Early rumbles that party insiders are angling to displace the perceived winner of the primary season will provoke a furious backlash. “If the Washington deal-makers try to steal the nomination from the people, I think it would be a disaster. It would cause a revolt,” Cruz said recently in Maine. Talk radio and right-wing online media are likely to echo this appealing anti-establishment riff. Those plotting the theft will have to begin convincing supporters to stick with the scheme in the face of the onslaught, perhaps offering to bolster elected or party officials who go against their constituents with election-year support from a super-PAC established purely for that purpose.
There is nothing in the RNC’s rules that prohibits delegates from cutting a deal for their votes, and lawyers say it is unlikely that federal anti-corruption laws would apply to convention horse-trading. (It is not clear that even explicitly selling one’s vote for cash would be illegal.) To lure a governor, for example, the offer of a Cabinet post could be necessary, while a delegate may be swayed by a job as regional HUD administrator or a seat on the Postal Regulatory Commission. A crucial vote on a procedural question could be ensured with a state party’s website-design contract to a delegate’s cousin’s firm.
But why waste an ambassadorship on someone who could be bought for far less? Every delegate and alternate is already paying for individual travel costs to get to Cleveland. Most state parties tell delegates to expect to spend $3,000 out of pocket on airfare, hotel and meals, and for some it could prove an unexpected hardship. (Delegates are assigned hotels by state; some could end up paying for the La Quinta Inn, others stuck with a bill from the Ritz-Carlton.) As blogger Chris Ladd has noted, Trump’s slate in Illinois contains “a food service manager from a juvenile detention center, a daycare worker from a Christian School, an unemployed paralegal, a grocery store warehouse manager, one brave advocate for urban chicken farming, a dog breeder, and a guy who runs a bait shop.” Could some of them be tempted to flip their votes if a generous campaign, super-PAC, or individual donor picked up the costs of their week in Cleveland? Far-flung territories that are treated as states under RNC rules offer even richer opportunities for geographical arbitrage. Round-trip flights in July to Cleveland from the Northern Mariana Islands, which nine delegates are unbound after the first ballot, already cost over $2,000 each.