The Republican Party rejected at least two chances to allow convention delegates to vote for their candidate of choice, assuming current rules would benefit establishment candidates, and now party officials are scrambling to change the rules late in the game since the existing ones favor their least favorite candidates.
And now there’s only one way the establishment can change the rules without the approval of GOP candidates, and that method would mean a “bitter, ferocious rules battle in Cleveland” that “could split the Republican Party.”
One of the leading Republican rules experts says the campaigns need to follow existing rules on delegates that have been in place for decades and not complain that the process is unfair.
He also says accusations of GOP candidate Ted Cruz trying to “steal” delegates from front-runner Donald Trump stem from a basic misunderstanding of rules on delegates that have remained in place for decades and, “There’s nothing unfair about it.” WND readers have been weighing in on the Trump-Cruz delegate issue over the last week.
First, at issue for national Republicans right now is Rule 40(b), which states no candidate can be placed in nomination unless they have won a majority of delegates in eight states. It was instituted by the Mitt Romney campaign at the Republican National Convention in 2012 to make Romney the only eligible candidate and trigger a unanimous nomination. The rule passed over loud objections, particularly from backers of former Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas.
Following the 2012 elections, Republican National Committeeman Morton Blackwell tried twice to remove Rule 40(b) in an effort to allow delegates to vote for the candidates they are pledged to support.
His first attempt was three years ago.
“I got 25 states back in April of 2013 to support my repeal, but the other states and D.C. and the territories voted the other way,” Blackwell told WND and Radio America.
He then tried to change the rule at the start of this year, before any votes were cast in the primaries and caucuses.
“I proposed a rifle shot amendment to establish the principle that duly elected delegates, who were credentialed at the convention and were voting in accord with their state party rules and state law, would have their votes counted, even if they didn’t vote for somebody who had made this artificial eight-state threshold,” Blackwell said.
His amendment was adopted without much opposition, but soon RNC attorneys huddled with party leaders, and suddenly there was a motion to reconsider.
“After they voted to reconsider, they then amended out the end of this disenfranchisement of duly elected delegates,” said Blackwell.
Blackwell says even just a couple of weeks before the votes started, the Republican Party was convinced Rule 40(b) would steer one of the establishment’s favored candidates toward the nomination.
“I think what happened it the establishment that put in these rules, expecting that it would help establishment candidates for president, still believed in January that these rules would facilitate the nomination of an establishment person,” Blackwell said.
The party’s attitude toward the rule has now shifted 180 degrees due the primary and caucus results seen across the country.
“It appears that the only two candidates for whom votes may count at the convention coming up in Cleveland would be Ted Cruz and Donald Trump,” Blackwell said. “That is why the establishment is now talking about changing these rules.”
Listen to the WND/Radio America interview with Morton Blackwell:
The goal of such a change would be to allow a candidate who has not done as well – or not run at all – to be eligible for nomination in a multi-ballot convention. Blackwell said the Republican Party’s explanation for the opinion change is very dubious.
“The word is spreading through the establishment types that we don’t have any rules now. The convention always writes its own rules. Nobody’s ever made that point in previous discussions about the rules because essentially it’s not true,” Blackwell said.
“The rules that were adopted in 2012 are the temporary rules of the convention and they will become the permanent rules of the convention unless they are amended.”
Blackwell is uneasy about changing any rules once the voting has begun, which is why he tried to change the rule in January. He said there are only two ways for Rule 40(b) to change now. One is a consensus among Trump, Cruz and RNC Chairman Reince Priebus.
He said the other avenue could be very chaotic.
“The only other way the rules can be changed, if there is not a consensus among these major players, is after a bitter, ferocious rules battle in Cleveland, which I believe could split the Republican Party,” Blackwell said.
While the rules for Cleveland are hotly debated, the battle to accumulate the 1,237 delegates needed to clinch the GOP nomination is heating up, with the Trump campaign making multiple arguments in recent days that fall on deaf ears for Blackwell.
Last month, Trump asserted that if he fails to win a majority of pledge delegates but leads Cruz by a substantial margin, then he should be handed the nomination. Blackwell said the GOP has never operated that way.
“The Republican Party rules at the national level, from the very start of the Republican Party in the middle of the 19th century, requires that you get a majority of the delegates to the convention in order to be nominated. I think [Trump’s] idea is a non-starter,” said Blackwell.
Trump and his campaign team also accuse Cruz of trying to “steal” delegates by getting Cruz supporters elected as delegates, who would initially be bound to vote for Trump in Cleveland but could later switch to Cruz on subsequent ballots.
Again, Blackwell said the rules on delegates have been the same for a very long time.
“If you want to have people who are personally committed to your candidate, then you have to campaign at these congressional districts and at the state convention to elect the people you want as delegates,” Blackwell said. “There’s nothing unfair about it. It’s been done that way for decades.”
He said one interesting twist, however, is that if a candidate who lost a caucus or primary can get their preferred delegates to comprise a majority of that state’s delegation, those supporters can make it known who their favorite candidate truly is. That declaration would then add that state to the list of eight currently needed to qualify for being nominated.
So given all these variables, what does Blackwell think will actually happen in Cleveland?
“I would hesitate to predict,” he said. “In my experience, people who make their lives with crystal balls sometimes have to eat ground glass.”