CLEVELAND >> There are war heroes, a casino mogul and even an underwear model, yet Donald Trump is relying heavily on his party’s establishment to fill the speaking program for next week’s Republican National Convention.
The presumptive presidential nominee has approved a convention program that features at least 20 current or former elected officials, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker Paul Ryan and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. Noticeably absent from a speaker list obtained by The Associated Press early Thursday are the athletes and A-List celebrities that Trump’s team long suggested would help make his presidential nominating convention unlike any other.
Yet there is no shortage of political outsiders.
Speakers will include four of Trump’s children, Las Vegas casino owner Phil Ruffin, and actor and former underwear model Antonio Sabàto Jr. And in a slap at Democratic contender Hillary Clinton, Mark Geist and John Tiegen will also take the stage, both survivors of the deadly 2012 attack on the American diplomatic consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
“This impressive lineup of veterans, political outsiders, faith leaders and those who know Donald Trump the best — his family and longtime friends — represent a cross-section of real people facing the same challenges as every American household,” said Trump spokesman Jason Miller.
Despite the list of familiar politicos, the convention program is a reminder that the Republican Party remains deeply divided over Trump’s candidacy.
Some of the GOP’s biggest names were not on the list because they refused to participate in four-day convention, which begins on Monday.
The GOP’s two living presidents, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, and its two most recent presidential nominees, John McCain and Mitt Romney, all plan to avoid the Cleveland affair — as does Ohio’s Republican Gov. John Kasich. Shrugging off the high-profile absences, Trump’s team suggested the convention lineup would help highlight Trump’s outsider appeal.
“We are totally over-booked. We have great speakers, we have winners, we have people that aren’t only political people,” Trump told Fox News Channel on Tuesday. “We have a lot of people that are just champions and winners.”
The New York billionaire acknowledged in recent days that he’d be hewing a little closer to tradition.
“Look, I have great respect for the institution of the conventions. I mean to me, it’s very important. So we’re not going to change the wheel,” he said on Fox.
New England Patriots star quarterback Tom Brady, a Trump friend, was initially teased as a possible speaker, but will not appear on stage next week in Cleveland. Neither will former Indiana University basketball coach Bobby Knight or legendary boxing promoter Don King, a Cleveland resident and passionate Trump supporter.
The program will instead feature people like pro golfer Natalie Gulbis, retired astronaut Eileen Collins, and Ultimate Fighting Championship president Dana White. In addition to the Benghazi survivors, former Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell, author of the book, “Lone Survivor,” will make an appearance, along with Wisconsin Sheriff David Clarke, a vocal critic of the Black Lives Matter movement.
The convention will also highlight religious leaders such as Jerry Falwell Jr., son of the famed televangelist, and Haskel Lookstein, the New York rabbi who converted Trump’s daughter, Ivanka to Judaism.
Trump does not forget his business relationships, giving speaking slots to real estate investor Tom Barrack, PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel and even the general manager for Virginia’s Trump Winery, Kerry Woolard.
And in a nod toward party unity, Trump will feature several former presidential competitors, including Cruz, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Ben Carson and Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.
Two finalists in Trump’s search for a running mate made the list as well: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Newt Gingrich. The other finalist, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, was not included in the program obtained by the AP.
Trump had already announced that his children would be speaking, along with his wife Melania, whom he said was already working on remarks.
Ivanka Trump, who along with Trump’s other adult children, has been playing an increasingly central role in the campaign, predicted in a recent radio interview the GOP convention would be “a convention unlike any we’ve ever seen.”
“It will be substantive. It will be interesting. It will be different. It’s not going to be a ho-hum lineup of, you know, the typical politicians,” she said.