It’s here: the most anticipated Republican National Convention in recent memory, featuring the phenomenon of a presidential candidate who rewrote modern campaign rules and whose resounding nomination will finally prove to party elites that they can’t ignore their frustrated grassroots.
Or, if you prefer: the most dreaded Republican National Convention in recent memory, featuring the most disliked presidential nominee in U.S. history, for a party so fractured that some of its nervous members openly worry whether it will heal or permanently splinter.
This is how a divided Republican Party heads into its convention in Cleveland, which will culminate with Donald Trump’s nomination as the GOP candidate to the presidency. The next four days will shape how the GOP approaches the Nov. 8 general election — and, perhaps, politics for years to come.
The heart of the action will be at Quicken Loans Arena, or The Q — where LeBron James now plays — in downtown Cleveland. The city has been blocked off into secure zones, with roads closed and reporters staked out at key locations to watch speeches and votes inside — and protests and parades outside.
Much of the politicking, though, will happen far from the convention hall and the demonstrations. Although Florida delegates have will have front-and-center seating at the arena — a position just behind Trump’s home state of New York — their hotel is nine miles away, in suburban Independence, Ohio. They’ll gather there for daily political breakfasts — including with former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy — and to be shuttled off to private programs, like a tour of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and a “Red, White and Brew” night with the Arizona delegation.
Here are three Florida politics questions the convention will help answer:
Who will unofficially kick off their 2018 election campaigns?
Forget 2016. The quadrennial convention presents a perfect opportunity for politicians who intend to run in 2018 to start working key party players. That’s why the biggest day on the week’s calendar for Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam is Tuesday. Putnam will host a “Florida Grown” breakfast featuring top-flight guests: former presidential candidate Ben Carson and up-and-coming U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas. Putnam intends to run for governor in two years.
Gov. Rick Scott isn’t hosting a similar event. But he, too, is expected to be laying the groundwork to campaign next election cycle for the U.S. Senate. Scott all but endorsed Trump ahead of the Florida primary and then formally gave him his support immediately after Trump’s sweeping victory. He was rewarded with a convention speaking role, though his name didn’t appear on the program the RNC published Sunday night. (His political consultant, Melissa Stone, said it appeared to be an “oversight.”)
Which brings us to …
How will Florida’s convention speakers do?
Scott may be the state’s highest-ranking elected Republican, but he won’t be the only Florida politician getting national attention at the convention. Getting a prime-time slot is Attorney General Pam Bondi, who will speak about law enforcement. She gave Trump his most prominent Florida endorsement ahead of the March 15 primary.
Bondi, a longtime Trump friend, is generally comfortable on camera and could use her speech to audition for a spot in his Cabinet. The spotlight doesn’t come without political risk, however: Bondi’s moment will inevitably draw uncomfortable attention — again — to the fact that as attorney general she declined to investigate fraud claims against the now-defunct Trump University after receiving a $25,000 contribution to her political committee from Trump in 2013.
Scott will speak Thursday, sometime before Trump. Bondi will speak Wednesday, sometime before Trump’s running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence.
And no, former University of Florida quarterback Tim Tebow is not speaking.
Will Trump win over hesitant delegates?
Just because convention delegates plan to nominate Trump doesn’t mean they’re all happy about it. Florida is sending some delegates who were particularly vocal Trump opponents during the primary. Several Miami-Dade County delegates have gone as far as to say privately that they’re being “punished” by the Trump campaign — getting ignored ahead of local Trump events — for failing to fall in line and remaining loyal to Trump rivals like Marco Rubio.
“I doubt that that’s only in Miami,” said local GOP Chairman Nelson Diaz, who has no such qualms about Trump. “I think that’s true of a lot of places. And I don’t think Miami Republicans are being excluded from anything, by any means.”
Still, the obvious enthusiasm gap could deteriorate Florida’s national GOP clout — and pose a problem for Trump moving forward: Delegates tend to be among the most involved GOP members, the ones who volunteer on campaigns and persuade their relatives, friends and co-workers to go out to vote. The convention is Trump’s biggest opportunity to win over skeptics and create some semblance of Republican Party unity. Will he seize it?
Herald/Times staff writer Steve Bousquet contributed to this report from Tallahassee.