If Donald Trump’s presidential campaign thrust the GOP into the five stages of grief, then it looks like many Republicans have finally reached acceptance.
Trump is their likely nominee.
That realization, however unfathomable it may have seemed just a few months ago, seemed to sink in this week during the Republican National Committee’s spring meeting, held Wednesday through Friday at the Diplomat Resort & Spa in Hollywood. It helped Trump that the meeting began a day after he thumped his competition in the New York primary.
“Is Donald Trump gaining support? Absolutely,” Massachusetts committeeman Ron Kaufman said. “When you win a state as diverse as New York, when you win a state as big as New York by 40 points it tells you a whole lot. Trump is doing so well. It’s pretty stunning.”
Is Donald Trump gaining support? Absolutely.
Massachusetts Committeeman Ron Kaufman
It also helped that Trump dispatched the latest additions to his campaign team, both Republican veterans, to assure the party elite Thursday night — in a private, happy-hour briefing that included oysters, shrimp dipped in remoulade and an open bar — that he doesn’t really view the GOP as the nemesis he portrays on the stump.
Chief strategist Paul Manafort and political director Rick Wiley delivered a PowerPoint presentation painting Trump as the man who could defeat “crooked” Hillary Clinton, the likely Democratic nominee, by playing in swing and blue states where Trump could have more appeal than other Republicans. They tried to portray the message that the Trump campaign isn’t anti-RNC.
“Trump is an outsider — that’s why many of you don’t know him,” Manafort said, according to a recording of the session obtained by the Washington Post. “But when he is sitting in a room, he’s talking business, talking politics in a private room, it is a different persona. When he is out on stage, when he is talking about the kinds of things that he is talking on the stump, he is projecting an image that is for that purpose.”
The Trump presentation left a good impression on some Republicans who remain neutral in the contest.
“I think it resolved some of the concern and angst that some members expressed,” New Hampshire committeeman Steve Duprey said. “They have gotten the message that it is counter-productive to attack the RNC.”
“The Trump campaign is learning as they go,” Nebraska GOP chairman Dan Welch said. “They are starting to get a better understanding of what the rules of the game are.”
That’s not to say that Trump’s work winning over skeptical Republican leaders is over.
There were few signs at the meeting of the “Never Trump” movement that failed to defeat Trump in Florida’s March 15 primary (though it then scored a victory of sorts when Texas Sen. Ted Cruz won the April 5 Wisconsin primary). The most active anti-Trump group, Our Principles PAC, distributed fliers to RNC members Friday titled “Donald Trump voter guide.” They showed a photo of Clinton at Trump’s wedding and noted that Trump was once a Democrat.
“Bimbo. Dog. Fat pig. This is how Donald Trump publicly refers to women,” stated one mailer. “Is that really OK with you?”
Widespread concerns about Trump’s shortcomings remained among some Republican activists who attended the meeting.
Jeff Larson, a Texas Republican, was skeptical about the Trump campaign overtures this week.
Why isn’t he here? The other two candidates were here.
GOP activist Jeff Larson of Texas
“The Trump campaign is trying to reach out, but there is a little skepticism here that they are trying to make the right effort to do so,” said Larson, who backs Cruz. “It seems half-hearted. Why isn’t he here? The other two candidates were here. They are quote, ‘trying to make nice.’ There is a lot of promise and not as much delivery.”
But even some Republicans who still back other candidates have seen a change in the Trump campaign.
“Right now, I think they are in damage-control mode, which is not uncommon for an undisciplined candidate,” said Willes Lee, a Republican activist from Hawaii, who is bound to Cruz. However, he added, “Trump is becoming more disciplined, and that’s heartening.”
If Trump falls just short of the 1,237 delegates required to win the nomination, a majority of delegates will probably pick him anyway, said several party leaders, including Florida GOP Chairman Blaise Ingoglia, who argued that a Trump presidency would be better than a Clinton one.
“I think the delegates are really going to take that into consideration,” he said. “There are greater things at stake.”
At Friday’s session, RNC chairman Reince Priebus made his case for party unity without calling out Trump — though he alluded to him.
“I know our candidates are going to say some things to attract attention. That’s part of politics,” he said. “But we all need to get behind the nominee.”