Wichita businessman Phil Ruffin stumps for Trump in Wichita

Phil Ruffin, left, chats with John Stevens, president of the Wichita Pachyderm Club, before Friday’s luncheon.
Phil Ruffin, left, chats with John Stevens, president of the Wichita Pachyderm Club, before Friday’s luncheon. The Wichita Eagle

Wichita developer Phil Ruffin stumped for his friend and business partner Donald Trump on Friday, saying the country could benefit from Trump’s business acumen.

“He’s a brilliant businessman, one of the best I’ve ever seen,” said Ruffin, the 80-year-old billionaire owner of the Treasure Island Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.

“If he ever offers you a partnership, take the deal,” Ruffin told members of the Wichita Pachyderm Club during its meeting on the top floor of the Ruffin Building in downtown Wichita.

“Right now he’s offering a partnership for the country: Trump and the country. He would do a great job. … He’d make a great president.”

The Pachyderm Club invited representatives of the five remaining GOP candidates to speak during a luncheon on the eve of the Kansas caucus.

In addition to Ruffin, who represented Trump, Kansas Treasurer Ron Estes spoke briefly in support of Sen. Marco Rubio. Rep. Jim Bridenstine, a U.S. representative for Oklahoma’s 1st congressional district, based in Tulsa, stumped for Sen. Ted Cruz.

The campaign offices for Ben Carson and Gov. John Kasich did not respond to the club’s invitation, officials said.

Ruffin, who grew up in Wichita, said he encouraged Trump not to run for president.

“I told him they’d eat him up, and they are,” Ruffin said, referring to Trump’s opponents in the Republican primary.

Pachyderm members and guests on Friday questioned Ruffin about Trump’s personal habits and beliefs, including alleged affairs with married women Trump bragged about in his book “The Art of the Comeback.”

“I didn’t read his book, so I don’t know whether that’s true or not,” Ruffin said.

“Ever since I’ve known him, he’s been very faithful to his wife, Melania,” he said. “I know Donald is not that way now. Maybe he was when he was single, I don’t know, but he’s not that way now.”

Asked whether Trump ever shows “evidence of having a profound reverence for God,” Ruffin answered: “He goes go church.”

“He’s a Presbyterian or something like that,” Ruffin said. “He goes to church on Sunday. … I can’t really answer that question other than to say he does go to church regularly.”

Bridenstine lobbied on behalf of Cruz, a congressional colleague and friend, who he said would fight for traditional conservative values such as gun rights, repealing the Affordable Care Act and building a fence to thwart illegal immigrants.

“What matters now more than ever is integrity and morality,” Bridenstine said. “We have to pick a leader that ultimately we would enjoy having represent the United States of America to the world.”

Ruffin said Trump “has always been conservative,” and that previous contributions to Democratic political campaigns were a smart business decision.

“You have to remember, a businessman contributes to both sides … Democrats, Republicans – you just do,” Ruffin said. “That’s what you do because you never know when something’s going to come up that will help you.

“So the fact that he’s contributed to Clinton and whoever … I don’t think that should be held against him,” he said.

“He does believe that sometimes you can be too conservative and you can be too inflexible, and Donald’s a negotiator,” Ruffin said. “You can’t be so inflexible with one side that you can’t make a deal. Donald makes deals.”

Suzanne Perez Tobias: 316-268-6567, @suzannetobias