CLEVELAND — The Georgia delegation assembled for the first time early this afternoon on the edge of the city’s theater district, next to the building that Republican convention officials have occupied for the last six months.
Three main themes occupied the packed ballroom: The police shootings in Baton Rouge, security in and around “the Q” that will hold the Republican National Convention, and GOP comfort level with Donald Trump, who has removed all barriers to his nomination on the final day of the four-day meeting.
John Padgett, an RNC member, delegate and chairman of the Georgia GOP, addressed that last point first:
“If there’s anybody in this room that thinks there’s going to be anybody else nominated and win on Thursday night – not going to happen. No matter who you’re for, or who you’ve been for, when you get through with Thursday night, get on the Trump train, folks. ”
Padgett had kind words for the city of Cleveland, which he said had laid out a royal welcome mat. “If anyone causes trouble here after all they’ve done, it would be a sin,” he said before the meeting began. “An evil sin.”
In front of the crowd, the chairman expressed confidence in the extreme security in the downtown area. And yet he said this:
“I will tell you, however, if you’re walking down the street and you see some folks on the corner, hollering and screaming, No.1, you should not have your delegation badge on – put it up if you’re going to be walking downtown. And don’t confront anybody….My advice is get on the bus and get in the building.”
State Sen. Mike Williams, R-Cummings, introduced the main speaker of the afternoon, U.S. Sen. David Perdue. Williams had one of the more volatile lines of the session:
“We have traded ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident’ for ‘Choose the bathroom you most associate with.’”
Perdue spoke for 20 minutes or so. The U.S. senator has emerged as Trump’s foremost champion in Georgia, and will serve as one of Trump’s representatives who will speak at daily state delegation meetings to tamp down any unrest and gin up enthusiasm.
We have received estimates that Georgia’s body of 76 delegates (and 76 alternates) may have between six and 10 delegates who might not be able to bring themselves to vote for Trump.
On one hand, Georgia is considered a secure enough Trump state that it will be one of the eight states that Trump uses to demonstrate a firm majority of delegate support. Eight states of support, or no nomination on the convention floor. (This is a holdover rule from the 2012 Mitt Romney convention, intended to keep Ron Paul off the ballot.)
And Perdue had this to say about his confidence in Georgia’s attitude toward Trump:
“We don’t have any problem in the Georgia delegation. We’re here to make Donald J. Trump the next president….This is not somebody to be embarrassed about. This is the best candidate we’ve had in a long time. We’ve got an outsider. This is not somebody from the Washington establishment.”
And yet, several sentences later, Perdue also said this:
“Georgia needs to step up. Georgia is one of 17 states that Donald Trump and his team have identified as being the core states. If we win those states, we win the presidency….We’ve got to take Georgia out of play. We need to make Georgia not one of the 17 states they’re worried about. We’ve got to put the hammer down and make sure we drive the early polls.”
The news out of Baton Rouge was just trickling in as the Georgia luncheon began. We asked several attendees for their thoughts. From Michael McNeeley, vice-chairman of the Georgia GOP and a former police officer with 14 years of experience:
“We’ve got to get beyond the rhetoric. The key thing to me are relationships, police ought to know their communities like their best friend. Because when police are only seen when something’s going wrong, then there’s divisiveness.”
Not only relationships need to be strengthened, but training needs to be upgraded, too, he said.
From David Perdue, the U.S. senator:
“This is something that we’ve got to get at the heart of this thing. Disenfranchisement is one thing. Anger is another. We need leadership out of the White House and Washington as well as the statehouses…It’s devastating for the people involved, but we’ve got to find a way to bring America together again.”
From U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, who has been appointed to a 12-member House committee to look at both at the targeting of police and police violence:
“We’ve got to take a deep breath. We have to take a collective deep breath in our country on all these issue. …As the son of a Georgia state trooper, my heart breaks for these families and the situation we’re in right now.
“We’ve got to make sure our police have the training and adequate resources, to make sure that there’s a trust built back up. The very thing that’s broken is the very thing that’s needed. Trust is the very thing that’s needed.”