WASHINGTON—As the head of a party turned upside down by its nominating fight, Reince Priebus says Republicans need, “more than ever,” to have a unifying convention this month.
“Given the drama that we’ve had…I think now, more than ever, the role of the convention to assist in the unification of the party is going to be extremely important,” Priebus, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, said in an interview.
No convention in the past few decades has generated the kind of uncertainty this one has, because of an unconventional and polarizing nominee, lingering resistance to Donald Trump within the party, the decision of some party figures to stay home, the decision of some corporate sponsors to stay away and the possibility of unruly protests in the streets.
Priebus declined to talk in detail about the convention program and planning, which is not yet final at this late date.
But he discounted forecasts of upheaval in Cleveland.
“There is not going to be any chaos at the convention. I mean, we have incredible security,” Priebus said.
On the political side, “the delegates aren’t interested in chaos. Having arguments over platform and rules is not chaos. It’s what parties do.”
Priebus said the party was making progress toward unity, but “the more bruises that people take in during the primary process, the longer it takes to heal.”
Asked about the continued refusal of some in the GOP to back Trump, he said, “I think any time Republicans take a position against a presumptive nominee, they’re simply aiding and abetting the opponent.”
That is a different view than the one voiced by his friend and fellow Wisconsinite, House Speaker Paul Ryan, who has endorsed Trump but has also declined to criticize GOP colleagues in the House who have refused to do so.
“I wouldn’t tell a person to do something that they believe violates their conscience,” Ryan said in an interview last month. “I’m not going to hold an individual person’s decision against them.”
Priebus said, “It’s going to take some people longer than others” to support the GOP nominee. “I’m fine with that as long as in the end they come together and realize that another four years of [President Barack] Obama through Hillary Clinton is not a good future for our country.”
Priebus said the goals of the four-day convention that starts on July 18 are to “unify the party, tell the story of Donald Trump and make sure that we take action that strengthens the party for years to come.”
The program will resemble in many ways those in the past, he said, but with an “infusion” of Trump’s own approach and vision of what a party convention should look like.
“It’s going to be probably a happy medium between the two…the traditions of what people expect, and also some of things that Donald Trump wants to see happen,” he said.
Despite the fact that most polls show Trump trailing Clinton, Priebus said he was not worried about Trump’s standing at this point in the race, and that “we’re exactly where we need to be.”
“Analyzing the outcome of November in June is a fool’s errand,” Priebus said. “I wouldn’t be doing this job if I wasn’t optimistic. I am optimistic. I think Hillary Clinton’s going to lose and the Republicans are going to win.”
Meanwhile, a campaign imbroglio over another Donald Trump tweet—this one invoking imagery said by his detractors to be anti-Semitic—made its way onto one of the Sunday network news shows.
Appearing on CNN’s State of the Union, Trump’s recently fired campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, disputed any anti-Semitic connotation. He attributed the criticism to “political correctness run amok.”
At issue was a tweet from Trump on Saturday that depicted a photo of Hillary Clinton, superimposed over $100 bills, with a six-pointed red star bordering these words: “Most Corrupt Candidate Ever!”
The same image had been posted anonymously earlier on a message board that features a litany of falsehoods, crude insults and anti-Jewish hatred. Mic.com first reported on the message board post.
Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, deleted his tweet a couple of hours later without explanation and replaced it with an image that swapped the star for a simple circle.
He had come under swift criticism from, among others, Erick Erikson, a conservative Atlanta radio host and blogger who memorably disinvited Trump from a Republican event last August.
“A Star of David, a pile of cash, and suggestions of corruption. Donald Trump again plays to the white supremacists,” Erickson tweeted on Friday.
Asked for comment by CNN, Lewandowski said that Trump’s original message was “a simple tweet,” adding: “You can read into things that are not there. This is a simple star.… It’s the same star that sheriff’s departments across the country use all over the place to represent law enforcement.”
Lewandowski, who departed Trump’s campaign on June 20 and is now a paid commentator for CNN, also chided news organizations while further defending his former boss.
“That’s the mainstream media trying to attack Donald Trump for something that really isn’t there,” Lewandowski said. “They put up a new tweet with a circle. The message is the same.… The message is that Hillary Clinton is corrupt.”