How much will the convention rules change before the candidates arrive in Cleveland?

posted at 10:41 am on March 17, 2016 by Jazz Shaw

With the possibility of a contested GOP convention in Cleveland this summer becoming more and more conceivable (if not probable) by the week, Republican voters have been looking for answers as to what they should expect. Arguments about the mandate inherent in a plurality rather than a majority are the focus of countless opinion articles and water cooler discussions. It should come as no surprise that supporters of Donald Trump are arguing in favor of such a mandate while the #NeverTrump crowd clucks their collective tongues and remind everyone that the rules are the rules. But how do the party elders view the question? One answer which is raising quite a few eyebrows came from RNC member Curly Haugland, who wanted to let you all know that those pesky voters really don’t have a say in it if push comes to shove, because the party is the ultimate arbitrator. (Washington Post)

In an appearance on CNBC’s “Squawk Box” on Wednesday morning, Haugland, a North Dakotan and current member of the RNC’s Rules Committee, said that any assumption otherwise is misguided.

“That’s the problem: The media has created the perception that the voters will decide the nomination,” he said. He went on: “Political parties choose their nominee, not the general public, contrary to popular belief.”

Unless you are fully invested in the concept of stopping Trump at any cost and simply dealing with the fallout later, a statement such as this probably has your blood boiling. But a different rules committee member quickly moved to assuage such fears, saying that the basic rules for binding delegates to the will of the voters (at least on the first ballot) aren’t going to be changing any time soon. (Daily Caller)

Morton Blackwell, Virginia Republican National Committeeman and long time member of the RNC’s Standing Rules Committee, dispels any notion that delegates at the convention this summer can vote for whomever they want on the first ballot…

“I have heard nothing about changes with respect to the binding of delegates except from Curly. And I think it’s highly unlikely that anything relating to the binding of delegations or binding delegates is going to be altered,” Blackwell told The Daily Caller Tuesday.

He added, “In fact, I believe that while it was possible in January to dispassionately discuss changes of the rules respecting the procedures at the convention in terms of what is most fair and what is most helpful to the Republican Party, that time has passed.”

While that may sound comforting to those who assume that their vote actually means something, it’s worth noting two things. First of all, Blackwell isn’t saying that it can’t happen.. just that it’s unlikely. Take that for what you will. But the second item is the fact that he’s only talking about the first ballot. After that, all bets are off according to rules that have been in place for longer than most people reading this have been voting.

At least some of the chaos surrounding this question could be avoided, however. When I asked yesterday if the primary and convention process can be fixed, I concluded with a plea to the RNC to make one simple change to the process which could heal a lot of wounds here. All it would take is to move the meeting of of the rules committee a week later on the calendar and have them convene after the convention is concluded and a nominee has been chosen.

Imagine for a moment that you’re the anchor runner in a relay race who has opened up big lead coming into the final stretch. Then, when you are twenty yards from victory, you see a rules official nailing up a sign near the finish line saying, “All Runners Must Use Pink Batons.” You look over your shoulder and see, fifty yards behind you, another official handing out pink batons to your opponents. Do you suppose that your fans in the stands will shrug their shoulders and conclude that you should have been carrying a variety of different colored batons if you really wanted to win?

The system has widespread problems if it’s truly to be considered a decision made by the primary voters and not controlled by some cabal of party elders, but it’s too late to address most of those challenges now. We may like the rules or abhor them, but we do at least have a set of them to go by. There are going to be hurt feelings on one side or the other after the convention no matter how it turns out and that probably can’t be avoided. (For reference, see the Bloomberg piece, How to Steal a Nomination From Donald Trump.) But if the RNC moves to substantially alter those rules just as the candidates are packing their bags for Cleveland and it’s viewed as playing favorites to one side or the other, Reince is most assuredly going to have a revolt on his hands. It’s looking rather dicey at this point in terms of the party emerging from this primary cycle in one piece and there’s no reason to pour more gasoline on a fire that’s already threatening to grow out of control.


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