It took a force of nature to bump Donald Trump from his role at the Republican National Convention.
As recently as Saturday afternoon, Trump was scheduled to collect the Sarasota Republican Party’s Statesman of the Year award and then swoop down to Tampa for a day of wall-to-wall media interviews, meetings with top donors to Mitt Romney’s campaign and then, apparently per the presidential candidate’s request, a “surprise” publicity stunt on the convention floor. But these plans went by the wayside after convention officials canceled Monday’s events because of Tropical Storm Isaac, which is forecast to strengthen into a hurricane.
The cancellation of appearances by the Statesman of the Year came as a relief to some Republicans in the convention center on Sunday afternoon, especially given Romney’s joke that “no one’s ever asked to see my birth certificate” at a campaign stop last week in Michigan. Romney was born in the state and the quip echoed Trump’s questioning of President Obama’s birthplace.
“It’s a blessing,” Pete Mackin, an alternate delegate from that state, said of Trump’s absence.
Even John Sununu, the former governor of New Hampshire who has had his own problems with inept public pronouncements — he recently apologized for saying “I wish this president would learn how to be an American” — said that while Trump’s role at the convention depends on “time constraints and the kind of message that he would like to convey,” he suggested that Trump would be more comfortable somewhere else.
“I suspect he feels better off doing it off the floor,” Sununu said. “Not on the floor.”
Team Trump, while shrugging off Romney’s birther-tinged joke as an innocent attempt at humor, was nevertheless doing its best to hold onto the renewed prominence Romney’s routine had bestowed upon “The Apprentice” and “Celebrity Apprentice” host known for barking the phrase “You’re fired!”
“The RNC cancelled Monday. Mr. Trump will not be in Tampa,” Michael Cohen, Trump’s spokesman, wrote in an e-mail Saturday evening. “However he is still going tomorrow to Sarasota. The Statesman event is now even bigger than before as all the reporters are heading to Sarasota.”
The Sarasota Republican Party, if not all the reporters, agreed, saying in a statement that Trump was “bigger than Isaac.”
Cohen challenged the notion that Trump was using the GOP convention to self-promote, and argued that it was Romney who had extended the invitation.
“I believe that the Romney camp understands the value that Donald Trump brings to the campaign,” Cohen said, noting that Trump had spots lined up on “Fox and Friends” and the “Today” show Monday morning before a full day of media events and personal visits with Romney’s biggest donors, including Woody Johnson, the owner of the Jets. The day was scheduled to culminate with a surprise on the floor, said Cohen, who described something “multilayered” and “amazing.”
Cohen said that the Romney camp approached Trump with the idea of the convention stunt, and he added that Romney and Trump speak on the phone “a lot.” The men talked last week, Cohen said, before Romney’s birth-certificate joke. “Mr. Trump told me so,” he said.
According to Cohen, the presidential candidate and real estate mogul talk about “the economy, job creation and the budget, and Medicare, and China and OPEC and Mexico.” And he emphasized that it was the Romney campaign that often reached out to Trump, and not the other way around.
He cited campaign manager Matt Rhoades, Romney’s liaison to donors Spencer Zwick and one of his media mavens, Russ Schriefer, as his contacts at the campaign.
The Obama campaign has seized on Romney’s figurative and literal embrace (remember Las Vegas?) of Trump.
Spokesman Ben LaBolt e-mailed that the prominent role Romney had been willing to give “Birther-in-Chief Donald Trump” before the storm showed that “Romney has empowered extreme voices both by embracing their policies and giving them a microphone.”
The Romney camp declined to comment about the former governor’s relationship with Trump, or who reached out to whom. Andrea Saul, a spokeswoman for the campaign, said: “We’re not going to react to their overreaction. If only they took the 23 million Americans looking for work as seriously as a rally joke.”
Not surprisingly, Trump thinks it is natural that he play a central role.
“He certainly draws attention to the convention as well as his message,” Cohen said. “Many of his messages are similar to that of Governor Romney.”