The majority of Republican politicians and operatives will learn about the details of this week’s convention in the same manner most Americans do — by watching it unfold on TV.
The lack of information is a byproduct of an unusual spring and summer, when the coronavirus pandemic upended two sets of in-person convention plans for both Charlotte, N.C., and Jacksonville, Fla., and forced top Trump officials and allies to scramble to hastily organize and pull off the convention in roughly a month. Planning such an event typically takes more than a year.
“We had four weeks to plan this thing,” said one Republican close to the convention planning. “Caressing everyone’s hair in the process goes by the wayside.”
State party officials, delegates and operatives say they aren’t panicking about the dearth of information, and the campaign on Sunday did release a list of speakers for the four-day event, which is heavy on Trump family members and top administration officials, less so on prominent Capitol Hill Republicans.
Still, the party faithful have little idea of what to expect from this convention, which is meant to unify Republicans and rally them and others around President Donald Trump as he seeks re-election. Some speakers, like Lieutenant Gov. Jeanette Nuñez of Florida, were unclear as of late last week from where they would speak — in D.C. or their home state — or the exact format of their remarks.
The chairman of the Massachusetts Republican Party, Jim Lyons, didn’t know whether the convention would be partially virtual or not, while a Republican strategist, Pat Griffin, based in Boston and New Hampshire, said he was also unclear on how the convention would play out and whether it would receive the same amount of attention as past conventions.
As former Rep. Lou Barletta (R-Pa.), one of the president’s staunchest allies, who attended President Donald Trump’s event in the swing state last Thursday, put it: “It’s like planning a wedding and having to move at the last minute, and all that can go wrong or right in something like this. But I’m sure they’ll have everything worked out. I don’t really know what the rest of the week will look like as far as programming.”
“There’s just been very little communication with Republican officials and their staffs,” one Republican congressional aide told POLITICO. “There doesn’t seem to be much of an organized surrogate plan. I’d be shocked if they can put together four nights of programming without a major catastrophe.”
Other Republicans tried to cast the lack of information as part of the routine for the reality TV star-turned president.
“That is how Trump operates,” said state Rep. Blaise Ingoglia of Florida, a Republican. “He loves the big reveal. I think that’s what you are seeing here.”
Trump aides and advisers say they are confident they will pull off a smart and slickly produced convention, especially after watching the Democratic convention last week and taking notes on what worked. The Trump team closely studied Republican conventions from 2016 and 2012 for clues, and felt as though segments featuring normal Americans were often far more powerful than speeches by career politicians or lawmakers.
Instead of a parade of current and former top party and establishment figures, the Trump team wants to highlight the experiences of Americans — similar to the way the president did in his last State of the Union address, when he highlighted a U.S. Army veteran, a mother who hoped to send her daughter to a different school, and Carl and Marsha Mueller, parents of Kayla Mueller, a humanitarian aid worker kidnapped and killed by ISIS.
The Muellers are also scheduled to speak at the Republican National Convention, along with Alice Johnson, whose prison sentence on drug-related charges Trump commuted, and Clarence Henderson, a civil rights figure.
The capstone event will be the president accepting his nomination on Thursday night from the White House.
The Trump campaign has been holding daily calls with the Republican National Committee to coordinate the speakers and themes of every night. Aides are hopeful this week will help them draw a sharper contrast with former vice president Joe Biden, the Democratic nominee — even if delegates, operatives and strategists are unsure of the schedule.
“Last week, it was a massive grievance fest. We didn’t hear about the vision for the future, how their policies would help people,” Jason Miller, a senior adviser to the Trump campaign, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday. “There’s a reason for that. The reason is because they didn’t want to talk about the $4 trillion in tax hikes, a Green New Deal. At a time when we can’t afford to stop our economy and our economic growth, they want to throw it in reverse and go back to the policies of the past. That’s wrong.”
The Republican National Convention essentially turned into two separate events this week: The official party business and delegates would meet in Charlotte on Sunday and Monday, while the evening televised speeches and programming would happen Monday through Thursday. The Republican close to the convention planning said GOP politicians and operatives “know everything they need to know about the official business, and they can sit back and watch the show.”
“The convention in Charlotte is really only going to last a day or two,” one Republican operative from Pennsylvania said. “It’s not a hell of a lot that’s going to go on.”
The split essentially allowed the GOP to siphon the more mundane tasks of the convention to off-screen, while the televised program will be all about Trump, his supporters, his accomplishments and his vision for a second term — including the way another four years under this leadership contrasts with Biden, and all with his showman’s flair.
“When you’re in the opposition party, obviously you attack the incumbent, and that’s to be expected,” Harmeet Dhillon, a Fox News contributor, RNC member from California and former chair of the San Francisco Republican Party said about the Democrats’ convention. “But what you also expect is to further challenge or party — or to offer their alternative vision of America. And I didn’t hear that. I heard a very dark, negative and, frankly, false portrayal of America, coupled with, like, platitudes, bumper-sticker slogans,”
“I think the president is going to come in on Thursday for his acceptance speech, and the speakers who speak before him are going to talk about facts,” Dhillon added. “Not emotion, not like the Democrats’ stage-managed, dark vision of, like, this is a ‘Mad Max/Beyond Thunderdome’ view of the world. It’s going to be reality-based — what the next four years are going to bring.”
Dhillon said most delegates from Charlotte would not attend the speech in person in Washington, D.C., and said she was still weighing whether she should go. Her spouse is not comfortable with extensive travel right now because of Covid-19.
The biggest challenge for the Republicans will be trying to capture Americans’ attention at a time of great uncertainty because of the pandemic and the economic downturn.
“One of the things they should be concerned about, if they’re not, I’m sure they are, is trying to drive some eyes to this thing because the Democrats did not get the kind of attention they hoped to,” added Griffin, the Republican strategist from Boston and New Hampshire. “Part of this may be to keep people in a little bit of suspense in terms of what they’re doing and how they’re doing it, but I don’t know why they wouldn’t begin communicating something.”
Matt Dixon, Gary Fineout, Carla Marinucci, Stephanie Murray and Holly Otterbein contributed to this report.
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