6 dynamics at play in the Republican convention in Cleveland

It won’t be contested, but the Republican National Convention won’t exactly be conventional either, particularly when presidential candidate Donald Trump is the de facto host. Here’s what to watch for.

Platform drama, no-shows, an anti-Trump coup plot and the fate of his vice-presidential pick

U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump will play host at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland's Quicken Loans Arena on Monday. Though this convention won't be contested, that doesn't mean it won't be contentious. (Nancy Wiechec/Reuters)

It wouldn't be much of a party for Republicans in Cleveland without some party tricks.

Delegates attending this week's Republican National Convention have a few in mind. Still others are just looking forward to a good show with some drama, much of it coming from a vocal #NeverTrump insurgency operating within Cleveland's Quicken Loans Arena.

Some of the internal rancour has somewhat settled before the four-day convention opens on Monday. An anti-Trump group tried — and failed — to scuttle the nomination process through a rule change. They failed again on Monday.

As for other wild cards and things to expect? Watch for possible dissension between Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's views and how the party's platform will be defined for the next four years. Don't rule out surprise pushback to Trump's vice-presidential pick. And pay attention not just to what Ted Cruz says, but when he gets to say it.

Here are a few things to watch for in the coming days in Cleveland.

A curious assortment of speakers

LPGA golfer Natalie Gulbis will be among the unconventional speakers to deliver a keynote address at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland this week. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

No, former Alaska governor Sarah Palin will not be making a keynote, according to a "partial list" of convention speakers released last week.

But if you were itching to hear ruminations on the state of America from the actors who portrayed Jagger on General Hospital and Sheila on The Young and the Restless and The Bold and the Beautiful, you're in luck. Soap stars Antonio Sabato, Jr. and Kimberlin Brown are both scheduled speakers. Also in the lineup is Dana White, president of the Ultimate Fighting Championship. A "fuller list" of speakers released Sunday night includes actor Scott Baio from Charles in Charge and Happy Days and its short-lived spin-off Joanie Loves Chachi.

"Donald Trump is an unconventional candidate and there are unconventional people who will take the stage next week," convention organizers stated.

They weren't kidding.

Republican stars such as House Speaker Paul Ryan and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker will share the main stage with less politically familiar names like 484th-ranked LPGA golfer Natalie Gulbis and Kerry Woolard, the general manager of Trump Winery.

Following the 2012 address from actor-director Clint Eastwood, in which his improvised dialogue with an empty chair became a viral meme, this year's speeches could be memorable in their own way.

Tensions in finalizing the platform

It took a staff of 300 more than month to prepare the Quicken Loans Arena in downtown Cleveland, Ohio, for the convention. (Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press)

If last week's draft platform is any indication, things are certainly going right. The non-binding draft platform is the most conservative in decades.

The party's political blueprint for the next four years will be voted on this week. How Trump's protectionist leanings, his hard line on illegal immigration and his softer stance on LGBT issues end up being reflected in the document will be picked apart by pundits. 

Among the platform committee's conservative planks were amendments on reaffirming explicit support for "traditional marriage," declaring pornography a "public health crisis," and encouraging states to teach the Bible as a literature elective in public schools.

Attempts to insert language proposed by more moderate Republicans to be more inclusive of the LGBT community were rejected. Another plank from a Louisiana delegate approved by the platform committee endorses so-called gay "conversion therapy," which purports to change a person's sexual orientation.

Trump has been described as more accepting of LGBT rights and positioned himself as "friend to the gays" who has supported transgender bathroom access. He has also assailed free trade, which has long played a vital role in Republican orthodoxy. Given these opposing views, it could get interesting in the lead-up to ratification of the platform this week.

A moment for Ted Cruz

Texas senator Ted Cruz, who campaigned against Donald Trump for the Republican nomination before dropping out in May, will speak at the convention. (J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press)

Trump aside, perhaps no convention speaker is as highly anticipated as Ted Cruz. It will be worth watching whether the Texas senator, a fierce rival of Trump's for the nomination, carries his bitter primary feud over into the Q Arena.

Cruz has confirmed that he accepted the Trump campaign's invitation to make a keynote address. But he stopped short of promising an outright endorsement of the man he blasted in May as a "pathological liar" and "utterly amoral."

Convention insiders say it's highly unlikely Cruz will disrupt proceedings that have been billed as a unity gathering to grandstand against Trump, but it should be interesting to see how he couches his language.

Either way, actions would speak louder than his words, especially if Cruz decides to hold on to the 559 bound delegates that the Associated Press estimates he has accrued. "Releasing those delegates is part of being a gracious loser," says one past Republican national committeeman, speaking anonymously.

Still, Cruz has so far declined to do so ahead of Cleveland. Withholding them so they vote Cruz on the first ballot would, as the New York Times noted, feel like an "embarrassing affront" to Trump, and come across as a gesture of mass resistance.

Cruz still commands a loyal following among traditional conservatives and will be given a Wednesday prime-time speaking slot. Any other slot could have been perceived as a "slight," according to a convention insider.

About 15 minutes on stage would be a respectable amount of time for the runner-up in the primaries. "If the other speeches are five-minute slots, that really helps you tell the importance of his story arc," the delegate says.

Coup plots

Kendal Unruh, founder of Free the Delegates, is trying to force a 'minority report' on the convention floor to allow for a debate and vote on a rule amendment to unbind delegates. The rule change is seen as an attempt to unseat Trump. (C-SPAN)

An estimated 400 rebel delegates were pushing for a rules amendment to allow them to "vote their conscience," the end result being that delegates would not be bound to a candidate. It was a last-ditch effort to block Trump from the nomination on the first ballot. So-called "conscience" voters argue they should instead be free to vote for anyone they wish.

The scheme was running on fumes, following a devastating defeat in a rules committee vote on Thursday. But the #NeverTrump camp nevertheless pressed ahead. By Monday afternoon, her scheme to revive the effort failed.

An effort by Delegates Unbound, another anti-Trump group, to force a roll call vote on a rules package was defeated on the convention floor on Monday afternoon. The defeat caused an uproar, with delegates walking out of the convention centre in protest.

A vice-presidential veto

Trump officially announced Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, left, as his running mate this past weekend. (Michael Conroy/Associated Press)

Even if he gets his wish to be the Republican nominee, as expected, Trump may not get his choice for VP ratified outright.

Trump announced on Friday that Indiana Gov. Mike Pence had accepted his offer to occupy the other spot on the ticket. It was a safely conservative choice, coming at a time when scrutiny over his anticipated second-in-command was viewed as a test of his judgment.

There's no legal requirement for any delegate to vote for any particular person to be the vice-presidential nominee. A rejection of Trump's choice by delegates would be an act of protest against a candidate who some conservatives view as too liberal.

Pence is a mainline conservative and an evangelical Christian, which should allay those fears. But he's not without his detractors.

Conservative columnist Ann Coulter, for instance, lamented the VP choice as a "combo-platter of disaster" and blasted him for harbouring liberal views on immigration. She also criticized him for signing a "compromise legislation" after a blowup over his state's religious freedom law, which allowed businesses to discriminate against the LGBT community.

Trump's say over who ought to occupy the other spot on the Republican ticket is viewed as a suggestion that can still be defeated in a floor vote.

"Still, it's inconceivable it would be anybody other than Trump's recommendation," says Jim Bopp, a constitutional scholar and an at-large delegate from Indiana. "But that's what it is — a recommendation."

Prominent no-shows

125,000 balloons and 450 kg of confetti are expected to drop from the rafters when Trump is officially declared the party's nominee Thursday night. (Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press)

South Carolina senator Lindsey Graham won't be there. Neither will Florida senator Marco Rubio. Same goes for former governor Jeb Bush, who indicated he'll probably abstain from voting in November's general election. And don't even bother looking for Ohio Gov. John Kasich, even though the convention is taking place in his backyard.

Some conspicuous absences of establishment Republicans have been noted, with Trump's expected nomination suspected as the primary reason. How these absences affect the mood of the ceremony, or even its star power, will be a point of analysis.

Four out of the last five living Republican presidential nominees — Mitt Romney, John McCain, George W. Bush and George H.W. Bush — are sitting this one out, though Bob Dole will attend. In all, 16 of the 54 Republican senators will shun the convention, according to a count by Talking Points Memo.

Former New Hampshire senator Judd Gregg, speaking to WMUR, apparently has better things to do. His grandchildren were visiting that week anyway, he said, adding that he was "not excited about the direction" of the convention.

Among those staying away is Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake. "I want to be able to support our nominee, I really do," Flake told National Public Radio. "It's not a comfortable position to be where I am, but given some of the positions he's taken … I find it difficult to do so."

Major corporations such as Coca-Cola, Walgreens, Wells Fargo, UPS, Ford and Walmart have also declined this year to make cash donations or drastically cut funding.


About the Author

Matt Kwong


Matt Kwong is a Washington-based correspondent for CBC News. He previously reported for CBC News as an online journalist in New York and Toronto. You can follow him on Twitter at: @matt_kwong


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