As its long-running and often hostile presidential nominating process drags on, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus delivered an impassioned appeal for party members to close ranks behind whomever wins the nomination.
“It’s essential to victory in November that we all support our candidate,” Priebus said in a speech Friday to the party’s leadership gathered in Hollywood, Florida. “This goes for everyone, whether you’re a county party chairman, an RNC member, or a presidential candidate.”
“Politics is a team sport and we can’t win unless we rally around whoever becomes our nominee,” he told an audience of 168 members of the RNC brought together for the last time before the party hosts its national convention in July.
The plea didn’t sway prominent anti-Trump Republicans, one of whom chose to echo his words.
“Politics is a team sport,” agreed Liz Mair, a former RNC spokeswoman who founded the anti-Trump PAC Make America Awesome. “It’s just that some of us see the teams as being ‘liberals’ and ‘conservatives,’ or in some cases, ‘moderates’ or ‘libertarians,’ and some of us are more concerned about principles winning as opposed to parties, which aren’t inherently tied to particular principles.”
Rory Cooper, a senior advisor to #NeverTrump PAC, rejected Priebus’s call, arguing that “Trump is not capable of unity nor victory in November, period.”
“Donald Trump would set back the historic victories and gains made under Chairman Priebus in the House, Senate, state legislatures and Governor’s offices by harming all down ballot candidates,” Cooper said. “We are aiming to protect the party’s positions, principles and values by being resolute in our opposition to someone who does not represent what it means to be a Republican.”
Brian Baker, a co-founder of Our Principles PAC, shrugged off Priebus’s comments, saying “it’s the chairman’s job to cheer-lead for even the most unpopular Republican.”
“And he’s going to do his job until he’s replaced by Trump on or before July 20th,” Baker said in an interview, referring to the third day of the convention. He said that if the party selects Trump as the nominee, “we might as well save the money and swear in Hillary Clinton on July 21st,” the convention’s final day.
“It’s a waste of energy and breath” to help Trump as the nominee, Baker said. “He’s going to lose 49 states. He’s simply that bad.”
While members of his organization have vowed to never support Trump, including co-founder Katie Packer and adviser Tim Miller, Baker said the group hasn’t taken that step. “We don’t have to take a position on Trump in November, because he can’t win the presidency,” Baker said. “He’s so fatally flawed he’s stillborn.”
On Friday, Priebus said the RNC is preparing for an open convention based on the chance that Trump fails to gather enough delegates beforehand.
“As our nomination process goes on, we are preparing for all possible scenarios,” he said. “We might have a nominee by July, or we might have a nominee through the balloting process at the convention.”
As Donald Trump continues to argue that he should win the nomination because he has the most delegates, Priebus gave no ground on the possibility that another candidate could win the race through a series of votes at the convention.
“The rules say you have to have 1,237 delegates to be the nominee. We aren’t going to hand the nomination to anyone with a plurality, no matter how close they get to 1,237,” he said. “Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.”
Priebus pledged that the party would run a “fair, democratic and transparent convention” in Cleveland, as he pointed to Abraham Lincoln’s nomination as well as his own.
“It took Abraham Lincoln three ballots to get a majority in 1860,” he said. “Heck, it took me seven ballots to become chairman of the RNC.”
The chairman also pointed to Lincoln’s own administration as a model for his currently fractured party, saying that the president’s rivals “didn’t just take their marbles and go home” when they did not win. Instead, they “worked together because they knew it was the right thing to do for the country.”
Targeting the Democratic presidential front-runner, Priebus presented Hillary Clinton as the relic of the past and pointed to the controversy surrounding her private e-mail server.
“We know she wants to appoint a left-wing justice to the Supreme Court who will make President Obama’s lawless presidency permanent and treat the Constitution as a doormat,” he said. “Our party is focused on the future, but she wants to drag us back to the 1990s again. I’m sure her server probably still used Windows 95.”