CLEVELAND — Donald Trump’s team promises an extraordinary display of political entertainment at this month’s Republican National Convention, with the accent on entertainment.
The former reality television star plans to feature his high-profile children at the summer gathering in Cleveland, with the hope they’ll be joined by a number of celebrity supporters. Prospects include former Indiana basketball coach Bobby Knight, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and longtime boxing promoter Don King.
“I’m going to be involved, definitely,” said King, who lives in Cleveland and is a passionate supporter of the presumptive Republican nominee. “He’s my man. I love him. He’s going to be the next president.”
While those bold-face names have yet to be confirmed, the fact they’re on Trump’s list is a reminder that many of the Republican Party’s biggest stars aren’t willing to appear on his behalf. The GOP’s two living presidents, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, its most recent presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, and Ohio’s Republican governor, John Kasich, all plan to avoid the four-day event that traditionally serves as a powerful display of party unity heading into the sprint toward Election Day.
“He’s going to have to bring all his skills to bear to make this work, not just in Cleveland, but for the next four months,” said Matt Borges, the Ohio Republican Party chairman. “It won’t be easy, but that’s what he’s got to do.”
Trump’s team says he’s up to the challenge.
“This is not going to be your typical party convention like years past,” said Trump spokesman Jason Miller. “Donald Trump is better suited than just about any candidate in memory to put together a program that’s outside of Washington and can appeal directly to the American people.”
When Hillary Clinton hosts her party at the Democratic National Convention the following week, she’ll face a different issue entirely: how to squeeze in the many popular, prominent Democrats backing her campaign.
Along with Clinton and her eventual vice presidential pick, there are sure to be speeches from President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, first lady Michelle Obama and, of course, the candidate’s husband, former President Bill Clinton.
There’s also Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a favorite of progressives and one of Trump’s fiercest critics. Warren is on Clinton’s running-mate shortlist but will surely be slotted for a prominent convention speech even if she’s not selected.
By necessity as much as preference, Trump’s team is crafting a far different lineup. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, one of the likely speakers, praised Trump’s plan to use his celebrity connections to reach a broader audience.
“Trump understands that if he can appeal to consumer America, he drowns political America,” Gingrich told The Associated Press. He said he had little idea of what kind of show to expect, but recalled a recent conversation with a Trump family member who confidently told him, “We know how to do conventions.”
“My children are all going to be speaking: Ivanka, Tiffany, Don, Eric. They’re going to be speaking,” Trump said Friday during an appearance at the Western Conservative Summit in Denver. “My wife is going to be speaking at the convention. We’re going to have a great time.”
Trump’s campaign has also been in touch with aides to chief primary rival, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who has been trying to win a speaking slot. Other national leaders under consideration include former United Nations Ambassador John Bolton, West Virginia Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, Washington Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Gingrich.
Some celebrities backing Trump have passed on the chance to be a part of the show. Among them: former Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka, who told the Chicago Tribune last week, “I spoke with Mr. Trump this afternoon, and he invited me. But I don’t think I’m going to go.”
Clinton’s speaking program, too, isn’t without its uncomfortable riddles. There’s no public sense yet of what role she’ll give to Bernie Sanders, the Vermont senator whose surprisingly strong challenge in the Democratic primary has yet to officially come to an end. Sanders says he’ll vote for Clinton, but he’s yet to formally endorse her and is pushing for changes to the Democratic platform.
Ivanka Trump predicted in a recent radio interview the GOP convention would be “a great combination of our great politicians, but also great American businessmen and women and leaders across industry and leaders across really all sectors, from athletes to coaches and everything in between.”
“I think it will be a convention unlike any we’ve ever seen,” she said. “It will be substantive. It will be interesting. It will be different. It’s not going to be a ho-hum lineup of, you know, the typical politicians.”
And that will still leave room for complaints from Trump’s Republican skeptics.
“Whatever you want to say about Trump, he’s been a showman. And I expect something completely different,” said former Kasich adviser Jai Chabria. “I find it hard to believe that that’s going to be enough to put him over the top.”
Associated Press writers Julie Pace and Jill Colvin in Washington contributed to this report.