Republican Party insiders are not at all persuaded that a candidate who is not currently campaigning for the presidency should be nominated at their convention in Cleveland, Ohio this summer.
Some have suggested that a “white knight,” like House speaker Paul Ryan or the party’s 2012 nominee, Mitt Romney, could be asked to challenge the Democrats’ Hillary Clinton in November if the convention is gridlocked.
But the gatekeepers of the convention, members of the powerful rules committee, are not enthused.
“Ridiculous — not happening,” one of them told NBC News.
“There’s no way in hell that any of these candidates — who have worked this hard and spent this much money — are going to say, ‘OK, now, for the good of the party, I’ll sit down and let’s bring back Mitt Romney,'” said another. “That’s a fantasy world. There’s zero chance of that happening.”
Of the nineteen members of the Standing Committee on Rules contacted by NBC, only three said they could see themselves supporting a change that would allow new candidates to enter the contest at the convention.
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The 56 members of the committee will be critical in deciding whether the party allows businessman Donald Trump to be nominated or not.
Halfway through the state-by-state voting contests, Trump is ahead in the delegate count, but many Republicans dread the prospect of him winning the nomination. The real-estate mogul has challenged many conservative orthodoxies and would almost certainly lose the general election against Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee.
With neither Ted Cruz nor John Kasich, Trump’s remaining rivals, likely to overtake him in the delegate race, the party’s hope is to block Trump at the convention.
Most of the committee members told NBC News such a challenge would be perfectly legitimate if Trump falls short of the 1,237 delegates needed to win outright.
“You’ve got to win a majority,” said one. “If you don’t have a majority, let’s chat.”
“Maybe the delegates that voted for Trump can now change their mind,” suggested another. “A lot has happened.”
If Trump falls short on the first ballot, nearly three-quarters of the delegates — more than 1,800 — would become unbound, meaning they can vote for anybody. More delegates would gradually be released if the convention went through multiple voting rounds.
It’s up to the rules committee to recommend beforehand how the convention will be conducted. They decide which candidates are on the ballot, including the vice presidential nominee, and how the voting proceeds. The committee’s proposals will have to be ratified by the entire convention, but delegates bound to Trump would be under no obligation to take his advice for other convention business. In theory, a delegate elected to support Trump could support a motion that says anyone with blond hair is now disqualified from nomination.
Trump has warned there could be “riots” if the party denies him the nomination even if he continues to win a plurality of the votes.
Some insiders did caution that it would be hard to stop Trump if he comes close to 1,237.
“If the person is short, but not a lot short — and I don’t know what the magic figure is — I think it’s pretty dangerous to gang up and say he’s not the nominee,” warned Steve Scheffler, a rules committee member from Iowa.
Henry Barbour, a member from Mississippi and nephew of former governor and Republican National Committee chairman Haley Barbour, disagreed.
“Trump doesn’t get a pass just because he has 100 more delegates than anyone else,” he argued. “If he can’t convince a majority of delegates to vote for him, he’s not going to be the nominee.”