Party Pushes for Unity at Convention
CLEVELAND -- Party unity is the main item on the agenda for Republicans as their national convention begins here Monday.
But whether the GOP can unify behind its divisive presidential nominee remains to be seen.
The lead-up to Donald Trump’s coronation has been chaotic. After a long, divisive primary, the pre-convention week was highlighted by a vice presidential announcement that was seen as awkward, and rules- and platform-setting meetings that were contentious.
However, officials emphasized the GOP is ready to come together.
“The party is united. Again there has been much ado about very little,” said Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort at a press briefing Sunday. “The party has united. It’s a few people who are holding out and they don’t reflect anyone other than their own opinions.”
And Trump told “60 Minutes,” in an interview that aired Sunday, that the party is “far more unified than the press lets on. But having Governor Mike Pence [as a running mate] has really -- people that I wasn't necessarily liking or getting along with are loving this pick, because they have such respect for him.”
Seated alongside Pence, he added: “You know, I think it's okay to say I picked somebody, because -- as one of the things. But I really believe the main reason I picked him is the incredible job he's done.”
Trump, who is rumored to be arriving in Cleveland on Monday, may make more than one appearance at the confab, Manafort admitted on Sunday.
One likely night will be Monday, when the nominee’s wife, Melania, gives her speech. In fact, there is a Trump speaking every night of the convention: Tiffany and Donald Trump Jr. on Tuesday, Eric Trump on Wednesday, and Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump on Thursday.
Each night of the gathering has a theme. Monday’s is Make America Safe Again; Tuesday’s is Make America Work Again; Wednesday’s is Make America First Again; and Thursday’s is Make America One Again.
Also addressing the convention will be six governors, eight senators, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio (who is filming a video address), and five members of the House, including Speaker Paul Ryan.
Some speakers of note: On Monday will be Melania Trump; Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, whose name was a bandied about as a possible vice presidential pick; Sen. Joni Ernst; Rep. Ryan Zinke; actor Scott Baio; “Duck Dynasty” star Willie Robertson; Sen. Tom Cotton; and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
On Tuesday will be Tiffany Trump (the business mogul’s daughter with Marla Maples); Donald Trump Jr.; Sen. Shelley Moore Capito; Speaker Paul Ryan; Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell; House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy; New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie; Dr. Ben Carson; and actress Kimberlin Brown.
On Wednesday is Eric Trump; Newt Gingrich, another VP contender; Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker; Texas Sen. Ted Cruz; and running mate Mike Pence.
On Thursday, Ivanka Trump will introduce her father as he gives his nomination acceptance speech.
“You only get one change to accept your party’s presidential nomination,” said GOP strategist Matt Mackowiak, who is attending his third convention. “It should be scripted and dignified.”
Scripted and dignified are not two words usually associated with Trump, who tends to speak extemporaneously and without a teleprompter.
Even Manafort joked: “Donald Trump will be Donald Trump. Scripted is the wrong word to ask me how he’s going to be."
Throughout the presidential primary and convention planning process, delegates and officials were uncertain what Trump was going to do and that uncertainty led to confusion here in the days leading up to Monday’s start.
At various events this past week, RealClearPolitics heard complaints about the lack of a schedule and a lack of staff to plan appearances by surrogates, who would not only speak to the media but would venture out to the hotels to speak with delegates at their morning breakfasts.
An internal schedule for the convention obtained by RCP had many gaping holes – no speakers scheduled for delegate breakfasts and a lot of “TBDs” for times, locations, and guests.
Of the delegate breakfast schedules RCP has seen, only one delegation breakfast (Nevada’s) had a Trump official -- adviser Tana Goertz, who was a finalist on “The Apprentice” more than a decade ago -- scheduled to speak. Other delegations are bringing in lawmakers, including Cotton and Ernst.
It’s an unusual for the schedule to be incomplete this late in the game, and particularly unusual for the convention speaker scheduled to be announced less than 24 hours before the first session. Officials could not answer on Sunday who would formally put Trump’s name into nomination, saying that would be announced on Monday.
"It's not disorganized, I think it's just different,” RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said of the convention on “Fox News Sunday.”
And some chaos is expected Monday on the floor.
The main business for the first day is for the delegates to approve a package of rules to govern their proceedings. The Rules Committee met for a marathon 15-hour session on Thursday to put that package together. The RNC supporters in that meeting managed to ram through a set of rules that did not contain two provisions a vocal minority was pushing for – closed primaries in 2020 and an option for delegates to vote their conscience (i.e. not be bound to support Trump on the first ballot). Manafort described their attempt as having been “crushed.”
That minority may try again on Monday, this time using a complicated procedural process. Trump, notably, will be officially nominated on Tuesday, meaning that step will be well removed from the expected objections.
“If they thought they were going to have the nice, unified kumbaya show, they just completely guaranteed they’re not going to have it,” Kendal Unruh, a delegate from Colorado who’s the Vote Your Conscience movement, told the Washington Post.
Their attempt, however, is likely to fail, given that whoever is chairing the convention at that point can simply push the committee-approved rules package through. But it could cause enough chaos on the convention floor to make for good TV and to get the four-day event started on a controversial note. There is even talk of a delegate walkout. And one delegate told RCP he will head home early, not wanting to stay for the full convention.
But if the party isn’t coming together, the city of Cleveland is.
Over the weekend, it has been transformed into a militarized zone with large swaths of metal fencing going up around Quicken Loans Arena, where the convention will take place, and around the Huntington Convention Center, where there will be meetings and briefings. Police and other security personnel were a highly visible presence, with heavily armed officers from the Department of Homeland Security patrolling downtown and Coast Guard vessels patrolling the Cuyahoga River.
Several roads and bridges have been closed. Before a no-fly zone went into effect, a small airplane circled the city, trailing a message: “Hillary for Prison, 2016.”
Inside the arena, workers had built the stage and set the floor with enough chairs for the 2,472 delegates. Signs went up around the arena stating “Make America Great Again” and #RNCinCLE (the official convention hashtag).
And 125,000 balloons were inflated and loaded into nets on Friday for the grand drop on Thursday night as the quadrennial event comes to a close. (A few of the balloons escaped, and workers were spotted playing with them).
Despite the endless organizational loose ends and controversy, Priebus expressed optimism that by Thursday the party would come together.
“I want to show the unification process continuing,” he said on “Fox News Sunday.” “And, for me, I'm serious, I think Thursday night is a really big deal for our party. Trump delivering that -- that consistent, measured, pointed message. The balloons drop. The band plays. Donald Trump running for president in the White House, that's where we need to be.”