Republicans talked about him in hushed tones along hallways, in line to get coffee, even as they washed their hands in the restroom — though they rarely uttered his name from the microphone.
Donald Trump didn’t actually attend Thursday’s GOP powwow in Hollywood as his rivals had a day earlier. But no one could deny his presence.
It wasn’t only because Trump’s newly hired political hands, Paul Manafort and Rick Wiley, hung around the Diplomat Resort & Spa to privately assure Republicans that the presidential front-runner’s campaign is becoming more organized and traditional ahead of Trump’s likely nomination.
Even the parts of the day that weren’t about Trump were about Trump.
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The most anticipated session of the Republican National Committee’s three-day spring meeting took place Thursday afternoon. It was a dry discussion about the obscure rules that govern the party’s quadrennial presidential convention.
Party leaders chose not to recommend a single rules change — even though they usually do before a convention — to avoid any perception of anti-Trump bias. Trump has spent weeks railing against the GOP, laying the groundwork for a possible contested convention if he fails to obtain a majority of delegates once the last primaries take place June 7.
“If we changed a semicolon to a comma, there probably would be a debate about why that was so important, and one candidate would think it was to favor another candidate,” said Georgia committeeman Randy Evans, who opposed any changes.
If we changed a semicolon to a comma, there probably would be a debate about why that was so important.
RNC committeeman Randy Evans of Georgia
Two big changes had been proposed. One challenged keeping Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada as the first states to host voting contests. That one was postponed.
The second proposal centered on whether the convention, procedurally speaking, should be run under the Florida House of Representatives’ parliamentary rules, or under Robert’s Rules of Order.
Not exactly riveting. But its chief proponent, Oregon committeeman Solomon Yue, maintained moving to Robert’s rules would lessen the power of the GOP establishment that has been reluctant to warm to Trump.
The idea was shot down, though not without a little rules drama. Yue’s backers tried to get a subcommittee to study his proposal. His opponents blocked one of their own RNC staffers from making a presentation explaining the two sets of parliamentary procedures.
In the end, the lack of any action — which is what RNC Chairman Reince Priebus wanted all along — brought relief to most party members.
“Keep moving — nothing to see here!” Florida committeeman Peter Feaman said.
Earlier in the day, RNC members heard from Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a Trump supporter who cautioned the party against any convention “monkey business.”
“We have got to be transparent,” Scott said. “We can’t take the chance that we’re accused of any monkey business, tricks, stunts — anything.”
We can’t take the chance that we’re accused of any monkey business, tricks, stunts — anything.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott
Scott didn’t mention Trump. Instead, he focused on his favorite subject — jobs — and chided all the Republican candidates for failing to make that a central campaign issue.
“We know how tall their boots are. We know the size of their hands. We know who’s got the best hair,” he said. “What are we missing? What have we not talked about? Jobs. If you talk to anybody — even in our state, where we are heading in the right direction — the job market, growing this economy, is still the most important thing on the average person’s mind.”
Speaking to reporters after his speech, Scott defended his decision to keep Trump out of his remarks.
“I think he’s the best candidate to win in November,” he said. But, he added, “I used the microphone to brag about Florida.”