faith she’ll lead this country in the right direction.”