Will Republican National Convention rules load nomination dice?

If Donald Trump doesn't win a majority of delegates, might new RNC rules throw the GOP nomination to Ted Cruz, John Kasich, or even Paul Ryan or Mitt Romney?

Can Trump prevail in a brokered convention? / Photo: RNC/meme
Can Trump prevail in a brokered convention? / Photo: RNC/meme

WASHINGTON, April 4, 2016 — As the 2016 Republican National Convention approaches, many Republicans wonder whether their votes will even matter. The possibility of a brokered convention is real, leaving GOP voters to wonder whether they are truly the ones choosing their Party’s candidate for the White House.

It’s easy to understand the confusion around the convention rules. Rules are made. Rules are changed. These changes are made with every election cycle; rules for the 2016 Republican National Convention do not yet exist.

Rule changes can kill a popular candidate’s campaign. Many people think the RNC imposes these new rules, but it is the delegates themselves who approve them. RNC chairman Reince Priebus will select the chair of the Rules Committee, but the rest of the committee will be delegates from all 50 states and U.S. territories, with one man and one woman from each, a total of 112 delegates. They will write any rules they like. The committee will meet about a week before the convention to decide on the rules.

There is speculation that the Republican establishment will attempt to steal delegates from front-runner Donald Trump. This possibility underlines the importance of the convention rules. If Trump doesn’t get a clear majority, the rules will probably set the outcome of a brokered convention.

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Randy Evans, a member of the RNC, gave some insight into what the Rules Committee might do when they meet in April. In an interview with The Atlantic Journal Constitution he said, “I can say there is no appetite to rig the convention.”

One rule change may allow delegates to vote for whom they want, even in the first round of balloting, rather than being bound by primary and caucus results in their states. Evans believes that change will fail. Another would allow candidates to pledge their bound delegates to other candidates.

But the rule that has the attention of voters everywhere is Rule 40. This rule requires a candidate to win the majority of the delegates from eight different states in order to win the nomination. That could possibly be reduced to five or three states.

Senator Cruz does not favor that change. “Those rules say that in order to be on the ballot, you have to have won eight states. Only two of us will meet that threshold — me and Donald Trump,” Cruz told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt last week. “Those will be the two names on the ballot.”

But under the current rules, Trump is the only candidate who has cleared the threshold so far. Cruz has won at least eight states, but because of proportionality rules, he did not win a majority of the delegates in all of them.

“Ironically, the rule was originally intended to try to box out anti-establishment candidates like Mr. Trump,” says Morton Blackwell, a longtime Republican National Committeeman. He pushed unsuccessfully for the rule to be changed prior to the 2016 primary season. But in a March 31 interview with the Washington Times’ David Sherfinski, he said that “it’s too late to change the rules fairly.”

Blackwell added, “I think it would be potentially disastrous for the party to alienate the huge numbers of Republicans who are not establishment people, and that constitutes the vast majority of the people who participated in these primaries and caucuses. It could hurt the party badly, split people, because it’s a very strong point that they would have changed the rules in order to affect who gets nominated.”

GOP delegates and their ‘headaches’

Trump told The Daily Caller that he is opening a Washington D.C. office to help coordinate his campaign’s work with the RNC, with Congress, and to coordinate his convention and delegate operations. He also announced that Paul J. Manafort will serve as his campaign’s convention manager. Manafort worked on conventions for former Presidents Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

According to Trump, “Paul Manafort, and the team I am building, bring the needed skill sets to ensure that the will of the Republican voters, not the Washington political establishment, determines who will be the nominee for the Republican Party.”

Rules, brokered conventions and delegates are now part of everyday political conversation. Voters are growing anxious under the uncertainty of the nomination process. Clarification of the rules for the upcoming convention may ease the anxiety, anger and resentment will linger among different groups of voters, regardless of the new rules..

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