Donald Trump may now be the presumed Republican candidate, but the party convention is not scheduled to close until July 21, and there will not be a nominee until then. Two and a half months is an eternity in this 24/7 media environment. There have been 22 contested party conventions since 1876, one lasting 103 ballots. The fat lady has not sung.
The GOP has survived Richard Nixon, Herbert Hoover, Progressive Teddy, and George W. Bush—and it will survive Trump too.
The Republican Party is an independent association recognized by the Supreme Court as such, able to set its own rules and procedures. And its ultimate rule is that the delegates elected to its convention every four years are in charge, just as state electoral votes are in the general election.
Trump will undoubtedly have 1,237 delegates pledged to him beforehand but that must be confirmed by actual votes from delegates.
After Indiana, the AP has Trump with 1,053 delegates. Forty or so of these are unbound to him and could change their mind. Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and John Kasich have 905 delegates, none of whom have been released. The AP cannot figure how another 69 elected delegates will vote. There are 445 delegates yet to be selected.
It is no secret that Cruz has been electing delegates in many states where Trump won the presidential preference but was too lordly to recruit mere party delegates. One estimate is that a third or more of Trump’s delegates really want someone else, giving the anti-Trumps a strong majority of delegates at the convention. Most are conservative or party activists who neither Trump nor the party establishment can control.
Does not Republican Rule 16(a)(2) say that if a delegate tries to vote for someone other than the candidate that won a binding primary that vote shall “not be recognized” by the secretary of the convention? Yes, but the delegates select the secretary.
Rules expert Republican National Committeeman Curly Haugland believes that Rule 37(b) trumps (sorry) 16(a) so that delegates can demand a roll call and vote any way they want. Who will decide? The chairman of the convention, who also is selected by the delegates, will make that decision.
The current rules moreover are only the temporary rules of the convention. Who decides what the permanent rules will be? The delegates do, of course.
Delegates control the credentials committee too. In 1952 Dwight Eisenhower establishment forces challenged three state delegations and that was enough to sink traditionalist conservative Sen. Robert Taft. Maybe turnabout would be fair play.
There would be riots? When the Democrats did that to Hubert Humphrey in 1968, he almost won the election anyway.
That may be unlikely but the delegates could easily choose whomever they desired for vice president, no matter what the nominee wanted, and they should. Liberal Democrat Adlai Stevenson was forced to accept conservative Sen. John Sparkman as vice presidential nominee in 1952 and threw the VP nomination open in 1956 too.
Just as important, the convention should set its own platform for this convention and at least the rules for the next convention as well. And they should insist upon featuring House and Senate candidates in prime time in the hope of minimizing Trump taking down Congress with him in the coming loss in November.
Won’t all this be fought by Trump and party forces? Yes, but party activists defeated even a sitting president on rules in 1972 and won major concessions on platform and rules in 1976 from another. In both cases fear of bad TV and the threat of a walkout led those interested in the presidency to concede the lesser evil of letting the delegates have their way.
A party convention is not bean bag and delegates should not blink at the challenge. It matters who sits in the White House and Congress especially in these days of supine legislatures and overactive courts.
An open convention in Cleveland with the Republican activist base in charge would be real party democracy at work, and it would be great spectacle too.
Relax. It is too early for hara-kiri. I was in the middle of the action at both of the last contested GOP convention votes and it took a few years—but there was a happy ending in the nomination of Ronald Reagan.
Donald Devine is senior scholar at the Fund for American Studies, the author of America’s Way Back: Reclaiming Freedom, Tradition and Constitution, and was Ronald Reagan’s director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management during his first term and was a senior consultant for his presidential campaigns.