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RNC Scrambling to Throw a Trump-Style Party

Trump wants to put the “party” in July’s Republican Party Convention, but there's still a lot unknown about who'll show up in Cleveland.
Image: Donald Trump signs autographs during a rally in Cleveland
Donald Trump signs autographs during a rally at the International Exposition Center March 12, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI / AFP - Getty Images

Donald Trump wants to put the “party” in July’s Republican Party Convention.

But with less than three weeks to go before the convention, there’s more known about who won’t be in Cleveland than who will be. A slew of Republicans and corporate sponsors have bowed out of the event, declining to join in the celebrations for the controversial candidate. Some conservative celebrities — like Ted Nugent — have already said they won’t be showing up, according to The Washington Post.

The presumptive nominee has made it clear that the three-day convention in Cleveland next month will be full of the Trump-style showmanship he has honed from years of starring in a reality television show and appearing in the tabloids — not the usual politician-heavy gathering the nominee has described as “boring.”

“It’s not gonna be a ho-hum lineup of the typical politicians,” daughter Ivanka Trump said Wednesday in a radio interview. “It’s gonna be a great combination of our great politicians, but also great American businessmen and women and leaders across industry and leaders across really all the sectors, from athletes to coaches and everything in between.”

Related: GOP Latinos Opting Out of RNC Convention or Going with Less Backing

Two sources involved with the planning said to expect Trump family members and friends to take top speaking slots. Trump’s adult children and regular surrogates, Ivanka, Eric, and Donald Jr., are sure bets. There were early rumors that Trump would speak every night of the convention, but a convention-planning source said the idea was no longer being considered.

A few celebrities and athletes could make appearances, including legendary former Indiana University basketball coach Bobby Knight, former Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka, and NASCAR chief Brian France, according to Bloomberg Politics. Former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson was reportedly also going to attend, which prompted outrage over the convicted rapist’s inclusion. Shortly after the backlash became public, Trump said that Tyson wasn’t even invited. The campaign and Republican National Committee haven’t confirmed or denied those names.

“We didn’t have a lot of time to begin with,” one source involved with convention planning told NBC News. “In 2012, our convention wasn’t until the end of August and Romney was the presumptive nominee [starting in] March. Now we’ve got a presumptive nominee from May and the convention is the end of July.”

Making matters tougher for the convention planning: The Cleveland Cavaliers played in — and eventually won — the NBA Finals, keeping the GOP out of the Quicken Center longer than expected. Crews have been working “almost 24/7” to transform the arena so it’s ready for the party convention.

Related: Campaign to Dump Trump at Republican Convention Emerges

Still, the source involved in convention planning argued that the speaker agenda is always a last minute shuffle: Clint Eastwood, who famously ranted to an empty chair meant to symbolize President Barack Obama at the 2012 convention, was only booked a week before the convention.

But aligning with Trump and the Republican Party right now is not an easy sell, particularly for corporations — many of which are declining to fund the convention, scaling back involvement, or dropping out altogether.

Apple, which provided about $140,000 in MacBooks and other technology to both the Democratic and Republican conventions in 2008, as well as products to both events in 2012, told Republican leaders it would not be providing any funding or support for the party’s 2016 convention. Politico reported that the company cited Trump’s controversial comments about women, immigrants and minorities in their decision to pull funding.

Other companies including Amgen, Ford, General Electric, JPMorgan Chase, Motorola Solutions, UPS, Walgreens, and Wells Fargo have also declined to participate in the Cleveland event, according to The Washington Post and Bloomberg, despite having given thousands of dollars to Republican conventions in previous election cycles. None of the companies specifically cited Trump as the reason for withholding support, however.

Several traditional sponsors are also still involved, and the Cleveland host committee has said that most of its $64 million fundraising goal has already been met.

Related: Dump Trump Movement Planning for Convention Floor Fight

Despite pressure from an array of activist groups, Google will serve as the event’s “official livestream provider,” the company told Politico in April. Microsoft and Facebook are also on board, despite a united distaste for Trump within Silicon Valley. Coca-Cola is still involved, albeit on a smaller scale: The soda company donated $75,000 each to the Republican and Democratic conventions, according to The Washington Post — a smaller sum than in previous years. The American Petroleum Institute, a top donor to the 2012 convention, “will be participating” this year as well, the company told Bloomberg, though details of what that participation will look like remain a mystery.

Meanwhile, some companies are still under fire from activists seeking to keep them away from the convention, despite having already scaled back their involvement. Last week, the group Making Change at Wal-Mart (MCAW) sent a letter to the retailer’s chief executive officer demanding the company withdraw any further support of the convention, following a $15,000 donation it made to the Republican party’s convention fund in November before Trump was the nominee. Jess Levin, communications director at MCAW, said the group had not yet heard back from Wal-Mart and that it was planning protests next week in New York, Washington, D.C., Chicago and possibly the Bay Area.

“Our hopes are high just because so many companies have been saying they won’t sponsor the convention,” Levin told NBC News. “We really do think there’s an opportunity for Wal-Mart to do the right thing.”

Wal-Mart, which had not returned NBC News’ request for comment by the time of publication, clarified the next day via a spokesman that it had given $15,000 each to the Republican and Democratic conventions and that it would not be giving any more money to either.

“It’s typical for us in years past to have provided support for the conventions, so our support team had settled on what we felt was appropriate,” said Greg Hitt, vice president of corporate communications at Wal-Mart. He did not cite Trump as the reason for Wal-Mart’s decision to donate far less than the $150,000 it gave to the Republican convention in 2012.

“I wasn’t here in the past election cycle, so I’m not sure how [this year’s contribution] matches up to years past,” Hitt said.

Editors' Note: This story has been updated to reflect comment from Wal-Mart.