Republican megadonor Betsy DeVos seems to want Donald Trump to start talking about school choice before she'll support him. Trump has yet to mention school choice much on the campaign trail, although he has said education needs to be done at the state and local level. School choice hasn't come up much during the main convention speeches, but DeVos, chair of the pro-school choice group American Federation for Children, said the school choice discussion has exceeded her expectations.
"I've been happily surprised to hear it mentioned as many times as it has been, because it hasn't been part of the conversation nationally to date," DeVos said in an interview with the Washington Examiner. "It's pretty understandable because on the other side, Hillary is clearly in the camp of the status quo and the teachers' unions. But I'm very hopeful Mr. Trump will begin talking about this as part of his campaign rhetoric going into the fall. I think it's a really important issue that Republicans broadly can and should embrace because it represents hope and opportunity for a lot of people who don't have it today."
DeVos spoke positively of the speeches given by Trump's sons, Eric and Donald Jr. On Tuesday, Trump Jr. said the country needs more school choice. "You know why other countries do better in K through 12?" Trump Jr. said. "They let parents choose where to send their own children to school. That's called competition. It's called the free market."
If Trump makes a similar mention of school choice when he accepts the nomination Thursday night, it would probably go a long way in persuading DeVos to support him. "I'm continuing to watch and listen and observe," she said, not ruling out a later endorsement. But for that to come, DeVos wants to see "A greater focus on the issues that are of import to all of the American people. … I need to see more of a refinement on that. And to see a more presidential demeanor." She later added that Trump's rhetoric also needs refinement.
Despite Trump's lack of vision on education, DeVos ruled out any possibility of supporting Hillary Clinton, even if Clinton chooses a pro-school choice running mate like Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J.
DeVos also mentioned that Trump's campaign seems to be going fine without financial support from the GOP donor class. "Truth be told, Mr. Trump has been running a campaign that hasn't really required the resources of a lot of other people. And it's been working for him," DeVos said.
DeVos and her husband, Dick, are major players in Michigan Republican politics. The family has billions of dollars in Amway wealth and Betsy was the chair of the state GOP from 1996-2000 and again in 2004. Dick ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2006.
"There's an opportunity" for Trump to win Michigan, she said, though he faces an uphill battle. A CBS Poll of Michigan conducted earlier this month found Clinton had a three-point lead over Trump. "Michigan clearly is kind of a schizophrenic state," DeVos said, pointing out Michigan's tendency to vote for Democrats in presidential elections but vote for Republicans for statewide offices.
DeVos and her husband endorsed Marco Rubio just before the Michigan primary in March, but she doesn't feel betrayed by Rubio's endorsement of Trump. She said Rubio's endorsement of Trump seemed to follow "a natural progression" and that both his and Gov. Scott Walker's comments at the convention in support of Trump were "important and appropriate."
In a March interview with the Examiner, DeVos said, "I don't think [Trump] represents the Republican Party. I think he is an interloper." Even at that stage, it was no sure bet that Trump was going to win the GOP nomination.
Jason Russell is a commentary writer for the Washington Examiner.