As Sen. Cruz headed into the hallway outside Dan Gilbert’s owner’s suite of Quicken Loans Arena in search of his wife Heidi and campaign manager, Jeff Roe, en route to a meeting with Donald Trump, Spencer Zwick, chairman of America Rising, a super PAC sitting on $200 million, disconnected the second of two rushed calls on his iPhone and turned back to the group assembled in a suite in Cleveland’s recently renovated downtown Westin.
Former Gov. Mitt Romney was seated on a couch, next to his wife Ann. Their son Tagg, Romney-Ryan 2012 campaign manager Beth Myers, chief strategist of that long seemingly decades-ago campaign Stuart Stevens, and Mitt’s first friend and longtime Bain Capital colleague Bob White were arrayed in chairs around the room.
“First call was our friend, governor,” Zwick said with no attempt to keep the others in the dark. The team had operated transparently for nearly a decade and the occasional frictions were more family squabbles over dish duty than typical campaign in-fighting. “Gov. Kasich and Sen. Cruz are meeting in Gilbert’s suite.”
“And that was Reince. They may need you to make a speech tonight if the Rules Committee calls for a fifth ballot tonight. It would be between 9 and 10. Prime time but he is hoping to be upbeat, focused on Hillary [Clinton] etc.”
The team took its cues from Romney, who while invariably referring to people by their first names had insisted the team use candidates’ titles, or with Donald Trump, “Mr. Trump.” The protocol held, at least within Romney’s hearing.
“What’s Reince expecting?” asked Tagg.
“Gridlock after four,” Zwick replied. “No path forward. I don’t think he knows the governor and the senator are meeting.”
Round three of the balloting on Wednesday morning had left Donald Trump with 901 votes, Cruz with 844 and Kasich with 728. The convention floor was jammed and all networks were packed with panels cutting to and from reporters locked into the massed formation on the floor where two weeks earlier LeBron James had led the Cavs to Cleveland’s first ring since the Browns’ in 1964.
“He is guessing that Mr. Trump and the senator emerge from round four essentially tied, with Kasich 200 to 300 behind. A few more delegates might fall off from Mr. Trump in round five, but there are at least 700 who are going to die on that hill. The senator and governor are also going to peak in a couple of hours if the RNC team is right.”
“The Iron Bowl, double overtime,” drawled Stevens. “This is very, very good for sales of ‘The Innocent Have Nothing to Fear,'” Stevens mused about his just-published novel of intrigue at a political convention. “And for the nets. And for Hillary.”
“Mostly Hillary,” said Romney the elder. The rules regarding titles were suspended for the Democratic nominee-in waiting, as they were for “Bernie.”
“He certain about those numbers?” asked White of Zwick. White’s own yellow pad had the projected totals almost exactly the same, but the successful investment banker wanted to hear it again, from another source looking at the same data.
“Yes,” replied Zwick, used to White’s ways … and Romney’s. “Measure twice cut once” was a joke about the old pals’ approach to, well, everything. “About 850 for each of them, then they stall out, the rest with the governor. Nothing moves after round four.”
“So John and Ted are working out terms,” mused Romney to himself. “That’s going to work,” he said with a mirthless laugh. Romney had spent much of March and April trying to arrange a marriage between Team Cruz and Team Kasich, and it never came close to happening.
“So, deadlock,” interjected Tagg. “Gear-grinding, endless-balloting deadlock. Why in the world would you give a speech now, dad? The Trump people will make it look like Rocky got roses thrown at him in 1964.” Tagg was referring to the howling boos that had washed over the New York governor at the Cow Palace in 1964, even when those same delegates had won the day for Barry Goldwater.
“Didn’t say I would. Don’t think I will. Did Reince say anything to indicate he knows about Plan P?” asked the older Romney to Zwick.
“No. Apparently not. But Paul could have told him everything and he would still pretend not to know. Could be the speech offer was his way of telegraphing that the door is open. Could be simple lack of an alternative. If they gavel out after the vote is over — he thinks around 9:30 — the nets will spend 18 hours kicking the living daylights out of everyone. You’d at least provide cover for the delegates to get some sleep.”
Myers looked up from her iPad. “Roger Stone just tweeted you are meeting with Sheldon Adelson at the Hyatt. That’s going to make the Hyatt happy,” Myers grinned. Bands of passionate Trump supporters flooded every lobby of every hotel where every alleged secret meeting was allegedly being held. It had been happening since last week when the Rules Committee first met.
“Where are the kids,” Romney turned to Ann. “Any of them at the Hyatt?”
Ann Romney consulted her iPad, which had a spreadsheet on the family. “Hmm. No. Not that I see. No. No one at the Hyatt.”
“OK, back to Plan P then,” Romney said, turning back to Zwick. “You still have the half hour locked down, Spencer?”
“Yes, governor. Tonight and tomorrow we have all three networks at 11:30 Eastern. They know we have a half-hour program on Hillary in the can. I showed an opening clip to all their sellers.”
In fact America Rising had produced a high-end documentary built around the phrase “Every Liberal Really Seems So Sad.” “E” was for Egypt, “L” for Libya. “R” for reset button for Russia. The three “S” cues were for Syria, the Status of Forces Agreement that Hillary had failed to conclude with the Iraqi government in 2011, and, of course, her server.
“They are assuming we are running it twice.” Thirty-minute network buys had been a staple of presidential politics since the RNC made such a buy in 1952 on behalf of an embattled Richard Nixon, who delivered his “Checkers” speech in response to charges of a secret slush fund, and hung on to his place on the ticket with Ike thereby.
“OK then,” Mitt Romney said. And then a pause, a long pause, before standing up. “Plan P it is. Stuart, you and I are going to do a little writing. Beth, please call Paul and tell him whether he likes it or not, I’m going with Plan P.” Myers had been the key go-between when Romney and House Speaker Paul Ryan were paired together in 2012 and by agreement had stayed in that role for the past three months.
“Spencer,” Romney continued. “Call Reince back and tell him thanks but no thanks and that my advice is to clear the hall as soon as the vote is in and schedule a 7:00 a.m. fifth ballot to nudge the delegates back to their rooms for a few hours’ sleep.”
“And Spencer, Bob and Tagg, would you three all together run over to the studio and see that it is connected to the satellite, etc.” America Rising had reserved a studio looking out on Cleveland’s Terminal Tower, glowing in the night sky red, white and blue with the GOP logo across it like a Batman signal in the sky. It had drawn much mocking throughout the week but now America was loving the elephant atop the guitar. Who knew?
“Measure twice, cut once” said Romney about the television feed to his smiling friends and son.
“And Spencer, one more thing. Check again with Ben,” Romney said, meaning Ben Ginsberg. “I’ve never been a candidate so I can do this on America Rising’s dime … In writing please. An opinion letter.”
“Ben doesn’t know the plan …” Zwick began to protest.
“He doesn’t have to. Just confirm that, as I am not now a candidate, I can appear in an America Rising live buy. Do not — repeat, do not — tell him anything else and tell him he is the only person outside of this room who knows I am going on tonight and if he leaks, he is done. He won’t leak. He never has.”
With that, Romney kissed Ann, beckoned to Stevens and the two walked into the adjoining room, as the rest went to their tasks.
This column was originally posted on WashingtonExaminer.com.