An RNC delegate from Westchester finds energy and optimism in Cleveland

By Joe Piasecki

Tony Leal is in his element at the Republican National Convention

Tony Leal is in his element at the Republican National Convention

As a volunteer official for the Donald Trump campaign, Westchester aircraft mechanic Tony Leal fully embraced his role as a political establishment outsider — even among many active Republicans in his own neighborhood.

But on Tuesday, his 47th birthday, it was Leal who found himself at the center of the action. As a delegate to the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Leal cast his vote to help his formerly outsider candidate clench the GOP presidential nomination.

Reached by phone that evening, Leal said media depictions of political turmoil dividing the party faithful don’t accurately portray his own experience on the convention floor.

“By and large, it’s pretty civil,” he said. “What you see on TV is just for TV.”

Leal acknowledges, however, that things got off to a raucous start when delegates opposed to Trump mounted a failed push to broaden the nomination field.

At the last RNC, some party leaders pushed through a rule change that kept outsider Ron Paul from being considered for the nomination. Now they were trying to undo that change in the hope of challenging Trump.

A former nonpartisan voter who supported Paul at the time (and decided to volunteer as a 2016 delegate because of how Paul was treated), Leal reveled momentarily in the karmic comeuppance of it all — “It backfired on the insiders. I think it’s hilarious,” he said — but there’ve been mostly positive vibes since.

While much of social media has been skewering Melania Trump for lifting chunks of her convention speech from First Lady Michelle Obama’s 2008 address to the DNC, Leal said the overall message resonated with him, his wife watching from home, and apparently most of the Trump-pledged California delegation. The same goes for actor Scott Baio’s “Make America America Again” speech.

“You have your Bernie supporters who want everything handed to them, but on the Trump side it’s ‘Don’t wait for it to be handed to you — go out there and get it,” he said.

Leal, however, is no lockstep conservative.

The child of two Mexican-born parents, he initially balked at supporting Trump because of Trump’s statements denigrating Mexican immigrants and calls to build a wall along the Mexican border.

But then Leal thought about how former President Ronald Reagan’s stance on immigration eventually softened into amnesty — he figures Trump will eventually come around to support a strict guest worker program — and the need to fight human trafficking and drug smuggling across the border.

“What got me listening to Trump was when he said de-fund NATO and renegotiate NAFTA. Jobs have disappeared because of NAFTA,” he said.

Leal also agrees with Trump’s acceptance of gay marriage and used his power as a delegate to voice dissent against the convention-adopted party platform opposing gay marriage.

His position: “Get government out of marriage altogether.”

Other than that, Leal is happy.

And, overall, the pomp and circumstance of the convention and bonding with other delegates has filled him with optimism heading into November — no matter what the haters say.

“It’s like driving a motorcycle in the desert: If you don’t want to hit a big rock, don’t stare at it. Look where you want to go,” he said. “Democrats, the [Sen. Ted] Cruz people and anybody who’s against Trump want us to dwell on the negatives hoping we’ll hit the negatives. I’m focusing on the positives.”