Dole alone in not shunning GOP convention
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Bob Dole, the party’s 1996 nominee, who lost to President Bill ClintonBill ClintonAll five living former presidents to attend hurricane relief concert The Hill's 12:30 Report The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE, has confirmed he expects to attend the convention. His law firm Alston & Bird plans to hold a reception at the event.
 
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Both George W. Bush and George H.W. Bush announced Wednesday night that they would not attend the convention in Cleveland, and Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainRubio asks Army to kick out West Point grad with pro-communist posts The VA's woes cannot be pinned on any singular administration Overnight Defense: Mattis offers support for Iran deal | McCain blocks nominees over Afghanistan strategy | Trump, Tillerson spilt raises new questions about N. Korea policy MORE (R-Ariz.), the 2008 nominee, said weeks ago that he would skip it.
 
Aides to 2012 nominee Mitt Romney confirmed to The Hill on Thursday that he too would not attend. 
 
The lack of former nominees reflects the divisions between establishment party leaders and Trump, who Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus referred to Tuesday as the party’s “presumptive nominee.” 
 
“It sends the message that there’s a split in the Republican Party at the highest levels on their disapproval for Trump. That isn’t helpful for enthusiasm,” GOP strategist Ron Bonjean said. 
 
“It’s very clear that this is because they disagree with Trump on his policies and politics, and they don’t want to be associated with him either for political or legacy reasons.” 
 
Trump has certainly not played nice with the three most recent nominees. He warred with Romney earlier this year after the former governor bashed Trump in a speech.
 
Last summer, Trump mocked McCain for being a prisoner of war. And earlier this year, he blamed George W. Bush for the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
 
While an aide to George H.W. Bush noted that the former president’s mobility issues would prevent him from attending, other former candidates didn't specify why they wouldn’t be traveling to Cleveland. 

Previous nominees are typically mainstays at party conventions. 

The elder Bush attended each convention from 1996 through 2008, only skipping the 2012 convention because of health issues. And Ronald Reagan spoke at both the 1988 and 1992 conventions, before health issues kept him away from the subsequent conventions before his death in 2004.
 
President George W. Bush, however, skipped the convention in 2008 because he was responding to Hurricane Gustav. He also skipped the 2012 convention in what many thought was an effort to avoid harming Romney. 
 
Not all Republicans believe the message sent by skipping the Trump convention will last. 

Alec Poitevint, a longtime GOP insider and the head of the 2012 convention, said the decisions wouldn’t tamp down the enthusiasm for taking down Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonChris Murphy’s profile rises with gun tragedies DNC, RNC step up cyber protections Gun proposal picks up GOP support MORE, the likely Democratic nominee.

“The conventions are about showcasing our candidate, showcasing our platform, and getting ready for that process,” he said. 

“They’ve become much more complicated, security is much different, I think we’re on a very positive track.”

Matt Borges, the Ohio state GOP chairman, noted that the recent Republican nominees have all shied away from political life since their terms in office. That, he said, is a major contrast to President Bill Clinton, who has remained active on the Democratic side. 

“If the [Republican] Party decided for some narrative reason they needed these folks there , they’d set aside [animosity], they’d be bigger than that,” he said.  

Heavy-hitters in the GOP like House Speaker Paul RyanPaul RyanThe Hill Interview: Budget Chair Black sticks around for now Gun proposal picks up GOP support GOP lawmaker Tim Murphy to retire at end of term MORE (R-Wis.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGun proposal picks up GOP support Children’s health-care bill faces new obstacles Dems see Trump as potential ally on gun reform MORE (R-Ky.) will still be at the convention. But as Trump has repeatedly promised to jazz up this year’s event, the lack of some of the more recognizable names and faces in the party will be stark. Some Republicans say it could complicate the unity message being touted by the party. 

"It will be very unusual to have only one former nominee present; it's an indication of the enormous amount of work Donald Trump has to do to bring the party together if he wants to win," said Ryan Williams, a GOP strategist and former Romney aide.  

"He should be troubled by the fact that former nominees are indicating that they won't attend this convention."

- This story was updated at 2:22 p.m.