Bernstein: Republicans’ Guide to Dumping Trump
With Dump Trump talk continuing and continuing and continuing, here’s a FAQ about what the Republican National Convention could do in Cleveland next month, and why it probably won’t act.
Q: Can the Republicans’ convention dump Donald Trump and pick another candidate?
A: Absolutely. The convention, when it meets, is the formal Republican Party, and can do whatever it wants, including setting and changing the rules as it sees fit.
Q: Trump has more than 1,400 bound delegates and only needs 1,237. So what do rules have to do with it?
A: At least some Trump delegates were allocated to him based on election results, but the actual delegates selected were chosen by state parties or by a separate process, not by Trump. If convention rules allow the delegates to vote their personal preferences, he might not have 1,237. Right now, no one has a good count. In practical terms, if a majority of the convention supported rules to “free” the delegates (that is, allow them to vote their personal preferences), then we would know if a majority opposes Trump.
Q: How would this happen?
A: There are several possible options. Convention rules basically don’t exist in advance. The convention’s rules committee will determine what they are (based on what a Republican National Committee panel has issued in most cases) just before the convention meets in Cleveland on July 18-21. Then the full convention will have to approve them, as drafted or with amendments. Technically, the rules can be anything anyone can imagine as long as they get the votes.
Q: But how would the delegates be freed?
A: The easiest way for the convention rules committee to do that is by eliminating language binding the delegates to vote as the states allocated them. If the committee did that, and if the full convention adopted that set of rules, then no delegate would be bound.
Q: Wait — aren’t some delegates bound by state law as well?
A: Yes, some states bind their delegates by law. But those laws are probably not practically or legally enforceable. No state is going to send law enforcement personnel to Cleveland to remove disloyal delegates. A lawsuit would probably fail based on current precedents. And besides: A nomination lost at the convention and restored by the courts afterward would hardly be worth having. For better or worse, what the convention chooses to do is going to be the final word.
Q: How likely is any of this to happen?
A: First, someone has to offer an amendment. Fortunately for the Dump Trump group, North Dakota delegate Curly Haugland will push for freeing the delegates in the rules committee because he’s a longtime opponent of binding them. So we can expect a vote.
Q: Who will win that vote?
A: The New York Times reported that “Trump can now count on about half” of the rules committee. But the conservative anti-Trump activist Erick Erickson counts “about 30 percent for Cruz, 25 percent for Trump and 45 percent willing to go in the direction that saves the party destruction.” Either could be correct.
Q: But if fewer than half are for Trump, won’t he lose?
A: Not necessarily. Unbinding the delegates could easily result in chaos, given that there’s no clear Trump alternative so far. And even if a likely alternative does emerge, some delegates who support still a different candidate might prefer Trump to that alternative. What’s more, dumping Trump would also look undemocratic to some. Not only would delegates have to oppose Trump. They would have to oppose him so strongly that they would be willing to accept the significant downside.
Q: What’s the next step?
A: The full convention votes on the proposed rules and amendments. The same conditions apply if there is a specific vote on freeing the delegates: Those voting for it would not only be opposed to Trump, but so strongly opposed they too were willing to accept all the consequences of a convention revolt against the candidate who won the most votes and the most primaries.
Q: Are there other ways to Dump Trump?
A: Sure. The convention can make any rules it likes, and interpret them however it likes. For example, the current precedent is that if a delegate who is bound to vote for Trump abstains, his or her vote would still be registered anyway. But the convention chairman — House Speaker Paul Ryan — could choose to overrule that precedent and allow bound delegates to abstain.
Q: Which party leaders besides Ryan might have an important role?
A: These leaders are important only to the extent delegates listen to them. Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and John Kasich have delegates allocated to them at the convention, but those delegates aren’t required to follow their candidates on procedural votes.
Q: Coordinating all those individual delegates sounds like a nightmare, right?
A: Maybe. But we know the rules committee is going to vote regardless. Getting everyone who wants to dump Trump to vote for unbinding the delegates doesn’t seem all that hard to coordinate — except that some might not vote with Dump Trump without a consensus alternative candidate.
Q: None of this sounds very likely, does it?
A: It all comes down to how many delegates oppose Trump so much that they’re willing to accept the consequences for ridding the party of him. In normal circumstances, no one would consider it. Will this year be different? Most likely not, but if it is considered, this is how it will happen.
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