President Donald Trump is tightening his iron grip on the Republican Party, launching an elaborate effort to stamp out any vestiges of GOP opposition that might embarrass him at the 2020 Republican convention.
The president’s reelection campaign is intent on avoiding the kind of circus that unfolded on the convention floor in 2016, when Never Trump Republicans loudly protested his nomination before a national TV audience. The effort comes as party elites like Utah Sen. Mitt Romney are openly questioning Trump’s fitness for the job, and it’s meant to ensure that delegates at next year’s convention in Charlotte, N.C., are presidential loyalists — not anti-Trump activists looking to create a stir.
Shortly before the holidays, Trump political aides Bill Stepien and Justin Clark, the organizers of the project, held a conference call with Republican state party chairs, who traditionally play an outsize role in picking delegates. Last week, the two advisers began having one-on-one calls with the state chairs to describe the campaign’s mission and discuss various circumstances in each state.
“The goal is to have the convention be an advertisement of who we are as a party, as a unified party, to 300-plus million Americans, not an internal battle of the 15,000 people in the arena,” Stepien said.
For Trump adversaries, the possibilities for mischief in Charlotte would be endless. They could attempt headline-grabbing floor protests, demand prime-time speaking slots for presidential detractors, or even wage a long-shot bid to nominate someone else.
The campaign is so focused on ensuring the convention is a smooth-running affair devoid of presidential critics that it’s building out an entire wing of the campaign devoted solely to the endeavor. The initiative appears to be unique in both how early it’s been launched and how far-reaching it is.
Former White House aide Nick Trainer recently left the administration to help run the day-to-day operations of the initiative, and the campaign intends to hire an additional group of staffers responsible for overseeing individual regions of the country.
The aides are diving into the rules that govern the state-by-state delegate allocations, keeping close tabs on the contests for the influential state chairmanship slots, and laying out plans to organize at local meetings where the convention-goers will be picked.
The enterprise is part of a broader takeover of the party machinery heading into 2020. Among the Trump team’s other steps is incorporating the reelection campaign and the Republican National Committee into a single, streamlined entity — an unprecedented arrangement.
As the presidential campaign season kicks off, Trump’s Republican detractors concede that derailing his renomination is exceedingly unlikely. Polls consistently show his approval rating exceeds 80 percent among Republican voters.
Yet GOP resistance to Trump has simmered in recent weeks, with senior party figures sounding off about the resignation of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and the president’s decision to withdraw troops from Syria. Romney gave voice to those concerns when the incoming senator wrote in an op-ed last week that the president hasn’t “risen to the mantle” of the presidency.
The broadside immediately ignited suspicions among Trump allies about the languishing Never Trump movement. Late Tuesday, Jevon Williams, an RNC committeeman from the Virgin Islands, sent an email to fellow party officials calling the Romney missive “calculated political treachery,” and alleging that the Utah senator and other Trump foes would “continue chasing their fantasy of being president, even if that means destroying our party.”
Trump critics say the delegate offensive smacks of desperation. John Weaver, an adviser to Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who is considering challenging Trump for the nomination, said the president is trying to solidify the party apparatus behind him ahead of a potentially devastating report by special counsel Robert Mueller.
“They’ve gone from calling in space command to doing this,” said Weaver, referring to the reelection campaign’s decision to link up with the RNC.
Trump’s aides are determined to keep the 2020 convention as drama-free as the 2016 convention in Cleveland was chaotic. After an unsuccessful attempt to derail Trump’s nomination on the opening day of the convention, pockets of Never Trump Republicans, many of them supporters of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, disrupted the proceedings. Then, in a prime-time speech, Cruz pointedly did not endorse Trump, urging Republicans instead to “vote your conscience.”
Many of the Cruz-supporting delegates earned slots in Cleveland because in the months leading up to the convention, the Texas senator outmaneuvered Trump by organizing at a series of local and state party gatherings where delegates were chosen. Trump, who at the time blasted the selection process as “rigged,” became so concerned that he brought in Paul Manafort, a veteran of earlier Republican conventions, to stitch together a delegate wrangling operation.
As they begin preparing for Charlotte, Trump aides are studying past conventions that became sidetracked by rival forces. They’re particularly focused on the 1992 GOP convention, when President George H.W. Bush’s reelection campaign gave a prime-time speaking slot to primary opponent Pat Buchanan in hopes of mollifying his conservative supporters.
Buchanan ended up delivering his famed “culture war” speech, in which he blasted Democrats for supporting “the homosexual rights movement,” “women in combat units” and “radical feminism.” The address thrilled Buchanan backers in the arena but turned off other parts of the electorate and distracted from the message Bush hoped to convey heading into the fall campaign.
“My lasting view of the Buchanan speech is that it was electrifying in the convention hall, which was packed full with thousands of people waiting in anticipation for a real stem-winding speech,” recalled Craig Fuller, who chaired the 1992 confab. “What those of us watching inside the convention did not fully appreciate what how hot the rhetoric appeared to the television audience.”
Delegate selection will be preceded by an array of elections for GOP state chairmanships, which began last month. Ohio GOP chief Jane Timken, a close Trump ally, is expected to be easily reelected this week. There are also key contests in Florida and New Hampshire.
The winners of those chairmanships will play major roles in determining who becomes a delegate in Charlotte. Trump aides have been making calls to those states in recent weeks to take stock of the contenders and determine how the contests are likely to play out.
Click Here: cheap nrl jerseys“We are monitoring, tracking, and ensuring the president’s allies are sitting at the top of state parties,” Stepien said.
In the months that follow, individual states will determine how to select their delegates. While some state parties will choose their delegates on their own, others will pick them through conventions or caucuses. Some will hold elections where Republican voters decide.
In each case, the Trump campaign is planning on influencing the process — in some instances by organizing at local conventions, and in others by helping Trump supporters wage campaigns for delegate slots.
Some Trump allies are urging the GOP to go to extraordinary lengths to ensure he isn’t deprived of the nomination. In his letter, Williams urged the RNC to change party rules to make it harder for another would-be candidate like Kasich to take the nod from the president.
But Trump’s team has come out against the proposal, saying they want to close off routes for GOP rivals by dominating the delegate game — not by altering party rules.
“We appreciate the enthusiasm and energy shown by the president’s supporters, but the bottom line is we don’t need to change rules to reelect this president,” said Stepien. “He’s going to win and win convincingly by playing by the rules of the game as they currently stand.”