WASHINGTON (AP) — Still shaken by Donald Trump’s triumph, Republican and conservative foes of the billionaire can still cause headaches for the party’s presumptive presidential nominee at this summer’s GOP convention. But their options are shrinking by the day.
With Trump’s last two rivals — Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich — abandoning their campaigns, there’s no remaining talk of snatching the nomination away from him with a contested, multi-ballot battle when Republican delegates gather in Cleveland.
Instead, anti-Trump forces are trying to figure out how to use the GOP meetings in July to keep him from reshaping the party and its guiding principles, perhaps with fights over the platform or even his vice presidential pick.
Many expect Trump to build momentum as the convention approaches, narrowing his opponents’ options. Even so, here’s what may be in store:
IT’S OVER? WHAT NOW?
Trump’s foes concede he’s likely to arrive in Cleveland exceeding the 1,237 delegates needed to become the nominee. Yet many are still reeling from the contest’s unexpected finale last week and are just starting to think about what they could do at the convention that would be productive.
“There’s going to be a lot of thinking, a lot of praying and a lot talking between all of us,” said Kay Godwin, a Cruz delegate from Blackshear, Georgia. “I wish I could give you an answer right now but I think if I did, it would be out of emotion.”
“There are probably some who hope Trump will stick his foot in his mouth or some scandal will come out and that they’ll be able to rally everybody at that point, but at this point there’s really nothing they can do” to block his nomination, said Jason Osborne, a GOP consultant.
CONTAINING THE DAMAGE
Many Trump opponents see the Republican platform, the party’s statement of ideals and policy goals, as a place for a stand in Cleveland. The convention’s 2,472 delegates must approve the platform before formally anointing the presidential nominee.
All — including those chosen to support Trump — can vote however they want on the platform. Many conservatives say they will use that vote to keep Trump from reshaping GOP dogma against abortion, for free trade and on other issues. But presidents are not bound by their party platforms and typically ignore planks that don’t fit their agenda once in office.
Even so, a showdown could be an embarrassment he’d seek to avoid by not pushing divisive changes.
“If the party walks away from any of its clearly cut social, family values issues, it will be an issue,” said Tony Perkins, president of the conservative Family Research Council and GOP delegate from Louisiana. “We’re not just going to fall in line because he’s the nominee.”
Trump has said he would seek to include exceptions for rape and incest to the GOP platform’s opposition to abortion. He’s also flouted the party platform by repeatedly criticizing trade deals and calling NATO obsolete.
“We’d want to make sure the platform is protected from Donald Trump,” said Rory Cooper, senior adviser for the Never Trump political committee.
A RUNNING MATE
Trump has said he’d like a vice presidential candidate with government experience.
Yet, as with the platform, delegates can vote as they please in choosing Trump’s running mate. Some opponents suggest they may challenge his choice, either as a protest or to try forcing him to make a different selection.
Recent GOP conventions have approved vice presidential candidates by acclamation and no roll call. But if delegates make enough of a fuss, a roll call with plenty of votes for a rival vice presidential candidate is possible.
“If he wants to dictate who the nominee is” for vice president, “the delegates may not go along,” said Roger Stauter, a Cruz delegate from Madison, Wisconsin, who said he would never support Trump.
Others said the convention would probably defer to Trump’s thinking about a strategically smart choice.
“He could pick somebody we’d all get pretty excited about,” said Shane Goettle, a Cruz delegate from North Dakota.
Conservative talk show host Erick Erickson, a Trump opponent, said he expected delegates to accede to Trump’s selection, saying that by July, “the phases of depression and anger” will subside as Republicans accept “their coming defeat.”
Many expect Trump — star of his own TV reality shows “The Apprentice” and “Celebrity Apprentice” — to run a more watchable convention than usual.
Beth Myers, GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s campaign manager in 2012, was not a Trump supporter during the primaries. But she said Trump knows TV and she expects his convention to outshine the Democrats’ in stagecraft and draw millions more viewers than usual.
“My guess is that the Republican convention will not be a chaotic, contested convention,” she said. “Rather, it will be a production of Trump, Inc., and it will be pretty good live television.”
Some of that glitz may not be by choice. Many Republican bigwigs are expected to shun the convention and avoid giving primetime speeches on Trump’s behalf.
Associated Press writers Julie Pace and Thomas Beaumont contributed to this report.