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A plate at the Plaza: Pa. GOP won't dump Trump lunch

Donald Trump, the Republican front-runner for president, once called the Plaza Hotel in New York City "the ultimate trophy." That was when he owned it, from 1988 to 1995.

Donald Trump, the Republican front-runner for president, once called the Plaza Hotel in New York City "the ultimate trophy." That was when he owned it, from 1988 to 1995.

The Pennsylvania Republican Party might have seen Trump, who draws large crowds at rallies, as a trophy "headline speaker" for Friday's fund-raising luncheon, held each year at the Plaza during Pennsylvania Society events.

The question now: Has Trump tarnished his trophy status with a series of escalatingly provocative comments, culminating in a call to ban Muslims from entering the country? And will those comments prompt Republicans to skip Friday's lunch?

A chorus of critics has called on the state GOP to dump Trump from the program since he declared his immigration stance Monday. Some of the state's Republican lawmakers in Washington and Harrisburg have found their schedules too hectic for the lunch.

Even the Republican most likely to benefit from the $300,000 or more to be raised at the event, U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, says he has a previous engagement.

The man at the center of this Trump mini-storm, state GOP Chairman Rob Gleason, calls the fuss "much ado about nothing."

Gleason said he invited Trump to speak at a party event in Philadelphia in June, but the billionaire real estate investor could not attend. The Pennsylvania Society, the annual weekend gathering of the state's political class in Manhattan, was a better fit for Trump's schedule.

Trump's headquarters, Trump Tower, is two blocks from the Plaza. "He can walk over," Gleason said. "That's probably one of the reasons we got him."

Trump sold the Plaza in 1995 to foreign investors, including a Saudi prince.

Gleason said he also reached out to the other GOP presidential contenders to see if they would appear at the lunch. "Any of them would have been great," he said. All passed.

He predicted about 300 people would attend, a total he called typical. The lunch raises money for the Republican Federal Committee of Pennsylvania, which supports federal-office candidates.

It isn't cheap: Tickets are $1,000, or $2,500 for access to a VIP reception, where one can pose for a photo with Trump.

Toomey, who is up for reelection next year, won't be in the picture. His campaign cited "a previously scheduled commitment." He is holding his own fund-raiser in Manhattan Friday evening and plans to speak Saturday at a Pennsylvania Manufacturers Association event.

Katie McGinty, one of three Democrats vying to challenge Toomey, has called on Republicans to cancel the Trump event. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chimed in, trying to link several GOP members of the House from Pennsylvania to Trump's "hateful rhetoric." That included Patrick Meehan of Delaware County - who last week said he was skipping the lunch and questioned if Trump "is the best choice for us."

Keystone Progress, a liberal activist group, vowed Thursday to deliver to the Plaza on Friday morning more than 10,000 signatures on a petition calling for the state GOP to rescind Trump's invitation.

Trump's campaign did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.

State Rep. John Taylor, a Northeast Philadelphia Republican and chairman of the party in the city, said he and other members of the state House will be in session Saturday in Harrisburg, wrangling over details for the five-months-overdue state budget.

Taylor said he doesn't see the point of heading to New York each year. But he understands why his party picked Trump to draw a crowd and its money.

"That's exactly the attraction," he said. "You never know what he's going to say, right?"

Taylor says he expects a crowd of reporters outside the event, which is not open to reporters. Trump is "going to love every second of it," Taylor said. "The guy's having a ball."

Plus, he knows his way to the Plaza.


Inquirer staff writers Thomas Fitzgerald and Jonathan Tamari contributed to this article.