Donald Trump points during a campaign event on July 5, 2016 in Raleigh, N.C.
Sara D. Davis—Getty Images
By Zeke J Miller / Cleveland
July 12, 2016

Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus is in the dark about the identity of Donald Trump’s vice presidential selection like the rest of America.

In an interview Monday afternoon in his lake-view suite in Cleveland one week before the start of the GOP convention, Priebus told TIME he was optimistic about the party unifying together at the quadrennial gathering, while condemning efforts to try to unbind the delegates to remove Trump as the party’s nominee. The party chair also praised the presumptive nominee’s transformation over the last week, saying he’s please with the more scripted candidate that has been in evidence since the June campaign shake-up.

“No, I haven’t heard who it’s going to be, but I have a pretty good idea of what the field looks like,” Priebus said of Trump’s running mate. “I think there’s always an element of surprise that could come out of nowhere and shock people.”

Priebus said he was pleased that Trump has been more subdued in recent weeks, but acknowledged that Trump will never be able to fully part ways with occasional bursts of bombast.

“He loves the rallies and he loves talking to his bases and that’s something that he appreciates and I think he’s very loyal to the people who got him there,” Priebus said. “But I think he also understands that to get to the White House he has to be the Donald Trump that we’ve seen over the last few weeks. I think he understands that, I think he’s aware of it and is committed of it. But he just loves once in a while doing those rallies.”

“You know, I’m a risk manager as chairman of the party,” he added. “If it was up to me, we’d have everything mapped out, and not everyone operates in that kind of world.”

DNC Chairman Reince Priebus participates in a Politico Playbook breakfast forum, May 6, 2016 in Washington, DC.
Mark Wilson—Getty Images

But Priebus, who talks to Trump every day, said he encourages Trump to keep his focus on attacking Clinton and boosting his own agenda, rather than continue his squabbles within the GOP.

The Trump campaign had been late to planning its convention efforts, struggling to fill key campaign roles. But while Trump promised to release the speaker line-up for the convention last week, Priebus said the unexplained delay doesn’t indicate that they are having trouble filling slots. “I have seen complete line-by-lines, like every five minutes, block-by-block-by-block filled,” he said of the program. “It’s full.”

“It’ll be a very good group of party activists, party leaders, family members, folks that aren’t political, and music,” Priebus said. He wouldn’t say whether Trump would speak on more than one night of the convention.

Priebus said he was pleased by Trump’s roughly $51 million fundraising haul in June, even though it was half of what Mitt Romney brought in during the same period four years ago, saying he was especially optimistic about Trumps small-dollar fundraising online. “We’ve never had someone fundraise like this,” he said. “He has the potential to be our Barack Obama and Bernie Sanders.”

As delegates debate the party’s platform and rules, Priebus described Trump’s campaign as hands-off—a major departure from the Romney and McCain campaigns. “Trump and Trump’s team have not been jamming us up this week,” Priebus said. “You have a much more open conversation as opposed to a nominee jamming everyone with everything that the nominee wanted. It’s a far more open process.”

But from his hotel suite and in private meetings, Priebus has taken a keen interest in the meetings, seeking to avoid potentially embarrassing platform planks and monitoring the so-called “Free the Delegates” movement that is trying to dump Trump. Priebus predicted the latter effort would fail spectacularly, criticizing the efforts at disunity as harming the party’s chances at all levels in November.

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