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Welcome to Cleveland and the biggest episode yet of the Donald Trump show

REUTERS/Rick Wilking
Cleveland’s Quicken Loans arena plays host to Republican delegates this year.

Today, the eyes of the world are trained on Cleveland, Ohio: It’s day one of the 2016 Republican National Convention, where thousands of Republican activists, politicians, and operatives will gather for a weeklong celebration of Donald Trump and the Republican Party.

A year ago — or even less — very few thought this scenario would come to pass. But all meaningful efforts to deny Trump the nomination have been quashed. The next four days won’t see heated battles over the future of the party; instead, America will get the biggest, flashiest episode yet of the Donald Trump show.

The 2,427 GOP delegates, hailing from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and five territories, will hear from five of Trump’s family members and a handful of his political allies — not to mention a few reality TV stars and mixed martial-arts fighters — who will make the case to the millions watching that he should be president.

It all culminates on Thursday, when Trump is expected to address the country and officially accept the Republican Party’s nomination for president of the United States.

If you’re following along from Minnesota, here’s what’s worth paying attention to in what’s likely to be one of the most unusual political events in recent memory.

The Minnesota delegation

Minnesota is sending a delegation of 38 GOP legislators, officials, and activists to Cleveland. These people were elected to represent Minnesota during the spring at district-level conventions, and at the state convention in Duluth.

The head of the delegation is the state GOP chair, Keith Downey. Two state legislators are delegates — Speaker Kurt Daudt and Rep. Cindy Pugh. Former GOP state Minority Leader Marty Siefert is a delegate, as are former state Reps. Bruce Vogel and David FitzSimmons. (FitzSimmons is also U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer’s chief of staff.)

Two former First District congressional candidates are also delegates: Dr. Brian Davis, who ran against Rep. Tim Walz in 2008, and Aaron Miller, who ran in the 2014 GOP primary but lost to Jim Hagedorn.

No Minnesota members of Congress are delegates, though Emmer will be attending the convention. Third District Rep. Erik Paulsen, who faces his toughest re-election challenge yet, is skipping Cleveland. Second District Rep. John Kline, who is retiring, is also not going.

Not everyone who’s heading to Cleveland from Minnesota is a Republican: At least one group, the Minnesota Immigrant Rights Action Committee, is planning to show up at the convention to protest Trump.

On the national level, some prominent Republicans are staying away from Cleveland — out of antipathy toward Trump or out of a desire to distance themselves from the attendant controversy.

The list of no-shows includes the last two GOP nominees, Mitt Romney and Sen. John McCain; the last two Republican presidents, George W. Bush and George H.W. Bush; and two prominent Trump rivals, Jeb Bush and Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

No contest

In recent years, the convention has functioned as a coronation for the nominee — an opportunity for the party to show a large national audience to how great the candidate is through surrogate speeches, fawning videos, and general fanfare.

The four days of the convention are heavy on speeches, particularly in the prime-time hours. Not since 1976 has a convention been a meaningful, determinative part of the nomination process — and this year will not be the one that breaks the trend.

There has been chatter for months regarding a contested convention — rumblings that a faction of those vowing to never support Trump would plan some kind of effort to deny him the nomination.

Mathematically, Trump will win on the first ballot: With the pledged support of 1,543 delegates, Trump easily crossed the 1,237-delegate threshold needed to secure the nomination.

But the NeverTrump group’s idea was to leverage the rules process to unbind delegates — to pass some kind of resolution to allow them to “vote their conscience,” instead of the way they were meant to vote per how their state or territory voted. (For Minnesota, for example, 16 delegates are bound to Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, 12 are bound to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, and seven are bound to Trump.)

Ultimately, the conscience-vote effort failed with a thud on Thursday when the Rules Committee met in Cleveland to determine convention processes. A resolution to unbind the delegates received just a handful of votes out of the 112-member committee, after a fierce lobbying effort from the Trump campaign and GOP brass.

Coming around to Trump

For many Minnesota delegates, Trump is not their first choice, but they believe it’s time to focus on defeating Hillary Clinton in the general election.

Matt Pagano, a delegate from St. Paul who is pledged to Rubio, hopes the convention will help “heal some of those wounds” inflicted during the long, acrimonious GOP primary process.

“I didn’t initially support Trump. But he’s the presumptive nominee, and we need to rally around him as the candidate and move forward,” he told MinnPost.

Jen Niska, a delegate from Ramsey, was a Rubio supporter, but said she looks forward to the RNC as an opportunity to get a better feel for Trump.

“I feel like I still have a lot to learn when it comes to Donald Trump,” she said. “He’s done a good job so far of branding himself and campaigning strong. I’m still watching and seeing how he’s doing, and seeing how he’s campaigning to try and bring all these different factions together.”

Sheri Auclair, a delegate from Wayzata, is one of the few longtime Trump supporters in the delegation.

She said she “couldn’t be more thrilled to go as a Trump delegate,” and hopes the convention will generate more enthusiasm for Trump’s campaign.

“I think one of the big things is going to be, when this is on national TV, look at the 2,427 delegates that are women, that are men, that are black, Hispanic — that it is a cross-section of Americans out there supporting him,” she said.

“I do expect a united party out there, people with smiles on their faces, happy to be there, happy to put their support behind Donald Trump.”

Outside the convention hall, there may be fewer smiling faces. Brad Sigal, of the Minnesota Immigrant Rights Action Committee, is leading a bus of about 50 activists to protest Trump’s immigration stances in Cleveland on Monday.

Sigal said that Trump, as president, would create a “human rights catastrophe” on immigration. “We want to get our message out as broadly as possible to show what’s happening inside the convention is not normal politics, is not acceptable politics,” he said.

“We know Minnesotans broadly don’t like Trump and reject what he stands for. We plan to represent what we believe is the vast majority of Minnesotans in the streets of Cleveland.”

Auclair said she expects protesters, and isn’t bothered by it.

“I know how I will act when I pass protesters,” she said. “‘I’m going to walk tall, I’m going to walk with dignity. And I’ll probably be holding a Trump sign.”

MinnPost’s Sam Brodey will be filing frequent updates from the Republican National Convention on MinnPost all week. For more from Cleveland, follow him on Twitter: @sambrodey.

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