Prospect of Trump Sparks Republican Rules Fight

Some want to change the rules to make it easier to nominate someone other than Donald Trump.

Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus is interviewed by Sean Hannity during the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, March 4
Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus is interviewed by Sean Hannity during the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, March 4 (Gage Skidmore)

A struggle is taking place inside the Republican Party about a proposed rule change that would make it easier to nominate someone other than Donald Trump for president.

Politico reports that the Republican National Committee, which leads the party day-to-day, is pushing back against a proposal from some of the people who will be delegates at the convention in July to change the rules under which the gathering would operate.

Bruce Ash, a Republican from Arizona who is due to chair the convention’s powerful rules committee, has accused his own party leadership of a “major breach of trust” for apparently trying to prevent a rules change from even being considered.

At issue is a proposal to switch the rule book governing the convention from the rules of the United States House of Representatives, which have been used at Republican national conventions for decades, to Robert’s Rules of Order, which is common in civic and organizational meetings.

What that would mean in practice is that power shifts away from the chairman of the convention, Paul Ryan, who is also the speaker of the House, and to the delegates themselves — potentially giving them the chance to nominate someone for president who has not been contesting the primaries.

Arguments

Supporters argue that such a change would make the convention more democratic and more transparent.

Skeptics, like Tennessee’s John Ryder, the Republican National Committee’s chief counsel, worry that it would be perceived as unfair.

“Especially in the middle of the current primary contest, it is important that the RNC not take action that can be interpreted as attempting to favor one candidate or another,” he argues. “Major changes now are dangerous and not a good idea.”

Reince Priebus, the chairman of the RNC, agrees.

“I think we’re in a politically charged environment,” he said. “I think that the RNC rules committee, going forward, with making rules amendment suggestions is — it is not a good idea.”

“Rigged”

Priebus and his committee are in a bind. Despite staying neutral — to a fault — in the presidential contest, it is now accused by Trump of overseeing a “rigged” nominating process.

Trump’s grievance is with delegate-selection rules that have lately started to disadvantage him.

Whereas Trump won relatively more delegates than votes in primaries through February and March, some of which had winner-takes-all or winner-takes-most provisions, several of the contests this month have been more favorable to his rival, Ted Cruz. Now suddenly the process is unfair.

The RNC is desperate to avoid the impression that the party is taking sides, especially when Cruz is more likely to be nominated at the convention if Trump falls short of an outright majority.

If the businessman does not get the support of at least 1,237 delegates on the convention’s first ballot, many would be instantly “unbound” and could vote for somebody else on subsequent ballots.

Cruz’ campaign is working hard to get its supporters elected as delegates at local and state conventions so they can switch to him on a second ballot. Trump’s, by contrast, appears to be constantly outfoxed.