Presidential fight has Republicans on edge at Florida resort

Story highlights

  • RNC members meet in Florida this week
  • They will discuss the path forward and a possible contested national convention

(CNN)Republican Party leaders -- as well as candidates Ted Cruz and John Kasich -- will meet at a posh resort in Florida this week, and there's one thing on everyone's mind: Donald Trump, and the potential impact of the presidential front-runner on the future of the GOP.

The internecine battles among Republican National Committee members -- all 168 of whom will be delegates in Cleveland -- echo the battles on the campaign trail: Conservatives fearful of party establishment figures undercutting their preferred candidate. Establishment figures bristling at the brash attempts to change decades of precedent. And an RNC just trying to hold on to some semblance of order.

Party time?

    It's an awkward position for the party leaders from across the nation who typically schmooze and booze at these regular party meetings held in ritzy locations across the nation.
    This week's itinerary includes an exclusive party on the massive Grand Floridian yacht and a dinner with the authors of "13 Hours" -- a book recounting the Benghazi attacks, according to a copy of the agenda provided to CNN. The location itself is a deluxe resort Hollywood, Florida, on a plot overlooking the Atlantic, a little north of Miami.
    But the leaders are unlikely to find much time to relax this week. Trump and Cruz have repeatedly placed the GOP in the center of their monumental nominating fight that could be decided on the convention floor in Cleveland.

    Delegate battles

    The arcane nominating process has dominated the headlines in recent weeks as Trump has made attacking the party's selection process the center of his stump speech.
    Cruz has excelled at the inside game, picking off delegates who are committed to voting for Trump on the first ballot in Cleveland but will flip to his side on the second vote -- positioning himself for a potential convention upset. But Trump has saturated the airwaves, forcing Cruz on the defense in public.
    "All of this noise and complaining and whining has come from the Trump campaign because they don't like the fact that they lost five elections in a row," Cruz said on Sean Hannity's radio show Tuesday, referring to contests over the past three weeks in Utah, North Dakota, Colorado, Wisconsin and Wyoming. "This notion of voter-less elections, it is nonsense."
    About 50 people showed up to a Cruz presentation Wednesday morning, according to an RNC member who was in the room. The focus from Cruz campaign manager Jeff Roe, senior adviser Saul Anuzis and a few others was Cruz's appeal in a general election fight against Hillary Clinton.
    The group, which made their case in a Powerpoint presentation, didn't discuss a specific map to victory but emphasized what they said was Cruz's ability to drive conservatives to the polls in a way that John McCain and Mitt Romney, the party's two most recent nominees, could not.

    Rules fight

    The party's rules panel will meet Thursday to decide whether any nominating boundaries should be proposed for the convention, but the real fighting, haggling and negotiating will be taking place on the sidelines -- over drinks and around the pool at this resort.
    One of the first confrontations is set for when conservatives meet Wednesday morning to hash out a fight over convention and nomination rules that started last week and played out over the weekend.
    Conservative RNC member Solomon Yue is pressing his colleagues to send a rules plan to the convention delegates -- like they typically do -- when they meet this week. But John Ryder, an ally of RNC Chairman Reince Priebus, is arguing same case inside the private meeting that Priebus has been making for more than a week: Don't go anywhere near the convention rules.
    Yue accused Ryder this weekend of attempting to stifle his rules plan and of relying on a team of Priebus supporters to block any measures at all when the rules panel meets Thursday. Yue said Priebus' argument is: "Let's pass the buck to the convention rules committee."
    Ryder deferred comment Tuesday to RNC chief strategist and spokesman Sean Spicer. But other RNC members who are concerned about the long-term damage possible from this year's primary fight have urged caution, saying this is no regular nominating battle.

    Carson to appear on behalf of Trump

    Trump's campaign is dispatching Ben Carson to the meeting as part of a behind-the-scenes lobbying effort.
    Carson is scheduled to speak with party leaders when Trump campaign leaders Paul Manafort and Rick Wiley host their strategy session here Thursday evening.
    Cruz is scheduled to meet privately with leaders Wednesday afternoon and then speak at the party's reception, Anuzis said. Kasich is scheduled to meet with RNC members Wednesday evening.