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Top Republican party officials are about to actively prepare for a brokered convention

"No one is quite sure what will happen," said one participant at the meeting

Washington CNN  — 

Top Republican Party officials have discussed the possibility of a brokered convention, sources told CNN Thursday, a new recognition that the GOP nominating contest could be protracted well into the summer.

At a monthly dinner meeting this week, Republican Party brass decided it would be prudent to plan for a contested convention, which would be triggered if no candidate has enough delegates to win the nomination.

Five sources insisted that while the topic came up during the dinner, it did not dominate the discussion.

Republican strategists have long theorized about the possibility of the brokered convention, which hasn’t happened in decades, but the dinner meeting appears to be the first active planning taken by the GOP to prepare for it.

American president Gerald Ford (left) listens as future American president Ronald Reagan (1911 - 2004) delivers a speech during the closing session of the Republican National Convention on August 19, 1976 in Kansas City, Missouri.

The plans, first reported by The Washington Post, come as 14 Republicans plan to duke it out in the Iowa caucuses, a historically large field that has winnowed slowly. Republicans are worried that – given that many delegates are awarded proportionally – there is a possibility that a brokered convention could happen.

President Gerald Ford and his wife, First Lady Betty Ford, wave to delegates at the Republican National Convention after he was nominated to run for a second term on August 19, 1976 in Kansas City, Missouri.

A brokered convention occurs when no candidate gets enough of the delegates to secure the nomination on the first vote tally. After that, delegates can be given up to other candidates, shifting the balance.

Another contributing factor to concerns about a brokered convention is a new Republican National Committee rule that requires any GOP nominee win a majority of delegates from eight different states, a hurdle that could potentially be too high in such a fractured field.

“No one is quite sure what will happen,” one of the sources said about the meeting, which was attended by about 20 party leaders, including Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Despite persistent worries from Donald Trump’s campaign that Republican party officials may try to elbow him out of the nominating contest, the source said Trump, who has sat atop GOP polls for five months, was not the focus of the planning.

It had “nothing, zero, nada to do with Trump except he may be one of the candidates standing at the end,” said the source. “It was not aimed at anyone.”

Ben Carson responded to the report Friday morning, putting out a press release warning he may consider punishing the GOP for any efforts to rig the game against outsider candidates.

“If the leaders of the Republican Party want to destroy the party, they should continue to hold meetings like the one described in the Washington Post this morning,” Carson said. “If this was the beginning of a plan to subvert the will of the voters and replace it with the will of the political elite, I assure you Donald Trump will not be the only one leaving the party.”

Tensions over planning for a potentially brokered conventions came amid reports that Republican National Committee officials on Wednesday met with Trump staffers, to discuss logistics – including where staff is allocated, hiring plans and digital strategy.

Sean Spicer, RNC chief strategist and communications director, downplayed the significance of the dinner on Friday.

“It was a dinner where the subject was how the delegate selection process works,” Spicer told CNN’s Kate Bolduan. “At the end of that dinner, there were a lot of questions asked.”

As for why the idea came up at all? “It’s great cocktail conversation,” Spicer said.

“This is really, to be honest, with you quite silly.”

Sara Murray contributed to this report.