Romney to skip the convention this year. Who else will?

The media’s treating this as newsy. Why? Why would Romney want to be there, and why would Trump want him there? It’d be newsy if he decided to show up.

Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, plans to skip this summer’s Republican National Convention in Cleveland where Donald Trump will be officially nominated — an unusual move that underscores the deep unease many Republican leaders have about the brash celebrity mogul as their standard bearer.

A Romney aide said in a statement to The Washington Post on Thursday morning, “Governor Romney has no plans to attend convention.”

Romney has been one of Trump’s chief critics this spring. He delivered a searing, point-by-point indictment of Trump in March — from his business record to his character to his divisive campaign-trail rhetoric.

McCain’s not going either because he doesn’t want to be tarred by association with Trump’s immigration program. He’s up for reelection this year in a state with a large Latino population so he’s lying low. It was reported yesterday that neither George H.W. Bush nor Dubya have plans to endorse or even comment on the presidential race, so they’re out too. Which means the only other living former Republican nominee who might be there is ol’ Bob Dole, who couldn’t stomach the idea of the party nominating Cruz but might be able to turn out for the new nationalist GOP that hates Dole’s moderate conservative politics even more than Cruzers do. Perfect.

But forget about former nominees. What about the new stars of the Republican Party, the Rubios and Cruzes and Walkers and Haleys of the world? Some think there’ll be a de facto boycott of the convention by GOPers with national aspirations, leaving the convention speaker slate to be filled by has-beens like Mike Huckabee and Newt Gingrich, enthusiastic Trump cronies like Christie and Sessions, and whatever freak-show surprises Trump himself has planned to class the joint up celebrity-like. I think that’s all wrong. The party leadership’s already coalescing, however grudgingly, behind Trump, with Mr Establishment Mitch McConnell having put out a statement last night insisting he’ll support the nominee too. The greater the perception is that Trump has been fully accepted by the party, the greater the risk to 2020 hopefuls in bucking the trend and refusing to turn out for him. You think Rubio, who said less than three months ago that “we’re not going to allow a con artist to take over the party of Lincoln and Reagan,” is going to turn down a convention invite when he’s a sure thing to run again for president someday? That’s not how I’d bet:

Still, in some quarters, reconciliation between Mr. Trump and his onetime critics is underway. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, who clashed bitterly with Mr. Trump before dropping out of the presidential race, has had multiple phone conversations with him recently, according to Republicans close to Mr. Trump. (Aides to Mr. Rubio declined to comment.)

What you’re going to see at the convention, I think, is a mix of speakers like Christie whose task it’ll be to build up Trump along with a second set of ambitious younger Republicans whose task it’ll be to tear down Hillary. It’s the easiest thing in the world to imagine Rubio walking out there, muttering some silly garbage about how we’ve all “had our differences” but it’s time to “put those differences aside,” and then launching into a 10-minute stemwinder about how the Clintons are basically agents of the apocalypse. He’d be assured up front that he wouldn’t have to praise Trump in return for his participation. That way, he gets to tell Trump fans four years from now that he did his part to carry Trump’s water while also getting to tell anti-Trump conservatives, “Hey, I never carried Trump’s water. All I did was attack Hillary, whom you hate.” If there’s one thing we learned from the immigration debate, it’s that Rubio’s a champ about talking out of both sides of his mouth.

The big question mark at the convention is Cruz. One Cruz ally thinks it’s 50/50 whether he’ll endorse Trump at all.

“If Donald Trump said that kind of stuff about my wife or my father, I would never endorse him,” said Phillips.

David Bozell, president of ForAmerica, which is working with Cruz to head off the possibility of a lame-duck session of Congress, said, “it’s a 50-50 call” whether Cruz endorses Trump…

The tricky part is figuring out whether Trump’s strong support across the party’s various constituencies merely reflects his celebrity status and gift for monopolizing media attention or more broadly represents a political movement of the future.

“Is this moment about Donald Trump himself or has he tapped into something more enduring?” asked one strategist. “If it’s the latter, there will be a temptation among House members, senators and political consultants to jump on in some capacity.”

Exactly right, and that’s the calculation for Cruz. He’s not going to endorse Trump soon (I think) simply as a matter of pride after Trump smeared his wife and his father. But once his pride heals, he’ll have to decide whether his lifelong Ted Cruz Political Advancement Project would benefit more from boycotting Trump or more from backing him. I’d bet big that he ends up endorsing. And his endorsement is so important potentially as a sign not just of party unity but of ideological unity behind Trump that I bet he could land a major speaking role at the convention in exchange — possibly even the keynote. The prudent thing to do is to assume that Trumpers and populism will remain galvanizing forces in the party at least through 2020. If he backs Trump, he’ll earn goodwill from them by doing so. He’ll also alienate some of his conservative fans, but Cruz knows they’ll forgive him eventually. He’ll still be one of the most conservative candidates in the field next time, and he’ll have some ready-made spin to offer them when they accuse him of selling out his principles to support Trump. “I didn’t sell out my principles,” he’ll say. “I advanced them by backing the candidate in a two-person race who’s more likely to propose conservative policies as president.” With Hillary, you’ve got zero chance of a conservative agenda or a conservative Supreme Court justice. With Trump, you’ve got … I don’t know, a 20 percent chance? Whatever it is, it’s a little higher than zero and someone like Cruz would at least have a pipeline to him in order to lobby for a more conservative agenda. Why fault me for making a rational decision on behalf of conservatism, Cruz will say, instead of helping the Democrat win? Not all of his fans (like me) will buy that argument, but enough will to keep him viable in 2020. I think he’ll be in Cleveland. In the end, Cruz is for Cruz.

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