President Donald Trump’s campaign is doing everything it can to make sure no surprises occur at next year’s Republican National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina. That means no dissent and, ideally, no show of support for any other candidates.
“What this is about is ensuring the president is in the best position possible to win the general election, and we do that by making sure Charlotte is a four-day television commercial for 300 million Americans and not an internal debate among a few thousand activists,” Trump campaign officials told reporters in a conference call on Monday.
The type of scene the Trump campaign likely wants to avoid is what happened at the party’s 2012 convention in Tampa, Florida, when supporters of then-Rep. Ron Paul of Texas caused a ruckus as Mitt Romney was anointed the nominee. Or a scene in 2016, when Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas received widespread media coverage for refusing to endorse Trump at the convention in Cleveland.
“We don’t care at all about the lighting or the TV camera angles at the convention in Charlotte. We do care about who is seated in all the chairs on the convention floor in Charlotte next year,” said a Trump campaign official, adding, “History tells us that a properly executed convention vote is the single-most important thing a campaign can do to put their candidate on the pathway to reelection.”
(Although, to be fair, it seems likely that Trump himself will be concerned about the lighting and TV camera angles.)
“Coronations are nice, but they’re not the American way.”
“Trump is weak, the party is scared to death that he’s going to implode by the time the conventions come around, so they’re trying to do whatever they can to protect their king. ... It is antithetical to everything that America should stand for. It’s outrageous,” said former Rep. Joe Walsh of Illinois, a GOP challenger to the president’s reelection.
The Trump campaign boasted that it was involved in 41 state GOP chair races, since those are the individuals who play outsized rules in crafting the rules for primary races. It also cited 37 states where substantive changes by GOP officials make the nominating process more favorable to Trump ― things like allowing a state Republican Party to opt-out of holding a primary vote, binding delegates to statewide results and eliminating congressional district caucuses.
These changes make it less likely that one of Trump’s challengers will get delegates at the convention. That means less booing from the stands and a lower likelihood of potentially critical speeches.
“Coronations are nice, but they’re not the American way,” former Rep. Mark Sanford of South Carolina, another of Trump’s 2020 challengers, told HuffPost. “I get it, that that’s what the president would prefer in this instance, but that doesn’t make it what’s best for Republican voters across the country, given the importance of issues like the way in which the spending train has gone out of control in Washington, D.C., under this administration’s watch.”
To be clear, Trump isn’t the first campaign to engage in this procedural maneuvering. It’s what every incumbent running for reelection tries to do.
Sanford acknowledged that his, or any challenger’s, battle to the nomination is an uphill climb. But he argued that Trump is going to extremes to lock down the process.
“I think the problem in this instance is the degree to which they’ve gone to unusual lengths to make it difficult to voice a differing opinion on a number of issues that are important voters,” he said.
“The first question, of course, is ‘What is Donald Trump afraid of?’ If he is as universally beloved by Republicans as he claims to be, why suppress both their voices and their votes?” added Joe Hunter, spokesman for former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld, another 2020 challenger. “We don’t nominate or elect presidents by acclamation in this country. A Republican Party that wants to win elections in 2020 and beyond should be working to grow, not to reduce itself to a private club owned by Donald Trump.”
But the Trump campaign officials reiterated several times during Monday’s call that their maneuvers had nothing to do with the president’s primary challengers; they simply want to make sure there were no problems going into the general election. And the officials said they weren’t even paying attention to its opponents at all.
“We don’t pay any mind to the guys trying to run in the primary,” one of the officials said. “I chuckled when I heard one of them say recently that they didn’t currently see a pathway to the nomination. If any of them paid any amount of attention to the rules that govern the delegate process, they’d know that the pathway has already been closed. That’s not the point of this.”