Four Things to Watch Ahead of the Republican Convention in Cleveland

A delegate listens during Georgia's Republican state convention on June 4.

By DOUG HEYE – – – – – –

Doug Heye is a former communications director for the Republican National Committee and deputy chief of staff to then-House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. He is on Twitter:@DougHeye.

With the Republican National Convention a little more than a month away, here are four things to watch:

Rules Changes

Donald Trump’s rhetoric about the “Mexican heritage” of a federal judge in a Trump University lawsuit, his language in the aftermath of the Orlando shooting massacre, and other remarks have prompted calls to dump Mr. Trump before he officially becomes the GOP nominee. Conservative talk radio host Hugh Hewitt used stark terms: “It’s like ignoring stage-four cancer. You can’t do it. You gotta go attack it,” he said. And: “Right now the Republican Party is facing–the plane is headed towards the mountain.”


The 112 members of the rules committee meet in Cleveland the week before the convention. If there is a substantive move to replace Mr. Trump, the rules committee gathering would be the first real opportunity to do so. The members could decide to do away with Rule 16, adopted four years ago to bind delegates to the results of their state’s primary–in an effort to block grass-roots supporters of Ron Paul–and unbound the 1,542 Trump delegates currently required to honor their state’s outcome. A second option, advocated by Mr. Hewitt, would be to require a supermajority of delegates to attain the nomination on the first ballot. Mr. Trump’s support is unlikely to reach that level.

These could be difficult paths for Trump opponents, but if the nominating process were to become chaotic, we could know before the convention.

People cheer as Donald Trump speaks at the San Jose Convention Center in San Jose, Calif., on June 2.

Party Platform

Donald Trump’s flexibility on issues and his distance from traditional conservative positions on abortion and trade, among other things, means that platform committee members will work hard to ensure the platform is not watered down and does not waiver from key Republican principles even though the presumptive nominee might. Immigration is another hot topic to watch.

Members of the platform committee tend to be conservative. Prominent members include Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council and Jim Bopp, the attorney behind the Citizens United case. Many Trump supporters, by contrast, are attracted to the force of his personality, and Mr. Trump has said that his policy positions are merely suggestions.

Changes are made to the platform every four years, but in such an unruly election cycle will a staunchly conservative committee stray far from a traditional GOP platform?

Security Issues

Cleveland has been preparing for delegates and convention guests for a year, helped in part by a $49.9 million federal grant for security. In addition to the Secret Service and FBI, thousands of local police officers will be present, many wearing body cameras. Anti-riot police will have separate video teams. The area surrounding the arena will be restricted. Those without credentials will not get near the convention site, where security concerns outweigh logistical issues of convention attendees.

The violence and aggressive rhetoric at campaign events this year raised concerns about violence at both conventions. The Orlando shootings have added to worries that the conventions could be terrorism targets.

A delegate considers souvenirs during the Nevada Republican state convention on May 14.ENLARGE
A delegate considers souvenirs during the Nevada Republican state convention on May 14. PHOTO: ASSOCIATED PRESS

It’s Been Built. Will They Come?

For two years the Republican National Committee has worked to exceed previous conventions. Top staffers skilled in event planning, high-dollar fundraising, communications, and the logistical work that goes into an event of such massive proportions relocated to Cleveland to help pull off a world-class convention.

Then came Donald Trump.

Mr. Trump is the presumptive nominee but faces a very difficult path to defeat Hillary Clinton. Many top Republicans are declining to support him or have stated their support in milquetoast terms, and some have decided to skip what they see as a Trump coronation that would be devastating to GOP hopes in November. Fundraising for the convention has been down, as will be totals for candidates hoping to raise money there. Private events around the convention, which typically feature prominent musical acts, are struggling for sponsors. Sponsors of the 2012 convention that have not signed up for this year’s convention include Ford, JPMorgan Chase, Motorola and Wells Fargo. The Democratic convention may suffer as well, thanks to corporations and brands that want to steer clear of Mr. Trump also hesitating to appear to favor one party over another.

Convention floors are often packed with boisterous crowds decked out in red, white, and blue. Trump supporters will no doubt be boisterous, but will the convention and surrounding events be packed–or will we see empty seats?



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