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Conventional Wisdom: What To Watch For At The Republican National Convention

CLEVELAND — It’s finally upon us, readers, four days of possible mayhem, certain political theater and a plethora of open bars: the Republican National Convention.

Where do things stand going into the Republican National Committee’s big summer bash? As with any party, the guest list is of primary concern: Sadly for Donald Trump and the most put-upon man in America, Reince Priebus, the RSVP’s to Cleveland have been a little sparse. In fact, a veritable who’s who of Washington will not be attending. Sens. Jeff Flake and John McCain are skipping, Flake to mow his lawn, McCain to admire the majesty of the Grand Canyon. Montana Sen. Steve Daines said he was going to be doing a little fly-fishing. Other masters of the Senate — the likes of Kelly Ayotte and Mark Kirk — will be campaigning for themselves and won’t be able to squeeze in the RNC. And, of course, there is Sen. Lindsey Graham, who has made no bones about the fact that he will be watching from home, doubtless armed with a CamelBak full of sweet tea, heckles at the ready.

None of the party’s previous nominees will be attending except for Bob Dole. Sarah Palin was missing from the convention speakers list, and by way of explanation, Trump said that she had been invited but wouldn’t be attending because Alaska is “a long ways away.” Former Trump primary rival Gov. John Kasich of Ohio has said that he’ll be in Cleveland this week, though it’s unclear if he’ll go to any official events. Ohio Sen. Rob Portman has said he’ll attend. On Wednesday, the The New York Times reported that the speakers at the convention would include the moderate football talent Tim Tebow and Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel. But on Thursday, Tebow took to the internet to say that all was rumor and innuendo — he would not be attending. Ivanka Trump’s rabbi was going to come, too, but he backed out at the last minute.

Who’s talking, then? A lot of the names from Trump’s VP short list, for starters. Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst, retired Lt. General Michael Flynn and Alabama’s Sen. Jeff Sessions will speak. So will House Speaker Paul Ryan and Trump’s primary rival Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. Many Trump family members are going to be taking to the podium, too. Melania Trump will surely catch some attention with her prime-time speech on the first night of the convention, as will Ivanka Trump, who is slated to speak on the final night, along with her father. Trump’s sons Eric and Donald Jr. will talk, and Tiffany Trump will finally get her moment in the spotlight. Things are sure to get a little Pence-ive (it had to be done, right?) when Trump’s VP nominee talks on Wednesday.

What’s everyone going to be talking about, then? Monday night’s prime-time slots have been planned around a Benghazi theme, while Tuesday will be about the economy, and at some point, it has been reported, there will be a focus on Bill Clinton’s infidelities.

Much of the more substantive work surrounding the GOP’s convention took place last week, away from the bright TV lights. It was then that the party’s platform was shaped, and many say it has been “Trump-ified.” Language is now included in the document that calls for building a wall along the border with Mexico, and it no longer refers to “illegal immigrants” but rather “illegal aliens.”

The party’s stance on immigration is, of course, among the reasons why protesters will be turning out to Cleveland in droves. The city’s downtown has been cordoned off into various security and protests zones by law enforcement in an effort toward controlling the inevitably chaotic atmosphere. Groups such as Bikers for Trump have also promised they’ll be in Cleveland. “We’ve seen how these paid agitators have thrown eggs and gotten violent at other Trump events around the country, and we’re not going to put up with it,” one biker told Breitbart News.

One minor little rub about the whole convention? The RNC isn’t entirely sure how it’s paying for the whole thing. A number of companies backed out of their commitments because of Trump’s controversial campaign, leaving the organizing committee scrambling to come up with funding. A letter was sent to donor powerhouse Sheldon Adelson asking him for $6 million, and a subsequent controversy erupted over the letter, given that a few of its signatories never actually saw the thing.

At least there will be funny hats aplenty.

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Clare Malone is a former senior political writer for FiveThirtyEight.