The delegates looking to dump Trump are badly outnumbered on a key rules committee.
Anti-Trump activists plotting a coup at the national convention in Cleveland this month more likely face a drubbing of their own.
Any attempt to block Trump would begin in the convention’s rules committee, an 112-member panel of delegates where Trump’s enemies had hoped to make a stand against the presumptive nominee. Through dozens of interviews and a review of public statements, however, POLITICO has determined that at least 72 members of the panel intend to smooth Trump’s path to the nomination — not hinder it.
Just six members say they’ll work against Trump, and of those six, two said they’d bail on the effort if they don’t find sufficient support. “If this has a shot, and if this continues to develop … I will support the freeing of the delegates,” said one of the committee members.
It’s a mismatch so yawning that anti-Trump delegates may find themselves unable to muster even the minimal support of the committee it would take to send their plans to the full convention, where all 2,472 delegates would be forced to weigh in.
“I will be actively working to stop any ill-conceived effort to unbind delegates and will work as diligently as I can — procedurally and politically — to ensure any efforts … are defeated and defeated soundly,” said Mike Stuart, a Rules Committee delegate from West Virginia.
Added Nevada Rules Committee delegate Jordan Ross, “Whatever objections, be they petty or vindictive, that might possibly erase the concept of Republican voters to choose their nominee, I have yet to hear one that justifies stealing the votes of over 10 million voters.”
It’s a frustrating reality for anti-Trump Republicans, who have failed to gain much traction in recent weeks, despite red flags about Trump’s candidacy. GOP officeholders have ditched Trump’s convention in large numbers, he trails Hillary Clinton in the polls, and he’s been both out-organized and outspent by the Democrat.
But those dynamics have failed to mobilize convention delegates to abandon Trump. And members of the Rules Committee — who have the power to throw roadblocks in Trump’s path to the nomination — say it would take a much greater collapse for them to choose the nuclear option: changing party rules to obstruct Trump’s nomination.
“It’d be totally unfair to change the rules in the middle of the game,” said Arkansas Rules Committee member Jonathan Barnett. Barnett said perhaps if Trump’s poll figures cratered by 20 points more, delegates would rethink his nomination. “That’s not going to happen,” he said.
Even Trump’s detractors have slowly lined up behind his candidacy, arguing that they can’t bring themselves to overturn the results of state primaries and caucuses — not to mention blindside the presumptive nominee by changing the rules that all candidates had been adhering to throughout the spring.
“The presumptive nominee was not my first, second or even third choice, but I don’t believe changing the rules this close to the convention is in the party’s long-term interest,” said Anne Gentry, a Rules Committee delegate from Virginia.
Without delegates like Gentry on board, there are few opportunities for anti-Trump forces to make gains on the committee.
Trump’s opponents began with a simple goal: persuade 57 members of the Rules Committee to support a proposal that would untether delegates from the results of their states’ primaries and caucuses, most of which supported Trump. Colorado Rules Committee delegate Kendal Unruh, a leader of the anti-Trump movement, has proposed adding a “conscience clause” to the party rules, permitting any delegate to cite moral objections to a candidate as a basis for selecting another nominee.
But Unruh and her supporters had a fallback option: If they could muster just 28 supporters, the Rules Committee would issue a “minority report” that would be debated by all 2,472 delegates to the convention. Even that lower threshold now seems in doubt.
Only Unruh and her fellow Coloradan Guy Short have publicly embraced the conscience clause amendment. North Dakota’s Curly Haugland argues that all delegates are free to vote their conscience even without a rules change, but he hasn’t explicitly endorsed Unruh’s effort and insists he’s not opposed to Trump — only to the notion that delegates can’t choose their nominee.
Two other Rules Committee members told POLITICO on condition of anonymity that they would back the conscience clause if it appeared to have enough momentum to pass. And a sixth member, Linda Brickman of Arizona, told NBC last month that she would support delegates voting their conscience. Brickman did not respond to a POLITICO request for comment.
Of the 34 delegates who haven’t weighed in on the anti-Trump efforts, 23 did not respond to requests for comment. But about half of them come from states where Trump won primaries. Another nine said they were unsure how they would vote.
(“Sorry, haven’t decided,” said Alaska’s Fred Brown in an email. “Hope to decide next week.”)
The two remaining delegates are from the Virgin Islands, and they’re facing challenges to their credentials, which means they’re unlikely to be seated in time to participate in the Rules Committee.
At least 22 of the remaining 35 would need to join Unruh’s effort if her proposal is to earn enough support for a minority report to reach the convention floor.
One of the last vestiges of hope for anti-Trump delegates is that there are dozens of secret supporters in their midst who won’t acknowledge their intentions until the last moment. Pressure to support Trump is enormous, they note, and hinting at rejecting him may lead to an onslaught of criticism, vitriol and even threats that other Trump detractors have faced when they publicly buck him.
In the meantime, groups have formed to carry their message: Unruh’s Free the Delegates, along with Courageous Conservatives PAC, Delegates Unbound and Delegate Revolt, which publicly posted a list of all Rules Committee members’ email addresses this week. The groups have been running cable ads, contacting Rules Committee members and distributing copies of Haugland’s new book about the history of delegates voting their consciences. But so far, their push has made few inroads on the Rules Committee.
Unruh acknowledged that this outcome was possible but argued that it would still likely come up for debate on the convention floor. That’s because under Haugland’s interpretation of the rules, any delegate can protest the roll call of his or her state and demand a new tally. Those tallies, under current party rules, are to be recorded without challenge as the official vote.
“Even if it doesn’t make it through rules, so be it,” Unruh said. “Then it’s a floor fight.”
Eric Minor, a delegate from Washington state who isn’t on the Rules Committee, added that most convention rules — including the rules that bind delegates based on election results — will expire when the convention gavels in on July 18. Unless delegates act to reinstate binding, he said, “the default … is we can vote our conscience on the floor.”
“The battle is going to unfold in a couple of different ways,” he said.