GOP convention staff prepares for Trump nomination

Story highlights

  • Trump said he wants the convention to have a "showbiz" feel
  • The Republican convention will be in Cleveland in July

Cleveland (CNN)When Donald Trump rolls into the Buckeye State, he's looking for a little more glitz and glamour -- and perhaps fewer stodgy speeches that have served as the hallmark of traditional Republican conventions.

Trump, who has said he wants the convention to have a "showbiz" feel and dismissed the 2012 convention as "boring," is still planning to unveil his running mate during the four-day festivities, a move that already adds an element of suspense absent from recent conservative confabs.
    But in a full day of meetings with the Republican National Convention crew last week, top Trump aides were more focused on getting a lay of the land than putting Trump's gold-plated touch on the festivities, according to convention staffers.
    For Team Trump, which hoped to lock down the nomination as early as possible in part to exert more sway over convention proceedings, it was the first step in getting up to speed.
    For some GOP staffers who've already dedicated more than a year to convention planning, it was a relief to finally have a nominee -- even if it was a month earlier than expected after Ted Cruz and John Kasich suddenly dropped from the race.
    "There was always going to be a nominee and there was always going to be a merge," said Chris McNulty, director of community and political affairs for the convention. "It's exciting to have that clarity and start working together as a team."
    As for fitting into Trump's showbiz theme, convention staffers said they weren't overly concerned. Some have already begun compiling a list of celebrities who have publicly endorsed Trump in the hopes they may pitch in come July.
    Without the threat of a contested convention, local officials are equally eager for the spotlight to shift to the Buckeye State.
    "Donald Trump knows how to attract an audience, and I do believe this will be the most watched convention in history," said Rob Frost, chairman of the Cuyahoga County Republican Party.
    Frost admitted Trump's off-the-cuff style can fray some officials' nerves, but predicted Americans "will be more interested in this than 'American Idol.' "
    It appears some corporate sponsors aren't convinced, preferring to sit on the sidelines or play a less prominent role in a convention spotlighting a GOP nominee who has made comments that have offended women and minorities.
    The convention's host committee is about $7 million to $8 million short of its $64 million fundraising goal, said David Gilbert, president and CEO of the Cleveland 2016 Host Committee.
    "I wouldn't say there has been no effect from who the nominee is, but I would say that it is not nearly what's been portrayed," Gilbert said. "We have no doubts that we're gonna easily make it to the end."
    In their first round of meetings with convention staffers last week, top Trump aides -- including convention manager Paul Manafort, political director Rick Wiley and legal counsel Don McGahn -- got their first glimpse at the local digs, including the Quicken Loans Arena and the convention center. They received updates on everything from production and communications to transportation and security -- as well as the limited time frame ahead for Trump to put his own stamp on the program.
    In some ways, the initial meeting was "sort of like a first date," said Dave O'Neil, a spokesman for the convention.
    While much of the planning has already been set in motion, such as the location and the stage design, Trump and his team will play a pivotal role in crafting the program. But they didn't drop any hints as to who they'll feature in the lineup.
    Plenty of Republicans have made it clear they're not particularly enthusiastic about the spectacle.
    Four of the last five GOP nominees -- Mitt Romney, John McCain, George W. Bush and George H.W. Bush -- have said they plan to skip this year's convention. Only 1996 Republican nominee Bob Dole has said he will attend. Meanwhile, House Speaker Paul Ryan, the convention chair, sent shockwaves through the party when he told CNN he's "just not ready" to throw his support behind Trump.
    The snub has left behind a sour taste for GOP officials who are still aiming for unity this summer. And, perhaps more importantly, victory in November.
    "We need Mitt Romney and those who have come before to lend their voices to how we win this November," Frost said. "I mean, he lost last time. We have been working to learn from that loss. He apparently hasn't."
    "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all," Frost said of Romney's highly public efforts to thwart Trump. "He's speaking out in a way that's just not helpful."