Mar 25, 2016 2:12 PM GMT
On the campaign trail, Donald Trump has a clear answer to questions about a contested convention in Cleveland — it's not happening.
The dealmaker, however, is not leaving anything to chance.
While Trump publicly dismisses talk of a battle in Cleveland, he is quietly assembling a team of seasoned operatives to manage a contested convention. Their strategy, NBC has learned, is to convert delegates in the crucial 40 days between the end of the primaries and the convention - while girding for a floor fight in Cleveland if necessary.
The outreach is already underway.
We are talking to tons of delegates," says Barry Bennett, a former Ben Carson campaign manager now leading the delegate strategy for Trump...
Trump faces an even more unpredictable process on the convention floor if he does not lock in a clear delegate majority before Cleveland.
If no candidate clinches the nomination on the first ballot, there are new rounds of voting, and the rules allow delegates to switch teams.
An operative on Trump's convention team, who was not authorized to speak on the record, described Phase Two as an effort to prevent attrition in that balloting.
"Our goal," the aide says, "is to make sure every delegate Trump has now stays a Trump delegate on the second ballot."
The horse-trading also intensifies on later balloting...
While his convention team prepares, Trump is publicly casting any challenge to his nomination as either dangerous or unfair.
In a CNN interview on March 17, Trump said "I think you'd have riots" if delegates blocked him from the nomination at the convention....