CLEVELAND — Donald Trump’s convention will feature an eclectic mix of cultural figures, from the first woman to command a space shuttle mission to the survivors of the 2012 Benghazi attacks to an underwear model.
But while several Republican Party establishment figures will take the stage next week in Cleveland, the national convention to officially nominate Trump will be devoid of some of the GOP’s most seasoned leaders and brightest new stars.
Republican officials on Thursday released a long-awaited list of convention personalities billed as “non-conventional speakers” who emphasize “real world experience.”
The convention’s theme will be Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again,” with a core focus on national security, immigration, trade and jobs.
The program includes more than a dozen current or former elected officials, including the leaders of the party’s congressional wing, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (Wis.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.).
A handful of governors and other lawmakers are scheduled to give addresses, including former primary opponents Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, as well as retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson.
“There’s going to be a unified convention,” Trump spokesman Jason Miller told reporters Thursday, adding that the announced agenda was only a partial list of speakers. “People are going to be united behind Mr. Trump.”
The unusual collection of nonpolitical speakers seems designed to broaden Trump’s appeal. Roster names include retired astronaut Eileen Collins, the first female space-shuttle pilot and mission commander; Mark Geist and John Tiegen, two survivors of the 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libya; and Antonio Sabato Jr., a former Calvin Klein underwear model, soap-opera actor and reality-television star.
Some sports figures will take the stage here, including pro golfer Natalie Gulbis and Ultimate Fighting Championship president Dana White.
Tim Tebow, a 28-year-old former NFL quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner, also is expected to speak at the convention. Tebow is admired by many conservatives because of his outspoken evangelical Christian beliefs.
But some sporting heroes of decades past that Trump has said he would like to see at the convention — former Indiana University basketball coach Bobby Knight and boxing promoter Don King — are not listed as featured speakers.
Also notably absent from the speaker’s list was Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, a finalist to be Trump’s vice president. Trump was in Indiana on Wednesday to meet with Pence and his wife, Karen, at their home, as well as with other prospective running mates.
Trump plans to announce his decision Friday at 11 a.m. in New York, and it was unclear what Pence’s absence from the official speakers list indicated about his chances. If chosen, he would deliver an acceptance speech after being formally nominated for vice president.
Two other vice-presidential finalists, Christie and former House speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.), are listed on the program, as is Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, who also was vetted as a vice-presidential prospect.
Not speaking in Cleveland are the GOP’s past two presidential nominees, Mitt Romney and John McCain, as well as its only two living former presidents, George W. Bush and George H.W. Bush. None will be in Cleveland for the week-long festivities.
Also excluded from the speaker’s list are many of the party’s more diverse rising stars, including South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Tim Scott of South Carolina and Rep. Mia Love of Utah.
By contrast, the Democratic National Convention the following week in Philadelphia is expected to feature a full assortment of party stars — past, present and future — including President Obama, first lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Biden, former president Bill Clinton and Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Bernie Sanders (I) of Vermont.
The political star-power disparity between the conventions speaks volumes about the state of the two parties, with Republicans divided over their controversial new standard-bearer.
Looking ahead to Philadelphia, Republican strategist Rick Wilson said of the Democrats, “Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, Elizabeth Warren — they’re all going to be out there swinging for the fences. But the Republicans, it’ll be like a hostage video of people forced on stage.”
The Cleveland convention will be orchestrated to help expand Trump’s appeal to the general electorate. To that end, several members of Trump’s family are expected to give speeches, including his wife, Melania, and his four oldest children: Donald Jr., Ivanka, Eric and Tiffany.
In addition, other speakers who have known Trump and his family through the years plan to take the stage. They include Haskel Lookstein, a rabbi in New York who converted Ivanka Trump to Judaism; Tom Barrack, a wealthy California-based investor who has worked with Donald Trump on real-estate deals; and Kerry Woolard, the general manager of Trump Winery in Virginia.
With the public on edge following a spate of shootings by police and last week’s killing of five officers in Dallas, Trump has sought to brand himself as the law-and-order candidate. Some speakers at the Cleveland convention could help him make that case, including Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, an outspoken critic of the Black Lives Matter movement and frequent Fox News guest; former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani; and two female attorneys general, Pam Bondi of Florida and Leslie Rutledge of Arkansas.
Several early Trump backers are being rewarded with convention speaking slots, among them Jerry Falwell Jr., president of Liberty University, a college founded by his late televangelist father. Falwell campaigned frequently at Trump’s side leading up to the Iowa caucuses.
But one especially prominent Trump surrogate is not listed as a speaker: Sarah Palin, the former Alaska governor and 2008 vice-presidential nominee, who has garnered mixed reviews for her campaign-trail appearances supporting Trump.
Ed O’Keefe contributed to this report.