WASHINGTON — Cleveland has a message for America: Calm down. The convention will be just fine.
Ohio GOP leaders are reluctantly falling in line behind Donald Trump, saying forecasts of chaos and doom for his nominating party in July are overblown.
It is still a high wire act for some. The state’s top leaders, including Governor John Kasich, a former Trump rival for the nomination, and Senator Rob Portman have joined other Republicans in rebuking Trump for comments perceived to be racist about the federal judge in the Trump University civil fraud case.
But the state’s party also is projecting a cheery front and a sense of normalcy, even while faced with an unpredictable nominee with little regard for the Republican establishment or its norms.
Rank-and-file Republicans, including some who embraced the Never Trump movement during the bitter primary, say their sense of duty to their party is overcoming their aversion to the real estate mogul turned reality TV star.
“I have to eat crow because I did not expect Donald Trump to win, but it’s real,” said Tracey Winbush, a conservative talk radio host and member of Ohio’s Republican central committee who will be a delegate at the convention. “He may never be presidential. He may be crass and too outspoken. But people need to bite their tongue, hold their nose, close their eyes, and support the nominee of the Republican party.”
So what if major political figures are vowing to sit this convention out?
“To be blunt about it, good riddance. We don’t need ya,” said Cuyahoga County Councilman Mike Gallagher.
Convention planners aren’t even sweating the fact that some corporations are bowing out from sponsorship, insisting that the host committee is hitting its fund-raising targets. Or that Trump rally after Trump rally have drawn violent protests, a possible preview of what’s to come.
From Cleveland’s point of view, the July 18 show must go on. There was the ribbon cutting last week for a new Hilton hotel, a downtown skyscraper with views of Lake Erie from many of its 600 rooms — booked solid for next month’s convention.
Convention planners are touting a new exhibit at the nearby Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, showcasing the power of rock in politics along with the guitar with which John Lennon performed “Give Peace a Chance” in 1969.
Trump’s team recently descended upon Cleveland for its first convention planning meeting. His campaign manager has spoken with Ohio GOP party chair Matt Borges, who had previously denounced Trump, about moving forward. And last Thursday, House Speaker Paul Ryan, the convention chairman, announced his long-awaited endorsement of Trump.
“Everyone was deeply concerned at one point, but now what you’re seeing every single day is more and more people coming around saying we should unify for the party and for the down-ticket races,” said Mike Shields, former chief of staff for the Republican National Committee. “But Trump has a responsibility to bring the party together, not the other way around.”
There are still some holdouts. Some state party leaders, many of whom had supported Kasich, say they are looking towards their governor for guidance on if and when they should back Trump.
“Saying we’re going to support somebody no matter what is dangerous thinking to me,” said Greg Hartmann, Hamilton County commissioner and Ohio delegate to the convention, who criticized Trump’s most popular sound bites. “We don’t really know what we’re buying at this point.”
Kasich, Trump’s last Republican rival to drop out of the race in early May, recently sent letters to party officials instructing the delegates he had won to remain bound to him at the convention — even as fellow failed presidential contender Marco Rubio said he would release his delegates to support Trump.
“The governor has made clear that he believes that Trump needs to run a more positive campaign that focuses on unifying the country and be clear on his policy positions. This hasn’t happened yet,” said Chris Schrimpf, a Kasich spokesman.
The letters are more symbolic than anything else, because Trump has already amassed the needed number of delegates to clinch the nomination. Kasich, as the sitting governor, can hardly avoid the convention held in his home state.
“I’m not sure what Governor Kasich is doing. The only reason to hold onto delegates is to hope you can be a part of the convention platform,” said U.S. Representative Jim Renacci,cq whose district encompasses nearly half of Cuyahoga County where the convention will be held.
Renacci said he would support Trump as the presumptive nominee. “People are unifying,” Renacci said.
Portman, who is locked in one of the country’s toughest Senate races, has thrown his support behind Trump. As the second name on the Ohio ballot in November, Portman needs Trump to do well in the crucial swing state.
Portman’s campaign said he plans to attend the convention. But “attend” is a relative term.
Portman will spend most of his time at his own events around Cleveland, building a house for Habitat for Humanity and kayaking with wounded veterans on the Cuyahoga River.
Plenty of national GOP figures are actively boycotting or encountering “scheduling conflicts’’ that will keep them away from the four-day extravaganza in the home of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The party’s 2012 nominee, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney who has publicly battled with Trump, has said he would not be attending. Neither is Senator Kelly Ayotte, who is fighting for reelection in New Hampshire.
Also skipping Cleveland: Jeb Bush, President George W. Bush, and the 2008 nominee, Senator John McCain, who is in a heated re-election race in Arizona.
It is not unusual for members of Congress in tight races to sit out their party’s nominating conventions, particularly if the nominee is contentious. Many Congressional Democrats stayed away from the 2012 convention in Charlotte, keeping President Obama and his controversial health care law at arm’s length.
And some companies that have traditionally sponsored the convention are also staying clear or scaling back contributions, following pressure from anti-Trump activist groups. Coca-Cola, which gave $660,000 in 2012, has decided to contribute only $75,000 this year, a shift first reported by the New York Times.
Emily Lauer, a spokeswoman for the Cleveland 2016 Host Committee, insisted that Trump’s emergence as the nominee has had little impact on the committee’s fund-raising. The committee has raised $56 million of its $64 million goal, a figure she said was far ahead of the party’s previous conventions in Tampa and St. Paul at this point.
“The sky is not falling,” Lauer said. “We have had just one company pull back on their commitment to us since Trump became the presumptive nominee.”
She would not divulge the company’s name.