Trump's troops makes pitch to delegates at RNC meeting
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HOLLYWOOD, Fla. — Top Donald Trump aides descended on the Republican National Committee’s spring meeting to sell their path to victory to the very party insiders the GOP front-runner argues are helping to “rig” the nomination process. 

Trump’s landing party included top aides Paul Manafort, Ed Brookover and Rick Wiley, as well as former GOP contender Ben Carson.

And even as the team set out to win over convention players, Manafort exuded confidence that Trump would avoid a contested Republican National Convention. 

“There’s not going to be a second ballot, so it doesn’t matter,” he said to reporters when asked about efforts by Trump’s rivals to steal delegate pledges away from the businessman at the local level. “They can’t do that on the first ballot, so we aren’t worried about it.” 

RNC members packed into a small conference room at the ritzy Diplomat Hotel & Spa in southern Florida for the Trump presentation. While the members were greeted with heaping displays of antipasto, as well as raw oysters, shrimp and crab legs, some people fled the room in search of some space.  

“It was like sardines in there,” one RNC member said. “But sardines have more room.” 

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Those in the room said the campaign aides didn’t spend much time on Trump’s path to the nomination, instead laying out more of the general-election argument.

Off the top, the aides addressed Trump’s controversial verbal assault on the system and warnings of consequences if he does not win the nomination despite having more delegates than Cruz or Kasich. 

While it was unclear whether the presentation overall swayed any hearts or minds, members said that piece was important. 

“They started off by reassuring members that they want to have a great relationship with the RNC, and I know that’s important,” said New Hampshire committeeman Steve Duprey, who chalked Trump's comments up to “political rhetoric.” 

“It was very reassuring to members of the Republican National Committee when you see pros like Rick and Paul join the team and help to build out the infrastructure,” he added. 

Trump’s team also pledged to expand the map — despite a rash of polls that show him losing to Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonClintons, Stacey Abrams meeting Texas Democrats Biden says Russia spreading misinformation ahead of 2022 elections Highest-ranking GOP assemblyman in WI against another audit of 2020 vote MORE in swing states — farther than Cruz or Kasich. 

“In terms of crossover appeal, Donald TrumpDonald TrumpMyPillow CEO to pull ads from Fox News Haaland, Native American leaders press for Indigenous land protections Simone Biles, Vince Lombardi and the courage to walk away MORE has a lot more than Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward Cruz228 Republican lawmakers urge Supreme Court to overrule Roe v. Wade GOP, Democrats battle over masks in House, Senate Human rights can't be a sacrificial lamb for climate action MORE has. A lot more,” Carson said. “And in terms of John Kasich, the only way that he can be the nominee is with pretty much disregarding what the people have said and deciding on the basis of party leaders.” 

Carson’s presence was important to some of the members on hand. 

“In our part of the country, we view New York with a disdain a lot because they have a tendency to be in your face,” Alabama committeeman Paul Reynolds told The Hill. 

“Carson is the exact opposite of that,” Reynolds said. “What Carson brings to the situation is he does do it with meekness and mildness. Carson is important to the Trump effort.“

Trump was the only one of the three remaining GOP candidates who did not personally attend the meeting, a move that irked some of the RNC members.    

“You cannot get a larger gathering of delegates — 168 people who will be delegates to the convention,” Rhode Island state GOP chairman Brandon Bell said. “How a candidate doesn’t come here is baffling to me.” 

Bell added that Cruz's and Kasich’s personal presence on Wednesday “meant a lot.” 

While Trump did not attend the RNC meeting himself, the speech to delegates was far from the only outreach his aides did with the members, who will all serve as delegates to the convention in Cleveland. 

Bell and fellow Rhode Island representative Lee Ann Sennick sat down with both Manafort and Wiley for a personal meeting in which they did not make an explicit ask for support but instead touted Trump’s general-election pathway.  

A big pitch was Trump’s willingness to fundraise for the party.

“If Trump is the nominee, then he will be coming to help the GOP raise money either through him or a surrogate,” Sennick said. “He hasn’t yet, but that is one thing we did get from that meeting.”

Manafort, speaking to reporters, also said that Trump is expecting to help campaign for down-ballot Republicans. 

“He’s going to be campaigning with all of them in the Republican Party — he’s going to be the nominee," he said.