WASHINGTON (AP) — Republicans are sprinting to shape up Donald Trump’s presidential campaign before the party’s national convention in three weeks, even as leading members of the party carry a deep antipathy or outright opposition to his claim on the GOP nomination.
His campaign chairman said Sunday there’s a hiring spree in 16 states and the campaign is working with the Republican National Committee to solidify other matters. Paul Manafort said Trump is not all that involved in the race to organize an offensive against Democrat Hillary Clinton and catch up to her massive fundraising advantage.
“The good thing is we have a candidate who doesn’t need to figure out what’s going on (inside the campaign) in order to say what he wants to do,” Manafort said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” ”We have our campaign plans in place. We have our budgets in place.”
What Manafort described as a “new phase” for the campaign — a shift from the primaries to the general election — was a forced reshuffling of an effort hobbled for weeks by infighting, Trump’s statements about a judge’s ethnicity and a massive fund raising deficit to Clinton’s cash-raising Goliath. Trump began June with $1.3 million in the bank, less campaign cash than many congressional candidates. The $3 million he collected in May donations is about one-tenth what Clinton raised.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Sunday that Trump can’t win the presidency unless he can compete with Clinton on the financial front.
“He needs to catch up, and catch up fast,” the Kentucky Republican said on ABC’s “This Week.”
McConnell refused to say whether Trump is qualified to be president. And he suggested that the GOP platform would not reflect Trump’s ideas, including restrictions on Muslim immigration to the U.S.
“It’s my expectation that the platform will be a traditional Republican platform, not all that different from the one we had four years ago,” McConnell replied.
A few hundred delegates to the Republican National Convention are pushing to change the rules and make it possible for them to vote for someone other than Trump. The Cleveland gathering begins in three weeks.
Some rebel delegates and other anti-Trump party operatives held a 40-minute conference call Sunday night that was monitored by The Associated Press in what was a combination pep talk and strategy review. A leader of the effort, Colorado convention delegate Regina Thomson, said around 2,000 people were on the call.
Besides their uphill fight to win enough delegate support to change the rules, the coalition of anti-Trump groups are raising money to hire parliamentarians and lawyers to attend the convention, run TV ads and protect recalcitrant supporters they say face threats of retaliation.
One participant in Sunday’s call was James Lamb, a fundraiser for the presidential campaign of Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. Lamb said that he’d been with Rubio Sunday, and while the two men didn’t discuss the anti-Trump efforts, “Marco does have some concerns about the way that we’re going” in the presidential race.
Another speaker, former Sen. Gordon Humphrey, R-N.H., supported the presidential effort of Ohio Gov. John Kasich. Humphrey called Trump “just about the worst candidate you could think of, for the country first and for the party second.”
The Trump campaign and many top GOP officials are working to defeat the anti-Trump forces, including lobbying delegates and making sure that establishment party supporters dominate the convention’s crucial rules committee.
Ed Brookover, Trump campaign liaison to the GOP, said Sunday the defiant delegates’ chances of winning are “almost zero.” He said so far, “approaching 75 percent” of the rules committee’s 112 members oppose changing the rules — nearly enough to prevent a convention vote on the rebels’ proposal to let delegates support any candidate they want.
The Trump campaign and the RNC are still laboring to set up staff in what Manafort said were 16 states in which the campaign aims to compete heavily. He said the campaign will announce more about staffing this week, an effort to reassure people that Trump’s unorthodox campaign is viable.
On Sunday, Manafort sought to calm the angst, describing a partnership between Trump’s campaign operation and the Republican National Committee that goes beyond the RNC’s traditional role of raising money for the GOP nominee. He said the transition to the general election is complete — but the details have not necessarily been made public.
“We are fully now integrated with the Republican National Committee,” Manafort said. He said this week the campaign will announce “people who are taking over in major positions in our national campaign, as well as in our state campaigns.”
McConnell and other Republicans said they got the first glimmers of reassurance this week when Trump fired former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski in what Trump described as a change of direction from the GOP primaries to the general election.
Associated Press writer Alan Fram contributed to this report.
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