Collins, first congressman to back Trump, set for prime RNC speaking role

Rep. Chris Collins was the first member of Congress to endorse Donald Trump for president, and now that decision is paying off.

The Western New York Republican has been chosen by the campaign to second Trump’s nomination on Tuesday evening, and he is scheduled to give a three-minute speech during the prime time assignment. The news was reported earlier by The Buffalo News

Collins, who won his Western New York seat in 2012, has openly opposed several trade deals supported by his party, most recently the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP. He said Trump’s positions on trade, and specifically the candidate’s proposals to get “jobs back that were stolen by Mexico and China,” resonated in his district and in much of upstate, where many industrial jobs that drove the economy well into the 20th century have disappeared.

“I have gone against my party leadership on three key trade issues,” Collins said, referring to his opposition to TPP, a U.S. trade deal with Asian countries; to Trade Promotion Authority, or TPA, which would fast-track trade legislation in Congress; and to the renewal of the Export-Import Bank, which boosts American exports. “I think, you know, the crowd might want to hear this.”

Collins, who became the first member of Congress to endorse Trump in February, said he also plans to touch on national security and drive home the larger message of the Trump campaign. (Since then, many – but not all – Republican officials have rallied around Trump.)

“We’ll certainly talk about making America great again, putting America first, defeating ISIS,” Collins said.

Collins’ path to politics mirrors Trump’s in some ways. A businessman for decades, the congressman is currently involved with eight different ventures.

Collins first ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 1998, before getting elected as Erie county executive in 2007. But he lost to the current county executive, Democrat Mark Poloncarz, in 2011, and then rebounded the following year by defeating then-Rep. Kathy Hochul for the seat he now holds.

Collins said Trump’s private sector experience gives him confidence he would be able to better address the many problems facing the country than other candidates with legislative experience who lost out to the presumptive nominee, like U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz.

“I know what it’s like to take the private sector experience into municipal government, a very large municipal government,” Collins said. “You can turn things around, as I did in Erie County.”

The congressman said he decided to throw his support behind Trump before others in his party because he acts on his principles, regardless of political consequences.

“When I believe in something, I go – they would call it out on a limb – but I’m standing on my principles,” Collins said. “And if you don’t agree with me, I’m going try to change your mind, but I’m not going to change mine.”

Nick Langworthy, the chairman of the Erie County GOP who has worked closely with Collins for years, said the Trump campaign’s choice of Collins for a high-profile speaking appearance on his behalf is a sign of his growing stature on Capitol Hill.

“It showcases that Chris Collins had the foresight and the leadership to be the first member of congress to endorse Donald Trump,” Langworthy said. “He went against the grain. He went against, certainly, what was popular with his congressional leadership and I’m glad to see the Trump campaign has rewarded that.”

The decision is also a sign of the enthusiasm Western New York has shown for the Trump campaign. Trump won more than 60 percent of the vote in the two congressional districts that lie within Erie County in a four-way primary race, demonstrating the area’s support for the presumptive nominee at the polls and elsewhere, Langworthy said.

“There’s people who have never been drawn to politics drawn to this, and we’re trying to capitalize on that and build that,” Langworthy said. “We’re trying to compete in the county and, hopefully, the state in the process, for Donald Trump.”