WASHINGTON | The Republican Party consummates its love-hate relationship with Donald Trump at its national convention this week in Cleveland. Don’t expect the typical four-day love fest.
The presumptive nominee is unpredictable and prone to veer off-message. Plenty of party faithful arrive carrying reservations about the nominee along with their luggage. There are #NeverTrump-ers still hoping to alter the course of history. Protesters may be out in force. And a large swath of GOP regulars will simply sit this one out.
Some things to watch for this week:
For months, say-anything Trump has been promising to be more presidential when the time is right. His speech to the convention Thursday night is the moment to prove he can do it. But Trump’s had mixed success with past efforts to rein in his run-on mouth. He’s not a natural with a teleprompter and can come across as rather flat when he’s reading from a script. Watch to see if he can find a comfortable middle ground — maintaining the tell-it-like-it-is style that has endeared him to some voters while toning down the excesses that have turned off others.
WHIPS AND CHAINS
A conservative cabal hoping to derail Trump’s nomination is on life support. There were jokes that the convention’s rules committee had employed chains, whips and muzzles last week as it crushed an effort to let delegates back the candidate of their choice. The dissidents may make a last-ditch effort to get the full convention to revisit that idea. And there is sure to be an extra element of drama to the roll call of the states meant to deliver the nomination to Trump. All sides will be watching for lingering evidence of dissent. And there’s always the possibility that protesters will try to do something disruptive inside the convention hall.
The convention will be a coming-out of sorts for Trump’s vice presidential pick, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence. The former congressman is well known to GOP insiders as a steady conservative, but he’s far from a household name to the American public at large. In a recent CBS News poll, 86 percent of respondents said they didn’t know enough about Pence to have an opinion. Pence, who once described his style as “Rush Limbaugh on decaf,” is expected to offer a calming contrast to Trump but can be hard-hitting when he wants. Watch what role he chooses to play in his Wednesday night speech at the convention: Democratic attack-dog? Christian standard-bearer? Congressional wheeler-dealer? All of the above? And keep an eye on what the chemistry — if any — looks like between Pence and Trump. They barely know each other.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, the convention chairman, has run hot, cold and lukewarm on Trump. He endorsed the GOP’s presumptive nominee belatedly and subsequently denounced Trump for “racist” comments. Ryan will be on difficult terrain at the convention, trying to unify the fractured party while holding himself at arm’s distance from its combative nominee. He’ll be shooting for a Goldilocks moment — not too hot, not too cold — with his policy-focused speech Tuesday night. Plenty of other GOP legislators will be trying to navigate similarly difficult pathways.
GOT A NOTE FROM MOM?
Given the GOP’s conflicted relationship with its nominee, the list of convention no-shows could be as notable as the lineup of speakers and attendees. Check out the explanations offered by those steering clear of Cleveland. Some will be up-front about wanting to keep their distance from Trump; others will deliver dog-ate-my-homework excuses to be elsewhere.
COULD BE AWKWARD
Remember when all eyes were on the likes of Jeb Bush, Scott Walker and Ted Cruz as top contenders to win the Republican presidential nomination? While Bush, John Kasich and some other vanquished hopefuls will avoid the convention hall, those who do show up will face the somewhat awkward task of completing their transformation from anti-Trumps to cheerleaders. Cruz, Walker, Chris Christie, Ben Carson and Mike Huckabee all are in the Cleveland speaker’s lineup. You can bet Trump critics will dredge up all the nasty things they said about Trump during the primaries.
Don’t get your hopes up. Republicans always have a harder time recruiting Hollywood A-listers than do Democrats, and Trump is an even tougher draw than usual. The underwhelming lineup will include actor Scott Baio, Duck Dynasty’s Willie Robertson and actress Kimberlin Brown. Also on the list are actor and former underwear model Antonio Sabato Jr., and pro golfer Natalie Gulbis.
It’s the GOP’s week but don’t forget about the Democrats. While Trump has his party in Cleveland, Hillary Clinton will be zeroing in on a running mate and prepping for her convention a week later. She’ll be campaigning in the same state and addressing the NAACP in Cincinnati on Monday and running plenty of convention counterprogramming with anti-Trump ads.
FER AND AGIN’
Conventions always draw protesters; Trump’s polarizing campaign is expected to attract more than usual. Authorities are preparing for spontaneous gatherings and the potential for violence. Among the groups that have applied for permits or announced protest plans: Black Lives Matter and Stand Together Against Trump, a group that opposes the GOP presumptive nominee’s proposal to freeze entry into the U.S. of people from places with a history of terrorism. Pro-Trump groups will be gathering outside the convention hall, too: including Bikers for Trump, Tea Partiers for Trump and Truckers for Trump.