Can Trump unite GOP at convention?

Donald Trump will make history this week at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.

Within a year’s time, the billionaire real estate mogul has defied expectations in Nevada and throughout the U.S. as a tide of anti-establishment sentiment worked in his favor. GOP voters backed him to be their presidential nominee over a slew of traditional candidates, including U.S. senators, governors and former governors.

Trump is the presumptive Republican nominee, a nontraditional candidate without elected experience who emerged from a pool of 17 candidates. With a catchy campaign slogan of “Make America Great Again,” Trump says he wants to bring overseas jobs back to the U.S., and build a wall along the border with Mexico. He touted his business background. Republican voters liked what they saw.

Trump will make his deal with GOP voters official at the four-day convention that starts Monday. It’s not with unanimous support. Some within the party have fretted that voters in November will be alienated by Trump’s off-the-cuff statements on topics such as women, undocumented immigrants and U.S. Sen. John McCain’s past as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. But others, including Nevada’s leadership, have pushed for unity in the weeks leading up to the event.

The opposition has failed to make headway. Lingering anti-Trump Republicans held out hope last week that the convention could work against Trump in an upset. Party insiders and delegates say efforts to game the system and ignore the will of more than 13 million GOP voters who cast ballots for Trump are futile.

That’s already becoming true.

The resistance to Trump weakened considerably in the run-up to the convention, when its rules committee adopted amendments to national party rules that ensure delegates are bound to presidential candidates in the first round of voting. Jordan Ross of Laughlin, a Nevada representative on the 112-member rules committee, drafted and introduced the amendments.

Nevada Republican Party Chairman Michael McDonald has worked beyond the Silver State’s border to advocate for Trump and persuade Republicans to unite behind the candidate.

That work includes emails, phone calls and traveling.

“There’s a lot of people that were anti-Trump that are now for Mr. Trump,” McDonald said in an interview. “They’re looking past the convention, which is a very good sign.”

McDonald stressed that unity is the goal and people can change by having open discussions.

“We talked to people that were anti-Trump and a lot of them have seen the light,” he said.

RULES AND NUMBERS

The anti-Trump movement tried to make the case that delegates should be “unbound,” and free to support whoever they wish when the first round of delegate votes is cast. Under the rules, if Trump doesn’t get at least 1,237 delegates in the first round of voting, then delegates are unbound and can pick someone else to support.

Trump has 1,543 delegates supporting him, according to an Associated Press count. That’s well ahead of the threshold he needs to clinch the nomination at the convention, where 2,472 delegates will vote. The 1,543 total includes 95 delegates who are unbound and can back whoever they want.

The Nevada Republican Party is sending 30 delegates and 27 alternates to the convention, which ends Thursday with the nomination.

The delegate breakdown reflects the wide margin of Trump’s win in February’s Republican caucus in Nevada. Fourteen of Nevada’s GOP delegates are bound to Trump; seven are bound to U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, six are bound to U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, and one is bound to Ohio Gov. John Kasich. The remaining two delegates were initially bound to retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, who released them, meaning they are free to support any candidate. All except Trump have pulled out of the race.

Some high-profile Nevada Republicans won’t be at the convention. The list of those sitting out the convention includes Gov. Brian Sandoval and all four congressional Republicans from Nevada: U.S. Rep. Joe Heck, U.S. Rep. Cresent Hardy, U.S. Sen. Dean Heller and U.S. Rep. Mark Amodei. However, state Attorney General Adam Laxalt, Controller Ron Knecht and Treasurer Dan Schwartz will attend.

Trump is expected to face presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in November. The four-day Democratic National Convention starts July 25 in Philadelphia.

STATE DELEGATE PERSPECTIVES

Knecht, a delegate, said he’s supporting Trump, though he had previously supported or attended events with several former GOP candidates, including Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, former corporate executive Carly Fiorina, and retired neurosurgeon Carson. He also hosted a reception for former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and introduced U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky at an event in Carson City.

Among Nevada Republicans, the joke on the Lincoln Day dinner circuit as his earlier choices dropped out was “maybe Ron needs to endorse Bernie (Sanders) and Hillary,” Knecht said.

Knecht said he is anticipating a smooth convention.

“My guess is if you’re looking for drama and you’re looking for turmoil, it’s going to be pretty disappointing,” he said.

Knecht also said the convention could strengthen Trump’s hand.

“I can see there’s a real possibility if the Trump people play their cards right, I can see a good possibility of a coalescing of unity,” he said.

Knecht said it’s more important to look at Trump’s policies and the direction he wants to take the nation than to dwell on the candidate’s headline-generating comments.

“He’s said a lot of things that I think he’d like to take back and that are unfortunate and some of them can be taken out of context and some of them are plain wrong,” Knecht said. “But we go forward.”

Amy Tarkanian, a Nevada delegate, had supported Fiorina initially and later moved on to Kasich. After the Ohio governor dropped out, Tarkanian decided to support whoever became the eventual GOP nominee.

“I always said I would support the nominee and that’s what I’m doing,” said Tarkanian, the wife of Danny Tarkanian, the Republican candidate for the 3rd Congressional District.

Nevada’s delegation includes ardent Trump supporter Eddie Hamilton, who made a quixotic run for the GOP nomination in Nevada’s U.S. Senate race touting his support of Trump. He lost to Heck.

“We’re going to be on the lookout for all kinds of shenanigans” designed to keep Trump from being picked, Hamilton said.

Hamilton said he’s been flooded with emails from various anti-Trump groups.

“I just ignore them,” Hamilton said.

In at least one regard, the convention will play out like any other: with Republican officials hoping to keep the convention running smoothly and not upsetting the party faithful.

That goal, like the delegate math, works out in Trump’s favor and against those angling for a last-minute change.

“I think even the guys that don’t necessarily like Trump but are higher up in the RNC — in the political establishment — they’re smart enough to see if they tried to pull a stunt like that, it would be political suicide,” said Rob Tyree, another Nevada delegate. “You’d have so many people that would scream disenfranchisement.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Contact Ben Botkin at bbotkin@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2904. Find @BenBotkin1 on Twitter.

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