The GOP delegate rebellion against Donald Trump is dead, Republican Party Chairman Reince Priebus declared, looking ahead to a unified national convention next week amid signs that both Trump and the broader party are moderating their message with an eye toward November.
Priebus told The Associated Press on Friday that his party was ready to welcome an openly gay speaker to the convention, and he praised Trump for backing off a divisive plan to ban Muslim immigrants. The chairman also reminded skeptical conservatives that, whether they like it or not, they have no choice but to embrace Trump in Cleveland.
"There is no other candidate," Priebus told the AP in an interview, after rebel delegates failed to change party rules. "That was one of the problems that this 'Never Trump' issue had last night. Who is the other candidate? What VP nominees are you vetting? We're voting next week — on Tuesday or Wednesday. What money are you raising? Where is this person?"
"It's over," he said of the rebellion. "It was never there."
Maybe so, but some Republicans still aren't on board. In an opinion piece published in the Washington Post Friday, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush wrote:
While he has no doubt tapped into the anxiety so prevalent in the United States today, I do not believe Donald Trump reflects the principles or inclusive legacy of the Republican Party. And I sincerely hope he doesn’t represent its future....
Unfortunately, the understandable anger and fear haven’t given rise to a resurgence of purpose in politics or renewed a debate in our party about how Republicans win back the White House with the power of our ideas.
Instead, they have given rise to the success of a candidate who continues to grotesquely manipulate the deeply felt anger of many Americans. Trump’s abrasive, Know Nothing-like nativist rhetoric has blocked out sober discourse about how to tackle America’s big challenges.
Priebus also addressed for the first time the inclusion on the speaking program of PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, believed to be the first openly gay speaker featured on a National Republican Convention stage. However, party officials already gathered this week in Cleveland have toughened language in the GOP platform on LGBT issues, refusing to back off the opposition to same-sex marriage.
"We're still a party that believes that marriage is between one man and one woman, but it doesn't mean that we're going to kick people out," he said, describing opposition to gay marriage as "one of the bedrock issues of our party."
"I can't win this race if I tell people that they're not welcome in our party," Priebus said when asked about Thiel. "He's been a good help to our party and many candidates across the country. He's a good Republican. He's welcome in our party. Period."
Priebus denied that language inserted into a draft of the party platform encourages "conversion therapy," which religious conservatives believe can stop gay people from being gay. The new language, which has yet to be adopted by the full convention, reads, "We support the right of parents to determine the proper treatment or therapy, for their minor children."
Asked whether the Republican Party supports "conversion therapy," Priebus charged, "It's not in the platform."
GOP officials are eager to shift the focus of next week's event away from divisive social issues. Such issues, while popular with conservatives who wield outsize influence in Republican primary contests, are less popular among the more moderate voters and independents who typically decide general elections.
Priebus said Thursday's deadly attack in France would naturally shift the focus of the four-day convention to security issues.
"Talking about national security, talking about what we're going to do about ISIS, is going to be something that we're going to have to focus on — in a respectful way, certainly not in a way to take advantage of anything," he said.
"We're getting used to hearing about monsters killing people around the world and it's not acceptable," Priebus said.
The chairman characterized Trump's own comment on the France attack as "appropriate." Thursday night, Trump said his response to the situation, if he were president, would be to make it "very, very hard for people to come into our country, for one thing, from terrorist areas. I would be so extreme in terms of documentation."
"I would not allow people to come in from terrorist nations. I would do extreme vetting, I would call it extreme vetting too," Trump told Fox News Channel.
Months ago, Trump forcefully called for a temporary ban of all foreign Muslims entering the U.S. as a means to prevent terrorist attacks from radical Islamic groups. But his spokeswoman recently said he's no longer seeking a religion-based ban and now only wants to limit immigration from places with a history of terrorism against the U.S. and its allies.
Priebus, who opposed the Muslim ban, said the shift represents a welcome pivot.
Overall, Priebus said, Trump has taken significant steps in recent days toward the general election, including new hires to his campaign team, a more serious focus on fundraising, far less time spent attacking fellow Republicans and the selection of Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as his running mate.
"That package right there over the last 10 days should tell you a lot about his pivot to the general," Priebus said. "This is a person that has never run for public office. It just takes longer to move into that mode."