Republicans attending, and avoiding Trump convention

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CLEVELAND: Donald Trump’s elevation to Republican presidential nominee is not to everyone’s taste in a party struggling to accept the controversial outsider as the list of those attending, and avoiding, the national convention makes clear.

The fragile unity of the GOP is on display in Cleveland, where observers are reading the tea leaves in the choices Trump and the Republican leadership made in determining who addresses the party faithful.

The event is hardly the glittery showbiz spectacular of A-listers that Trump had repeatedly hinted at, after the former reality television star derided previous conventions as “boring” and stiff.

Some big Republican names are off the marquee, and their absence may impact the future direction of the party – whose divisions were in the spotlight Monday as anti-Trump delegates launched a revolt on the convention floor.

Of the major figures coming to Cleveland for the confab, the billionaire’s wife Melania Trump drew most attention as she spoke Monday night – in the longstanding tradition of potential first ladies taking the stage in efforts to humanize their husbands.

But Trump is pushing the boundaries somewhat by adding his children to the schedule as well. Daughter Tiffany and sons Eric and Donald Trump Jr. have speaking roles, as does daughter Ivanka Trump, who has emerged as a star in her own right and has a slot on the convention’s final night.

Rivals-turned-allies

Retired general Michael Flynn on Monday backed up Trump’s call for law and order in a country reeling from race-related violence.

Former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani also bolstered Trump’s anti-terror credentials.

And three speakers focused on the deadly 2012 assault on the US mission in Benghazi, Libya that left four Americans dead, and how they felt then-secretary of state Hillary Clinton failed to do enough to prevent the killings.

The speakers included John Tiegen, a veteran who fought in Benghazi, and Pat Smith, mother of Sean Smith who died during the attack on the US consulate.

Politically, the Monday highlights included former Texas governor Rick Perry, himself a onetime 2016 presidential candidate who had assailed Trump’s campaign as “a toxic mix of demagoguery and nonsense.”

But he has since made peace with the presumptive nominee, as many former rivals do before they speak at the conventions.

Neurosurgeon Ben Carson, another 2016 presidential hopeful, speaks Tuesday, as does New Jersey governor and former candidate Chris Christie, who was on Trump’s vice president short list.

The two Cuban-American US Senators who ran for president this year, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, address the convention late Wednesday.

Several lawmakers will take the stage, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan, whose open hesitation about endorsing Trump earlier this year sparked consternation among the party faithful.

Trump’s running mate Mike Pence, the governor of Indiana and a conservative evangelical Christian, has a prime spot Wednesday night, and former House speaker Newt Gingrich, a Trump friend who was considered for the VP position, also has a speaking slot.

Conspicuous absences

But the political no-shows are even more prominent.

Former Republican presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush are skipping the gathering.

Romney is steering clear as expected, after harshly criticizing Trump during the primaries. The 2008 nominee John McCain is also staying away.

That leaves Bob Dole, 92, as the only former nominee at the convention.

Several lawmakers are avoiding Cleveland, including Senator Rob Portman of host state Ohio, and Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania. Both are locked in tough re-election battles in battleground states.

Among the most conspicuous absences is John Kasich, who battled bitterly with Trump for the nomination. Although he did appear briefly by video, Kasich’s absence is particularly awkward given that he is governor of the convention’s host state Ohio.

People who know Trump through his company dealings will address the confab in order to shed light on the tycoon’s business acumen, including Kerry Woolard, the general manager of Trump Winery in central Virginia.

Trump will touch on some cultural sensitivities Thursday when venture capitalist Peter Thiel, the cofounder of PayPal, becomes the first openly gay delegate to address the convention.

But while 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney brought Hollywood megastar Clint Eastwood to his convention, Trump fails to match the wattage.

His celebrities include former “Happy Days” actor Scott Baio, “Duck Dynasty” hero Willie Robertson, and soap opera star Antonio Sabato, Jr.