WASHINGTON - Republican officials and leading figures in the party's establishment are now preparing for the possibility of a brokered convention as Donald Trump continues to sit atop the polls and the presidential race.
More than 20 of them convened Monday for a dinner held by Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus, where the prospect of Trump nearing next year's nominating convention in Cleveland with a significant number of delegates dominated the discussion, according to five people familiar with the meeting.
Considering that scenario as Priebus and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) listened, several longtime power brokers argued that if the controversial billionaire storms through the primaries, the party's establishment must lay the groundwork for a floor fight, in which the GOP's mainstream wing could coalesce around an alternative, the people said.
Because of the sensitivity of the topic - and wary of saying something that, if leaked, would provoke Trump to bolt the party and mount an independent bid - Priebus and McConnell were mostly quiet during the back and forth. They did not signal support an overt anti-Trump effort.
But near the end, McConnell and Priebus did acknowledge to the group that a deadlocked convention is indeed something the party should prepare for, both institutionally at the RNC and politically at all levels in the coming months.
Upon leaving, several attendees said they would soon share with one another memos about delegate allocation in each state as well as research about the 1976 convention, the last time the GOP gathered without a clear nominee.
When asked Thursday about the dinner and convention planning, Sean Spicer, the RNC's chief strategist and spokesman, said: "The RNC is neutral in this process and the rules are set until the convention begins next July. Our goal is to ensure a successful nomination and that requires us thinking through every scenario, including a contested convention."
This emerging consensus at the highest levels of the Republican Party about how the 2016 race could unfold comes after a fresh wave of polls showing Trump leading in early voting states and nationally, even as he continues to unleash incendiary comments such as his proposal to block Muslims from entering the United States. It also marks the close of a months-long chapter in the campaign when a brokered convention was considered a fanciful concept rather than a possibility that merited serious review by the party's top leaders.
The prix-fixe three-course meal at the Source, an upscale Asian fusion restaurant near the Capitol, was part of a regular invitation-only dinner series hosted by Priebus in which he solicits candid input from party leaders. Those familiar with Monday's deliberations spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Attendees included Ward Baker, executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee; Rob Simms, his counterpart at the National Republican Congressional Committee; Ron Kaufman, an RNC committeeman and Mitt Romney confidant, and pollster Linda DiVall. Whit Ayres, an adviser to Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, and Vin Weber, an ally of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, also were there, among others.