There will be no contested convention this year. But that doesn’t mean it won’t get contentious.
And while there is little doubt that Donald J. Trump will emerge from the Republican National Convention in Cleveland as the party’s presidential nominee, there is still some uncertainty about what could unfold there starting July 18.
Over the course of four days, Mr. Trump will have to navigate potential hazards, like hostile delegates suspicious of his conservatism and determined to thwart his candidacy. Complicating matters further, many of those delegates possess an intricate knowledge of the parliamentary process that establishes the convention’s rules and program. Any of them looking to make trouble certainly could try.
Recent political conventions have grown so scripted and choreographed that moments of true spontaneity are rare. This year, when history seems to be providing little guiding precedent, could be the one that shatters the calm. Here are some of the wild cards that could roil the event in Cleveland:
The vote for vice president
Convention delegates are under no obligation to vote for the vice-presidential candidate Mr. Trump chooses. That vote is held separately, and if enough delegates object to Mr. Trump’s choice for any reason — too liberal, too moderate, too inexperienced, too much of an insider — they can vote the nomination down.
Some conservatives have demanded that Mr. Trump name his vice-presidential contender well before the convention, a position that appears to be more than just the usual griping. Many delegates suspect Mr. Trump is not a sincere conservative, and they want to be reassured by having him choose a running mate they trust.
A platform fight
Tensions among party factions could surface through the process of assembling the party’s platform, the document that spells out its policy positions. In a contentious convention it is easy to envision a scenario in which conservatives look to insert new language to take a hard line on issues that Mr. Trump has not made central to his campaign.
This could come in the form of a plank on transgender rights and the use of bathrooms, currently a touchy issue with social conservatives. Mr. Trump has said he thinks it is unnecessary to pass laws that restrict bathroom use by people who identify with a gender different from their gender at birth. Social conservatives who oppose him could push for language saying such laws are needed to protect children.
And Mr. Trump could try to make things uncomfortable given how many of his views run contrary to Republican orthodoxy. He could, for example, insist that the platform include language that disavows the trade deals he loathes, something that is sure to rankle free-trade Republicans but stir passions among Mr. Trump’s supporters.
Ted Cruz’s delegates
Senator Ted Cruz of Texas has a large and loyal following that will be eager to hear from him on the party’s biggest stage. He gets to deliver a speech no matter what, but it is up to Mr. Trump to decide whether that happens in prime time or in the lonely viewing hours of afternoon.
Typically the runner-up will bargain with the presumptive nominee when it comes to such issues. In exchange for releasing his delegates to vote for Mr. Trump — something Mr. Cruz has pointedly not done — Mr. Trump could agree to give Mr. Cruz a marquee billing at the convention.
Mr. Cruz could always stubbornly hold onto his nearly 600 delegates. And most of them would probably have to vote for him at the convention under the party’s binding rules. That would amount to an embarrassing affront to Mr. Trump and make him the first Republican nominee in recent times to suffer such significant defections in the nominating vote.
Setting the tone
Mr. Trump’s challenge in running a convention with hostile delegates is like nothing we have seen in recent election cycles, when about as rowdy as it got was in 2012 when a relatively small number of Ron Paul delegates revolted.
Mr. Cruz probably wants more than just a speech, as he hinted this week by urging his delegates to push the party platform in a more conservative direction. His cooperation, and the Trump campaign’s willingness to negotiate, will set the convention’s tone.
So far, the Trump campaign seems to understand the value in having a convention as unified as possible. Paul Manafort, a senior Trump adviser who was brought on to run delegate and convention outreach, was at the Republican convention in 1976 when President Gerald R. Ford faced a challenge from Ronald Reagan. Then a staff member for Mr. Ford, Mr. Manafort said he had drawn some lessons on how not to treat the runner-up.
“The Ford campaign didn’t handle Reagan right in ’76 because it didn’t make him feel important,” Mr. Manafort said. “As a consequence the campaign lost the value of Reagan for a month and a half.”
And there could be value for Mr. Trump in having Mr. Cruz on board to rally conservative voters when he faces the general election.
A potential curveball
The convention is essentially a living body, with rules and procedures that can be modified or discarded to suit the desires of the delegates. This is where much of the speculation about an unruly convention began.
Anything dramatic seems unlikely — a move by delegates hostile to Mr. Trump, for example, to change the rules to deny him the nomination — but it is possible. Consider this potential nuclear option, which one rules expert described anonymously because it is only hypothetical. It is tantalizing because it is so simple.
Mr. Trump could be stopped with just a single-word change requiring the nominee to receive a supermajority of votes at the convention rather than the majority currently required. Mr. Trump, after all, had floated changing majority to plurality when it was not clear he would win the 1,237 delegates he needed.
Other changes could also create mayhem. One delegate who is a rules expert, Curly Haugland of North Dakota, said in an interview that he will propose a new rule that would allow any candidate with one delegate to be entered into nomination. This would open the door for Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, Gov. John Kasich of Ohio, Jeb Bush, Ben Carson and others to be nominated. (Right now, only Mr. Trump and Mr. Cruz will be formally entered because the rules essentially require candidates to win at least eight states before they can be nominated.)
More names in nomination mean fewer votes for Mr. Trump, and the remote possibility that he could be denied the majority he needs to prevent a second ballot. And after that, as unlikely as it seems now, all bets would be off.