Republicans launched into a debate Monday over the principles and rules that will guide next week’s national convention and beyond — a harbinger of whether the Cleveland event will go smoothly or devolve into party infighting.
The groundwork for the convention is being laid in meetings of the Platform Committee that kicked off Monday in Cleveland, to be followed by the Rules Committee.
And one potential flashpoint already has emerged on the issue of international trade, something that has separated the GOP establishment and presumptive presidential nominee Donald Trump.
Trump, since the start of his campaign, repeatedly has argued the Trans-Pacific Partnership recently brokered by President Obama and similar global trade deals are hurting American businesses.
However, members of the so-called GOP Platform Committee, meeting to finalize the party’s guiding principles, told Fox News that references to TPP in draft platform documents were removed Monday.
Asked if the issue would re-emerge, Platform Committee Chairman Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., told Fox Business Network, “Trade is going to be a component of it.”
But he predicted Trump would ultimately embrace the platform.
“If you talk to Donald Trump and he will tell you, he is for trade, but he wants to make sure they are good trade deals,” he said.
Trump’s hardline stance on trade has given Washington Republicans a headache, considering their long-held beliefs in free trade and open markets, though — as Barrasso noted — Trump has tempered his views by saying he’s opposed only to bad trade deals.
The revelation about TPP references being removed came just minutes after Barrasso said the Trump campaign has essentially been hands-off on drafting the platform — except for wanting language that allows him, if elected, to reject any trade deal he thinks would hurt the U.S. economy.
The 112-member committee divided Monday into small groups to focus on such issues as immigration, heath care and the economy.
They will regroup later this week. The convention itself begins July 18.
The biggest fireworks, though, could come later this week when the GOP Rules Committee meets to finalize the rulebook for convention delegates. This matters as it could become the last stand for Republicans trying to thwart Trump’s nomination.
Most of the delegates awarded to Trump from state primaries and caucuses essentially must vote for him in Cleveland, according to 2012 convention rules. Under those rules, Trump has more than enough to seal the nomination.
However, if the committee overhauls the rules and gives delegates flexibility, the stop-Trump movement could have a last-ditch shot at pushing an alternative candidate. Still, few expect they can succeed at this point in upending the results of the primary elections.
Another issue that has divided Trump and Washington Republicans — and that could become an issue in the platform debate — is immigration.
Trump’s vow, if elected, to build a wall along the southern U.S. border and deport millions of illegal Mexican immigrants has upset party leaders trying to appeal to Hispanics, whose votes are crucial toward winning the White House and congressional seats.
Meanwhile, Trump doesn’t appear eager to insert himself into a potential intra-party battle over same-sex marriage.
Social conservatives seem to want states to decide on the issue, compared with the party’s previous position of trying to get a constitutional amendment to define marriage as only between a man and a woman.
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus and other party leaders say they have sought input for the platform from roughly 500,000 members over the past three years.
And in June, the party launched a website to get additional input.
“While Democrats are letting party insiders write their platform behind closed doors, Platform.gop is proof of our Party’s philosophy of listening to the voice of the people and honoring the democratic process,” Priebus said.