S.C. GOP delegates get set for Trump

People gather at Quicken Loans Arena as preparations take place for the Republican National Convention, Sunday, July 17, 2016, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/John Locher)

CLEVELAND — South Carolina’s delegates, alternates, elected officials and guests have arrived in Cleveland for the Republican National Convention anticipating Monday’s opening gavel and a week of pomp and uncertainty.

And to get ready, on Sunday evening close to 100 representatives from the Palmetto State gathered at the city’s downtown Holiday Inn Express, where delegates sported their credentials to the Quicken Loans Arena and their laminated passes to state party events proudly reading “First in the South.” There was also a trip to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

“The hospitality of Cleveland has been amazing,” said Jane Page Thompson, a delegate from Aiken. “The police officers and Homeland Security are doing an amazing job and the plans of the RNC organizers have been special.”

South Carolina Republicans were clamoring to be the first at something else this week, too. Led by James Epley, Donald Trump’s Upstate regional director, delegates swarmed around a petition to formally nominate Trump and Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as the GOP choices for president and vice president. Only a handful of states will be recorded as having officially nominated the leaders of the party ticket, and Epley said he would ensure that South Carolina is among them.

The pace will pick up quickly at Monday morning’s delegation breakfast meeting featuring U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., an Iraq War veteran widely considered a future presidential nominee. Cotton is also scheduled for a prime-time speaking slot on the main stage.

Inside the convention arena Monday afternoon or evening, Mark Burns, a black, evangelical pastor from South Carolina, will address the crowd. The Trump operation is depending on supporters like Burns to dispel myths about the presumptive nominee’s alleged intolerance of minorities, which stems from his comments about Mexicans and previous proposals to ban Muslim immigrants from the country. Republican national Chairman Reince Priebus told CNN Sunday morning that Trump no longer supports the latter position.

The need for diversity in the Republican Party, and on the GOP presidential ticket, was on the minds of two members of the South Carolina congressional delegation last week upon learning Pence would be Trump’s vice presidential pick.

“If I was advising Donald Trump, I would say he has to find a woman,” U.S. Rep. Tom Rice, R-S.C., who is scheduled to be in Cleveland this week, told The Post and Courier. “I would advise him to find somebody who brings a much different perspective.”

U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C., who will also be spending some time with the state party delegation over the next couple of days, said Trump might be feeding a perception that the target GOP voter is a white male. The Democrats are poised to make history next week by nominating the first woman to lead a major party ticket, and Clinton could choose as her running mate another woman or person of color.

As to why Trump wouldn’t have picked someone less conventional, Sanford said, “most accounts you hear suggest that he wore a little thin his welcome” with minorities.

“I think Trump, to a degree, condensed his own list of possible (vice presidential nominees) based on his statements toward the likes of Gov. (Nikki) Haley and (New Mexico) Gov. (Susana) Martinez,” he added.

Haley and Martinez, who are of Indian and Mexican heritage, respectively, were at one point thought to be ideal picks for the 2016 GOP ticket. Both have been targeted by Trump and neither plans to speak at the convention this year.

Haley is an honorary co-chair, along with U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, of the South Carolina delegation to the convention. She plans to be in Cleveland with her husband Tuesday through Friday morning, and expects to attend convention festivities inside the arena Wednesday and Thursday nights. At least one of those nights she’ll visit with the delegation on the convention floor, which is seated to the right of the center aisle facing the podium.

Rob Godfrey, Haley’s deputy chief of staff, told The Post and Courier the governor will also be participating in Republican Governors Association events while in town.

Scott, meanwhile, will arrive in Cleveland later this week. He plans to be in town for only one full day, Wednesday, according to his office. He’s book-ending his Cleveland appearance with campaign stops on the home turfs of two of his embattled incumbent colleagues, U.S. Sens. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa.

Emma Dumain is The Post and Courier’s Washington correspondent.