Donald Trump's campaign believes it has the support of enough delegates to prevent a convention coup next month in Cleveland, and is building an expansive team to make sure of it.
The campaign’s whip team, as first reported by Politico and outlined in interviews with multiple Trump strategists involved in the effort, includes 150 paid staffers and volunteers that will act as a direct line to delegates at the Republican National Convention.
Trump’s team insists it’s not a direct response to the growing grassroots effort to change the convention rules to make it easier to oust Trump as the party’s nominee — the whip team, one operative said, is focused on laying the groundwork for ”a unified convention, which shows how presidential Mr. Trump can be."
But with that grassroots effort picking up steam as Trump has faced slipping poll numbers in the wake of a rocky few weeks, the whip team will act as Trump’s first and last defense against any chaos on the convention floor.
Their first task will be to block any rule change that could affect Trump’s nomination, a top campaign strategist said in an interview. The strategists said the campaign has already secured support from a majority of the 112 delegates on the convention Rules Committee, though they wouldn’t offer names.
They’re now focused on blocking the Plan B scenario for Trump opponents — passage of a minority report out of the Rules Committee, which would also get a vote from the full convention.
They’d need to lock up at least 85 Rules Committee members to avoid that outcome, and “right now, I would say we’re in the middle of that process, that process is underway,” the Trump strategist said.
But while the whip operation is in full swing, its success still relies on one notoriously uncontrollable variable: The candidate.
Asked whether Trump’s campaign struggles would make it tougher to avoid a coup, one strategist involved in the whip team acknowledged “it may.”
“But it may not. Obviously, we’re in that process [of locking down commitments from delegates] right now. Obviously, there are delegates on the Rules Committee that are not going to go away quietly. They are going to make noise in any way they can,” the strategist said.
While the strategist emphasized those delegates are a “small, if vocal, minority,” the Trump team is leaving nothing to chance.
Trump's national delegate director Brian Jack is leading the effort, along with Doug Davenport, a close ally of Campaign Manager Paul Manafort who has been helping the Trump campaign establish and execute its delegate strategy since April. About six to eight other people inside or close to Trump's campaign are coordinating with them.
With 150 people on the team, that means the Trump campaign is devoting twice as much manpower to the convention as they are to the campaign itself, which currently has a staff of about 70 people. They’re also planning to pay for transportation and lodging for the entire team.
They’ve tapped RNC members and staffers, veterans of past conventions and even some operatives who supported Trump’s former opponents to build out the team, which an operative involved in the effort said was a signal that Trump can indeed unify the party.
“They’re here because, look, their person lost but they have a skill set they want to contribute to the party. These are loyal foot-soldiers,” the operative said.
Each member has been tasked with reaching out to a number of delegates in the coming weeks to make the connection and get to know their interests and concerns. They’ll use that information to build out a database of information on the delegates that will help the campaign respond to any developing issues in the committees or on the convention floor.
But the campaign isn’t waiting till the convention to respond to a potential coup. Whip team members have been instructed, in their outreach to delegates, to “make sure they understand the campaign's positions" and that those positions are passed.
In other words, they’re encouraged to lean on delegates to stop what the Trump campaign might consider mischief ahead of the convention in Cleveland.
The message from the Trump campaign to wary delegates is twofold. First: “Moving the goalpost and changing things because you don’t like the outcome is just not the way this works.”
“Look, we get that a lot of people didn’t get their first pick, but there’s a process that was set up and we have always honored that process,” one Trump operative said.
They also emphasize the risks to defecting: “There’s gonna be a lotta pushback on them. We’ll be holding their feet to the fire.”