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 to ensure that delegates to 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 national 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 at over 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.”