If you’re inclined to dump Trump, the Committee’s your best hope of getting traction. If 57 of the 112 members agree to pass a “conscience” clause unbinding the delegates in their votes for nominee, you’ve got a real chance — not necessarily a great chance, but a real one — to oust Trump in favor of someone else. Obviously who those 112 are is crucially important. Last week the RNC named the new head of the Committee, a longtime GOP operative from Utah who’s chilly towards Trump and seems warmish to the possibility of untraditional rules for the convention. But you still need 57 yays to get where you’re going.
The full 112-member list was leaked last night. It’s going to be a heavy lift for the Dump-Trumpers — or, as I’m now calling them, the Trexit faction.
The list, which was sent to which was sent to members of the committee late Thursday and obtained by POLITICO, includes 38 members of the Republican National Committee — more than a third of the entire rules panel. So far, RNC members have largely taken their cues from chairman Reince Priebus and towed the line in support of Trump. RNC members like Henry Barbour of Mississippi, Harvey Tettlebaum, Morton Blackwell of Missouri and Bill Palatucci of New Jersey will be returning for repeat appearances on the convention rules committee.
Nineteen members of the committee also served on the rules panel in 2012 and may have an advantage when it comes to understanding and maneuvering through the potentially lengthy process. This group includes Trump supporters like Massachusetts’s Vincent DeVito, Pennsylvania’s Lawrence Tabas and Tennessee’s John Ryder, who’s also counsel to the RNC.
Dozens of other delegates on the committee have pledged loyalty to Trump or support for his nomination.
CNN noticed that many of the Committee members “also serve on the RNC’s Standing Rules Committee. That group met this April in Florida and rejected a bid to change the rules of procedure for the convention, passing a draft of the convention rules that matched the ones put in place by the 2012 convention delegates.” I wouldn’t read too much into them passing on a rule change in April, knowing that it would be controversial and that the convention Rules Committee could simply undo it next month, but if you’re looking for evidence that they’ll look skeptically on dramatic changes to the rules about how delegates vote, there you go.
So here’s the math: If the 40 or so RNC apparatchiks vote as a bloc to protect Trump in the interest of preventing a party-shattering insurrection, the Trexit faction would need to win 57 of the remaining 72 Committee members to get a “conscience” clause through. Are there 16 delegates among that 72 who either support Trump on the merits or fear that the risks of replacing a presumptive nominee this late in the game are too great to vote against Trump? Sure, I’d expect so, which means Trexit is DOA in committee. Over at Red State, streiff notes that the Committee will also include Kendal Unruh, the unofficial leader of the “Dump Trump” movement, and Curly Haugland, who’s championed the idea that the delegates can vote their conscience even under current rules. They wouldn’t be on the Committee, streiff argues, if this were a snow job by the RNC designed to stack the deck in Trump’s favor. Point taken, but the RNC may simply want to avoid the perception that it’s stacking the deck for anyone. All that would do is further alienate one side of the Trump divide at a moment when the party’s trying to bring them together. Putting Unruh and Haugland on the Committee smells like a token concession to show anti-Trumpers that their concerns will be represented there and that they’ll have a fair chance to make their case for unbinding the delegates. Now, when they fail, the Trexit fans will have no reason to walk away shouting “dirty pool.”
We’re at a weird place, though, when the RNC, headquarters of the dreaded GOP establishment, is quietly working to assure Trump’s nomination, huh? Although not that weird: Establishment Republicans barely lifted a finger to stop Trump in the primaries. Now that they’re stuck with him, they might as well go in. Besides, having a 40-member RNC swing bloc on the Rules Committee is useful as an escape hatch just in case Trump does something so nutty over the next two weeks that dropping the hammer becomes the least bad option electorally. A smaller RNC presence in making the rules might have meant a larger pro-Trump presence, which in turn might have been able to block any attempt to unbind the delegates even if the party’s leadership supported it. A larger RNC presence means that, ahem, the party decides. (Finally!)
Exit question: Does Brexit make Trump’s ouster at the convention even less likely? The media narrative du jour, accurate or not, is that the same populist spirit animating the UK vote makes Trump a serious threat this fall. If populism was strong enough to pull Britain out of the EU’s orbit, it must be strong enough to defeat a liberal as lame as Hillary Clinton. Trump’s your best bet at victory now, or so the theory goes.
Update: Well, this changes the math.
Any effort to wrest the nomination from Trump at the last minute would have to start with the RNC’s 112-member Rules Committee, which will convene in Cleveland just days before the convention kicks off on July 18. What has been mostly overlooked is that RNC rules require the support of just a quarter of Rules Committee members — 28 of them — to issue what’s known as a “minority report,” which would throw the matter of unbinding delegates to the convention floor for an up-or-down vote. That in and of itself would cause a stir on the first day of the convention.
Could Unruh find 27 other members of the Rules Committee to issue a minority report, even if the RNC bloc opposed it? Twenty-eight out of 72 seems not so daunting. Now all you have to do is convince 1,237 delegates to actually vote for a “conscience” clause when it comes to the floor, which would be viewed as a tantamount to a vote against Trump. That seems … harder.