Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus is telling donors that he now has a solid relationship with GOP front-runner Donald Trump, and has indicated that he believes that Trump could wrap up the nomination if he wins the Indiana primary on Tuesday, the FOX Business Network has learned.
But Priebus also said that Trump’s best chance at becoming the GOP presidential candidate is if he attains the majority of the party’s delegates before the GOP’s July convention in Cleveland, Ohio and avoids a so-called open convention where delegates are free to switch to other candidates in a second or third ballot.
Priebus made those comments in recent days during a series of private meetings with party fundraisers that have yet to be made public. Select groups of big money GOP donors huddled with the RNC chief after Trump’s resounding wins in the New York primary last week and Tuesday’s primaries where the real estate developer and reality television star swept five states. Trump is now closer to amassing a majority or 1,237 delates needed to win the nomination on the first ballot.
Trump has 996 delegates compared to his main opponent, Texas Senator Ted Cruz’s 565 delegates. Ohio Governor John Kasich, the other remaining candidate vying for the GOP nod, has just 153 delegates.
As Trump closes in on winning the GOP nomination, Priebus has been holding these gatherings in an effort to unify a divided party as the convention and the 2016 presidential election draws near.
A spokeswoman for the RNC Lindsay Walters confirmed that the meetings took place, though she took issue with the notion that Priebus explicitly stated that Trump has the nomination locked up if he wins Indiana on Tuesday and its 57 delegates.
“There are only 57 delegates in Indiana,” she said. “So it puts him a little bit below. You need 1237 bound delegates. Indiana does not get him there. It only gets him just below 1,000, he is still going to be short.”
She did not deny Priebus’ description of his relationship with Trump, or his explanation of how the billionaire is less likely to win the nomination on a second or third ballot.
Nor did she dispute the notion that Priebus is now working overtime to mend fences in a fractious party.
Walters explained, “He’s calling for unity. He will rally behind the party whoever the nominee is. You have heard him echo the comments over and over again.”
Despite his front-runner status, Trump’s unconventional campaign style—from his ad-libbed speeches to his penchant to demean opponents through name-calling—continues to rankle many party officials, including donors who will be called upon by RNC officials to fund the Republican effort to defeat likely Democratic Party nominee, Hillary Clinton, and other races that are up for grabs in the fall election.
Many Republican donors worry that Trump’s poor ratings among women, for instance, will hurt the party’s chances to retain control of Congress—a point they made during the recent meetings with Priebus.
Trump, meanwhile, has attempted to portray his campaign as an uphill battle to wrestle the nomination from party elites. He has attacked both the RNC and the party’s delegate system as rigged because in certain states delegates can switch their support to those candidates who have not won the popular vote.
Cruz, for instance, has been able to pick up delegates in Louisiana even though Trump won the popular vote in the state’s primary because of such rules.
Priebus, these people say, has been careful in the meetings not to criticize any specific candidate. He has stressed the need for party unity, underscoring the fractious condition of the GOP, and the difficultly he faces in mending fences as he prepares for a general election fight.
Trump’s erratic style and lack of policy credentials (South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham recently attacked a foreign policy speech by Trump as “unnerving and pathetic”) are considered liabilities, but Cruz also has baggage. Former Republican House Speaker John Boehner recently lambasted Cruz as “Lucifer…a miserable son of a bitch,” for his style of governing while in the senate.
One attendee said that Priebus made a point of telling donors that for all of Trump’s attacks against the party leadership, his relationship with Trump “is personally very good,” a point spokeswoman Walters confirmed. Priebus also said that in one meeting with the GOP front runner he urged Trump to assemble a more seasoned campaign team to understand the party election rules.
The attendee said Priebus took credit for Trump’s recent hiring of veteran political handlers, such as Paul Manafort, to guide him through the campaign as it reaches its final weeks.
Maybe most startling to donors was Priebus’ prediction about the aftermath of a possible Trump victory in the upcoming Indiana primary. According to people present, Priebus indicated that he believes a Trump victory in the state will likely provide Trump with enough momentum to win the nomination.
Indiana is a winner-take-all state, and the donors said that Priebus indicated through his comments that a win there for Trump would make it likely that he could win over the remaining delegates needed to take the nomination on the first ballot.
But if Trump doesn’t get to 1,237, Priebus also explained to donors that he believes the advantage switches to Cruz’s favor given the Texas Senator’s strong ground game in maneuvering the delegate process and his inroads among important constituencies in the Republican Party including religious conservatives.
Priebus also made it clear that he has no intentions to change party rules that call for the nominee to compile a majority of delegates, despite Trump’s public comments that whoever has a plurality should be given the nomination.
“He said the party rules have been in place a long time and he has no intentions of changing them,” said another attendee.