As Republicans start the party, turmoil is likely and unity questionable

David Lightman,

Republican insiders will gather Sunday night in Cleveland for a week of deliberations over the party’s platform that will set the tone for next week’s convention.

Their fragile unity has cracks that could become crevasses.

First up is the platform, the detailed recitation of where the party stands. It gets intense scrutiny for a few days every four years, and then it disappears. It’s rare for a president to reference it.

It’s more of a blueprint for party loyalists seeking to attract voters and, at the least, establish principles to guide policy. Trump, like other candidates before him, is not expected to have much of a say.

This is built by conservative insiders.

“I’m expecting a conservative platform to come out of this,” Sen John Barrasso, R-Wyo., platform committee chairman, told McClatchy. He’s spoken to Trump too. “I’ve asked him to embrace the platform and I expect he will.”

This is going to be a delegate-driven platform. Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming, Republican platform chairman

What Barrasso most wants, he said, is a platform that reflects common goals: job creation, rewriting the Affordable Care Act, taking tough stands against terrorism and Common Core, the education standards Republicans see as intrusive.

gopconv_small-2 As Republicans start the party, turmoil is likely and unity questionable

The cornerstones of Trump’s campaign, a wall between the U.S. and Mexico and a temporary ban on Muslims entering the United States, could be added, but Trump forces are signaling they won’t fight about it.

“My impression is they want a platform we can all agree on,” said Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., a Trump adviser. “They’re not inclined to fight over every word.”

They also know that the bigger drama could come later this week, when the convention’s rules committee meets. Dozens of delegates want a way to deny Trump the nomination or at least force a no-confidence vote.

An estimated 559 delegates are loyal to Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. But during the spring, his forces secured delegates who, after a first-ballot vote for Trump, would bolt and support Cruz on a second ballot.

That’s unlikely to happen, but those “shadow Cruz” delegates – it’s unclear how many – might influence the platform and rules. Or they could team with delegates loyal to onetime candidates Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and John Kasich, the governor of Ohio, who have 331 delegates.

Trump has 1,542, well above the 1,237 needed to secure the nomination.

A lean short platform is something we should consider this time. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., a Trump adviser

Virginia delegate Carroll Correll Jr. is challenging the state law requiring delegates bound to Trump to vote for him. At a hearing Thursday, among the expert witnesses was Curly Haugland, a North Dakota Republican committeeman who has argued for years that no delegates should be bound.

Haugland has written a manual for delegates, and says: “Every delegate to the 2016 Republican National Convention is a completely free agent.” Some delegates are talking about voting their consciences. A petition circulated by urges delegates to “show resolve and stand up for decency and the party platform during this difficult time.”

But is there an alternative? “It would be suicidal if you undid the process,” said David Carney, President George H.W. Bush’s political director, now a New Hampshire-based political consultant.

Trump also helped ease some tension Thursday when he met with Cruz and Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus. While Cruz did not endorse Trump, he agreed to speak at the convention; Trump pledged to consult Cruz on judicial nominations.

‘Never Trump’ is not on the ballot. You’re not going to beat somebody with nobody. David Carney, White House political director under President George H.W. Bush

Party unity will be tested Monday and Tuesday. The platform committee — two delegates from each state and territory plus the District of Columbia — plans to pore over what’s likely to be a 60-odd-page document. Besides Barrasso, co-chairs will be Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., and Mary Fallin, the governor of Oklahoma.

The appetite for a full-throated endorsement of a Mexican wall or a temporary ban on Muslim entry seems muted. Acceptable language might be: “People who adhere to radical and violent Islamist ideologies (as opposed to merely being a Muslim) should be barred from the country,” said Ira Mehlman, spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which backs tough border control.

The biggest platform turmoil will involve religious freedom, a gut-check issue for conservatives.

“The issue of religious liberty is part of the First Amendment,” said David Christensen, vice president for government affairs at the Family Research Council. Council President Tony Perkins is a platform committee member.

To some, religious freedom also provides an opening to reject gay rights since their faith frowns on homosexuality.

Others acknowledge that the Supreme Court has decided the same-sex marriage issue and cite the “Utah compromise,” backed by the Mormons and gay rights groups. The Utah legislation, passed earlier this year, bars discrimination against gays and lesbians in employment and housing, and protects religious institutions opposed to homosexuality.

“There is a balance between religious liberty and nondiscrimination,” said Ed Martin, president of the Eagle Forum, a conservative group active in platform issues.

Trump’s the most pro-gay nominee the party’s ever had. Gregory Angelo, president of the Log Cabin Republicans, a conservative gay organization

Gay rights groups plan to push the party on same-sex marriage. The 2012 platform urged a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and woman.

Gregory Angelo, the president of Log Cabin Republicans, a GOP gay-rights group, figured: “We’d be happy if less is more when it comes to the party platform.”

Getting the marriage provision removed “is definitely going to be a challenge,” he said, though he was encouraged by Trump’s support of gay rights.

Trade issues also bring tension. Trump wanted to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, saying it’s costing the U.S. jobs, and he opposes the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a pending trade pact with 11 Pacific Rim nations.

That goes against long-held party policy on freer trade. The 2012 platform pledged that “a Republican president will complete negotiations for a Trans-Pacific Partnership.”

Barrasso said his talks with Trump suggested there was common ground.

“It’s important to be . . . trading in a free and fair way in programs that are enforceable,” he said. “I’m willing to walk away from bad deals.”

The goal, Barrasso said, is to present a united front, period. “It’s going to be a conservative platform.”

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