A group of anti-Donald Trump Republican delegates is making one final do-or-die stand at the Republican convention in Cleveland from July 18-21.
The #NeverTrumpers are a mix of conservative-movement Ted Cruz supporters and Republicans who backed Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, and other candidates. They want to stop Mr. Trump, the winner of the GOP primaries, by peeling off enough of his pledged delegates on the first ballot to keep him below a majority, which would force a second ballot.
Trump has 1,542 delegates, which gives him 305 more delegates than the majority threshold of 1,237, which he battled to cross during the primaries in order to stave off a Ted Cruz plot to wrest the nomination away from Trump on the second ballot. 95 of Trump’s delegates are already unbound, giving him 1,447 pledged delegates – 210 above the majority threshold. If enough delegates defect to keep Trump at 1,236 or below, most pledged delegates are freed by state laws on the second ballot. Then Cruz – who handpicked many delegates even in states that went for Trump – could re-enter the mix alongside Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan, John Kasich, Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, and other options.
Can the anti-Trumpers pull it off? Can they really unbind delegates that are “pledged”? It all depends – ironically enough for politics – on the word “conscience.”
Who Are The Rebels?
The anti-Trump rebels include supporters of different losing Republican primary candidates, but the main operatives behind the rebellion are all linked to the man who tried to broker the convention a couple months ago by manipulating delegate elections in various states: Ted Cruz. Cruz suspended his campaign after the Indiana primary in early May but he still showed up to the Kentucky Derby’s “Millionaire’s Row” ahead of the Kentucky primary, where he came in a close second.
But, it’s not just Cruzers. “We come from the Rubio side, for sure, the folks that are behind this website,” Rubio bundler James Lamb, spokesman for DelegateRevolt.com, told Breitbart News. “There are folks coming in from Ted Cruz, a few from Ben Carson, Jeb Bush,” Lamb says, calling his group “a broad support system” for the movement.
Lamb said that schoolteacher Kendal Unruh and, seemingly more importantly, Cruz’s Colorado volunteer coordinator Regina Thomson “are behind the main portion of this movement.” Both Unruh and Thomson represent the Colorado delegation, which along with Wisconsin was the epicenter of Stop Trump efforts during the primaries. Unruh and Thomson’s Free The Delegates group has been organizing the movement’s national conference calls to keep people up to date on what’s going on.
Lamb says that the movement started in Colorado, but has sparked “mini-movements around the country.” The Coloradans are joined in rebellion by New Jersey politician Steve Lonegan, the fierce Cruz supporter who ran against Cory Booker for Senate in 2013. Lonegan works for the pro-Cruz Courageous Conservatives PAC, which is fighting to free the delegates.
The rebels also include Eric O’Keefe, the Wisconsin Club For Growth director who battled in-state efforts to crush his governor Scott Walker, and who adamantly supports Cruz. O’Keefe was a big supporter of Cruz’s efforts to contest the convention back in April, when Cruz was still running. O’Keefe is still pushing to dump Trump, but maintains that this is not a power play by Cruz himself. O’Keefe’s brother Kurt O’Keefe is the treasurer of the pro-Cruz Trusted Leadership PAC, which is still operating on leftover donor money even though Cruz dropped out in early May.
Trusted Leadership PAC executive director Chip Roy, Cruz’s former chief of staff, told Breitbart News that his PAC is only working to influence the Republican platform and the convention rules for 2020, not for 2016, and that the PAC is not working to unbind delegates in favor of Cruz.
“Trusted Leadership PAC is working with conservative grassroots delegates to ensure future Party rules reflect the interests of the grassroots over the establishment. The PAC has not engaged in any unbinding movement,” Roy told Breitbart News.
Another name also comes up in conversations about this rebel movement: Ken Cuccinelli of Virginia. Cuccinelli, who lost to Terry McAuliffe for governor, is a big Cruz backer who was integrally involved in Cruz’s push to broker the convention. Cuccinelli is not on record supporting the current rebellion. Cuccinelli did not provide comment for this report by press time.
Cruz’s Virginia campaign co-chairman Beau Correll filed the first lawsuit this past week to change Virginia state law to unbind pledged delegates and allow them to make a “conscience vote” on the first ballot.
So there you have it: it started in Colorado and sprouted branches in Wisconsin, New Jersey, and Virginia, and could still grow elsewhere.
The Colorado Republicans infamously suspended their open caucus system in this presidential race. Party insiders unanimously threw all of their delegates behind Cruz, prompting outrage and a protest at the state capitol by Trump supporters who demanded a do-over. Breitbart News reported that Boulder County GOP chairwoman Peg Cage witnessed enough errors in the Colorado process that she told other Republican officials that the Colorado caucus might have to be done over. Some Cruz supporters were actually pushing for a do-over, fearing that the Convention would unseat the Colorado delegation due to the controversy. Unruh did not provide comment to Breitbart News for this report.
If the Trump campaign still wants to unseat the Colorado delegation, now might be the time.
When you say do-over do you mean actually letting the people vote? That would be almost, dare I say, democratic! https://t.co/PMFRBnczc8
— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) April 26, 2016
What Is The ‘Conscience Clause’?
Unruh is pushing for the Convention’s Rules Committee to “affirm” the existence of a conscience clause that can unbind pledged delegates on the first ballot.
“Mr. Chairman, we are calling on you to support a rule at the Republican National Convention which would reaffirm the longstanding principle that delegates to the GOP Convention can vote their conscience in the name of preserving the legacy of our party and our nation,” Unruh writes in an open letter to Convention chairman Paul Ryan.
Unruh’s “affirmation” does not have enough support in the Rules Committee (it would need a majority of the Committee’s 112 members) to actually pass. But as Unruh maintains, she only needs a quarter of the Rules Committee to force her proposal onto the floor of the convention, where it would have to get 1,237 delegates – a majority of all the delegates there – in order to pass.
Again, this is highly unlikely. But it’s also good strategy. Such a floor vote would happen on the first day of the convention, before the rebels have a chance to convene in person to discuss their strategy. Forcing a vote like this onto the floor will make every delegate in Cleveland aware of the possibility to defeat Trump.
And here’s an important part: some of the rebels don’t think that they actually need to change the rules at all.
“There’s already justification for the conscience exemption,” Lamb said, noting that it’s been used before throughout history.
Lamb points to the book “Unbound” by Curly Haugland and Sean Parnell, published by the Virginia-based Citizens in Charge Foundation. Haugland is the Republican National Committeeman from North Dakota and a Rules Committee member who has long been expressing his view that there is no such thing as a “pledged” delegate. Haugland, who mingled around CPAC this year talking about delegates, thinks the whole primary process doesn’t matter. He’s not necessarily against Trump, and he’s not part of the rebel movement. He’s been making this point for years. It just so happens that the Dump Trumpers are finally citing his work.
Haugland points to “Rule 38” in the current version of “The Rules of The Republican Party.” The document was adopted at the convention in Tampa in 2012 and revised by the Republican National Committee as recently as August 2014.
Here’s the text of “Rule No. 38”, known as “The Unit Rule”:
No delegate or alternate delegate shall be bound by any attempt of any state or Congressional district to impose the unit rule. A “unit rule” prohibited by this section means a rule or law under which a delegation at the national convention casts its entire vote as a unit as determined by a majority vote of the delegation.
Haugland interprets this rule to mean that there is no such thing as a “pledged delegate,” and that for all intents and purposes the primaries don’t matter and no state laws can trump that. The rule was apparently known as Rule 13 until the George W. Bush convention in 2000, when it became Rule 38, according to Haugland’s book. Haugland traces “The Unit Rule” in the Republican Party back to the 1860 convention, where Abraham Lincoln famously won as an underdog by working the delegates.
For Paul Ryan’s part, he said in an interview that he will not force delegates to vote against their conscience.
“The last thing I would do is tell anybody to do something that is contrary to their conscience,” Ryan said in a recent interview.
State laws are likely the greatest impediment to a “conscience vote,” assuming the Convention does not change its rules.
Cruz campaign veteran Beau Correll’s lawsuit in Virginia challenges state law requiring delegates to remain pledged to the state’s primary winner on the first ballot. If Correll manages to win this lawsuit before Cleveland, the game could change significantly, at least in Virginia. But the lawsuit will likely drag on, and other states have similar laws that have yet to be challenged in court. Correll’s suit states:
“The First Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees delegates to the Republican Party’s and Democratic Party’s national conventions the right to vote their conscience, free from government compulsion, when participating in the selection of their party’s presidential nominee. Nonetheless, Virginia law acts to strip them of that right, imposing criminal penalties on delegates who vote for anyone other than the primary winner on the first ballot at a national convention. That law cannot be sustained under the First Amendment or as a legitimate exercise of Virginia’s authority under the United States Constitution.”
To justify this “conscience” vote, #NeverTrumpers are going full-on Social Justice Warrior.
#NeverTrump operative Tim Miller, communications director for Jeb Bush’s failed campaign and an outside Establishment supporter of the rebellion, said that Trump’s “frankly racist behavior” among other factors is enough to allow delegates to vote their “conscience.”
Lonegan’s Courageous Conservatives PAC also notes that “Donald J. Trump has accelerated the use of ethnic stereotypes in a pathetic attempt to appeal to bigotry” in its open petition to free the delegates.
But if some delegates try to invoke the so-called conscience exemption without a formal Convention rule change, it could be political suicide for them – especially if they come from state parties outside of Colorado, Wisconsin, or Virginia.
Crushing The Rebels
Trump’s de facto campaign manager Paul Manafort is aware of the plot and he’s preparing to destroy it, possibly with extreme prejudice.
Manafort has deputized six campaign staffers to lead a team of 150 Trump operatives that will oversee the convention delegates. The Trump operatives will keep in regular contact with Trump’s pledged delegates leading up to the convention. Manafort’s team is positioning themselves as the good cops. New York pro-Trump power broker Carl Paladino, who predicts a “war” if anything happens, is positioning himself as the bad cop, vowing to step into any contested convention situation with the full force of his political machine.
Unruh’s “affirmation” rule change is unlikely to pass the Rules Committee, which houses Cruz supporters like Morton Blackwell who still don’t want to ruffle feathers and throw the convention into chaos. So the plot will live or die on whether the “conscience” vote is really able to be invoked, in defiance of state laws, on the first ballot. And, of course, how many delegates will actually do it? The rebels have yet to offer any solid evidence that they have enough delegates to keep Trump from 1,237 on the first ballot. But the potential is certainly there.
Will this convention be marked by “conscience votes,” by walk-outs, by chaos on the floor, by full-scale warfare, by a situation similar to the 1964 convention fight between the Establishment’s Nelson Rockefeller and the Conservative Insurgency’s Barry Goldwater?
Five months since the Iowa caucus, the Republican Party and the conservative movement are still reeling from a primary season that pitted ideological brother against brother, interest group against interest group, in combat so divisive that the party may never fully heal. There were Conservative Movement Blacklists, local convention walk-outs, a failed third-party plot, and a migration of status-quo Republican figures from the party.
Considering all that has happened, maybe Cleveland was always destined to play out this way.