GOP Activists Increasingly Concerned The Republican Convention Will Be A Brawl

With Donald Trump as the front-runner, a fractured party is barreling toward a clash later this summer.

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. -- Reince Priebus says he is almost certain the wild race for the GOP presidential nomination will be neatly wrapped up before the party's convention later this summer.

Addressing hundreds of activists at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, the chairman of the Republican National Committee attempted to tamp down on talk of a contested convention, putting the odds of such a scenario at just 10 to 15 percent.

“Whoever the nominee is, they’re going to get the full backing and 100 percent support of the Republican Party,” Priebus told Sean Hannity, the conservative Fox News host who has been sympathetic to Donald Trump’s campaign.

“Whoever the majority chooses is going to be the nominee of our party. The people are going to decide. There’s no way that the people won’t decide. There’s no way that the delegates won’t decide,” Priebus assuaged Hannity and Trump supporters in the crowd, who clapped approvingly.

RNC Chair Reince Priebus (left) talks with Sean Hannity at CPAC March 4, 2016.
RNC Chair Reince Priebus (left) talks with Sean Hannity at CPAC March 4, 2016.

Supporters of Trump’s bid have ample reason for concern, Priebus’ attempts to soothe notwithstanding. On Wednesday, 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney came out forcefully against the brash businessman, calling him a “phony” and a “fraud” who was “playing the American people for suckers.” Romney urged his party to vote strategically for either Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) or Ohio Gov. John Kasich in order to deny Trump the number of delegates he needs to secure the nomination later this summer.

The broadside clearly hit a nerve with Trump. Later that day, the real estate mogul claimed Romney would attempt to wrest the nomination away from him during the 11th hour -- something the former Massachusetts governor has repeatedly denied.

“Mitt is going to run,” Trump said at a rally in Portland, Maine. “There’s going to be a third attempt. I still think he has the desire to run, maybe at the convention."

But for all of the GOP’s attempts to put on a brave face, the mood among advocates and activists gathered at Gaylord National Hotel just a few miles from Washington, D.C. was resigned.

“I think the path is a brokered convention,” said Alfonso Aguilar, executive director of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles, a conservative Hispanic organization. “If you’re going into a brokered convention, we have to make sure that Trump doesn’t have the vast majority of delegates. If he goes in there with a majority of delegates, then it’ll be very hard."

Aguilar pointed to Sunday's GOP primary in Puerto Rico as a key moment that, depending on its outcome, would lead to a contested convention.

“If Trump were to win in Puerto Rico, that’ll be devastating for [Rubio],” Aguilar said, citing a poll showing the businessman within striking distance of victory.

Anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist said he could envision a scenario that involved a contested convention, but he remained skeptical that the party could orderly settle on a candidate.

"You can't trade [delegates] unless somebody's in charge of the trading. I have no idea how that would work," he told HuffPost.

Even Kasich said he was convinced a dramatic showdown awaited his campaign at the convention this summer. On stage at CPAC on Friday, Kasich put on a happy air and said conventions were a "cool" educational opportunity for America.

You can’t have a bunch of people in smoke-filled rooms. Ohio Gov. John Kasich

“It has to be done fairly,” he said in a Q&A session with Hannity. “You have to do it right, you can’t have a bunch of people in smoke-filled rooms. My only fear of a convention is that these connected interests would dominate.”

Other attendees at CPAC echoed the sentiment -- although they were mostly concerned about a particular presidential candidate who has a penchant for being a bomb-thrower.

"I think it'll go there," said Ben Carson supporter Jim Stacey as he waited in line to the main auditorium. "I don't know what Trump will do, though."

Sue Gearhart of Philadelphia put it much more bluntly.

"What worries me, frankly, is Trump being the choice, to be honest with you. I hope it is an open convention, unless somehow or other the trends change and somebody else is able to deny him delegates."

Editor's note: Donald Trump is a serial liarrampant xenophoberacistmisogynist,birther and bully who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims -- 1.6 billion members of an entire religion -- from entering the U.S.

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