Convention rules, ’splained

GOP 2012

[Continuing our series on deception in politics and public policy.]

Your cheatin’ heart
Will pine some day
And crave the love
You threw away
The time will come
When you’ll be blue
Your cheatin’ heart will tell on you…

  • Hank Williams

Don’t kid yourself. Members of the Republican Establishment intend to steal the presidential nomination for one or their own, and they have the power to do it. The only thing that would stop them is the price they could pay when voters figure out what they’d done.

That’s why, in a March 16 interview with leftwing CNN personality Chris Cuomo, Donald Trump predicted that, if he were unfairly denied the Republican nomination, there would be trouble. “I think we’ll win before getting to the convention, but I can tell you, if we didn’t and if we’re 20 votes short or if we’re, you know, 100 short and we’re at 1,100 and somebody else is at 500 or 400, because we’re way ahead of everybody. I don’t think you can say that we don’t get it automatically. I think you’d have riots. I think you’d have riots. You know, I’m representing a tremendous—many, many millions of people, in many cases first time voters.”

Among the Trump-deranged, his remark set off a firestorm. Well, not literally a firestorm. I mean the term “firestorm” metaphorically, like when Trump said “riots.” He meant that his supporters would get very upset, justly so, if it appeared that the party elite stole the nomination and corruptly denied Trump his shot at the presidency. By “shot,” I do not mean literally that he or anyone else would shoot at anyone. Whew. When you’re dealing with people as stupid and/or corrupt as the Hillaryites, the RINOs, and most of the Washington commentariat, you really have to watch your language. I don’t mean “watch” literally, of course… Oh, never mind.

It’s a good thing Trump didn’t say, “Hell would break lose.” If he had, his critics would be demanding that those in charge of security in Cleveland engage the services of exorcists.


Legal cheating

This effort by the Republican Establishment to win the nomination one way or the other, by hook or by crook, has been in the works a long time. Jeb Bush, speaking in December 2014 at the Wall Street Journal’s CEO Council dinner, outlined his vision of a winning strategy for a Republican campaign in 2016, that a candidate would have to “lose the primary to win the general, without violating your principles. It’s not an easy task, to be honest with you.”  At the time, the statement didn’t seem to make sense. If you lose the primary campaign, you won’t be on the ballot in the general election, so how can you “lose the primary to win the general”?

He presumably meant that, with the universal name ID he inherited from his father and brother, plus the mind-boggling  wealth of his campaign+superPAC, he could overpower his rivals, most of whom were more in line with mainstream Republicans and mainstream voters. The system, he knew, had been rigged in his favor.  Republican leaders had compressed the primary schedule, limited the number of debates, and mostly banned winner-take-all contests prior to March 15—so as to give an advantage to a candidate with high name ID and cash. The intended beneficiary was Jeb Bush, but it was Donald Trump who seized the opportunity presented by the rigged rules.

Now we know what Bush and his backers were thinking. You can win the primaries regardless of what the grassroots thinks, by overpowering them with money and endorsements and your control of the party machinery. Failing that, you can lose the primaries, then get picked when the convention deadlocks.

At this point, only Donald Trump and Ted Cruz have a realistic chance to win the nomination by normal, honest means. Neither is acceptable to the Establishment, as Bush would be, or Rubio, Kasich, Romney, or House Speaker Paul Ryan.

Ryan, especially, given that he’s smart, young, articulate, and experienced (having run for vice president), and that he understands how to manipulate the levers of power. Critically, Ryan will chair the convention, which will be conducted under the rules of the House of Representatives. That role will give Ryan exposure at the convention, a commanding presence, the availability for maneuvering during the convention, and, if absolutely necessary, the power to gavel through measures on voice votes when those measures lack majority support.

The chairman, if he or she so chooses and has the backing of the people running the convention, can turn ayes into nays and nays into ayes. It works something like this: The chairman says, “All in favor say aye.” A few people say aye. “All opposed, nay.” The crowd roars NAYYY. The chairman says, “The ayes have it.” If you don’t think that can happen, go back and look at the video of the 2012 Democratic and Republican conventions, at and , about two minutes into each video. The latter video also deals with how the Romney people in 2012 blocked a conservative member of the Rules Committee from getting off a bus, so that he would be late for a committee meeting on a rules change. (When I was a Reagan delegate in 1976, the Ford people in charge of the convention stuck pro-Reagan state delegations at hotels far from the convention center, both to punish us for our apostasy and as a precaution in case they needed to make us late for a session.)

Extreme measures will be necessary to keep the GOP nomination in the hands of the Establishment, which has controlled the nomination in every election in my lifetime except 1964, 1980, and 1984. (Yes, the last nominee from the Ronald Reagan wing of the party was Ronald Reagan.)

Currently, Trump is projected to end up with about 48-49 percent of the delegates and Cruz about 26-27 percent. Kasich is projected at 11 percent, and other Establishment delegates at 14 percent. That means that, if the nomination campaign continues in the direction it’s going, anti-Establishment candidates will have three-quarters of the delegates. How do one-quarter of the delegates beat three-quarters of the delegates? They cheat.

Let me be clear: A lot of political cheating is perfectly legal, and, alas, generally accepted by people in politics and the media. Examples: If you want to get your political party on the ballot and it’s not the Democratic Party or the Republican Party or a long-established “third” party, it’s probably too late to get on the ballot in enough states to have even a theoretical chance to get the 270 electoral votes you need to win the presidency. Many states fail to require a photo ID for voting, so as to facilitate vote fraud. Many states allow mass voting by mail, or even require that votes be cast by mail, even though a mail-in ballot cannot be a secret ballot. (If I bribe or threaten you over your vote, and there’s no mail-in voting, you can go alone into a voting booth and vote your conscience. With mail-in voting, I can watch you to make sure that you vote in accordance with my bribe or threat.) Just yesterday, the Supreme Court (split 4-4 between mainstream and radical justices as a result of the death of mainstream Justice Scalia), let stand a rule that requires about half of the nation’s teachers, transit workers, and other public employees to pay fees that support Far Left unions, compelling conservative, moderate, and JFK-type liberal union members to support a brand of politics that they abhor. I could give you a hundred more examples of such cheating, off the top of my head.

Another example of cheating, one that shows how the GOP Establishment operates: In Virginia, the party Establishment in late 2011 changed the party’s rules for getting on the ballot in the state’s 2012 primary. (Technically, they announced that they would suddenly start enforcing never-enforced rules that, in effect, made it nearly impossible for someone to get on the ballot without lots of money or an organization left over from a previous presidential run.) This Romneyite maneuver kept Rick Santorum, Rick Perry, Jon Huntsman, and Newt Gingrich off the ballot, and, if they had still been in the race, would have kept Herman Cain and Michele Bachmann off the ballot. Only Ron Paul qualified for the race with Romney. That’s right: Every single conservative running for president was kept off the ballot in Virginia, save the libertarian Ron Paul who had run for president twice before and had a pre-existing organization to obtain ballot access. Making the scandal worse was that it wasn’t a scandal, because the media blamed the victims; this violation of the rights of candidates and voters was depicted in the media as the result of incompetence on the part of the candidates left off the ballot. (Egged on by Romney himself, some in the media depicted Gingrich as the hapless Lucy Ricardo in the famous “chocolate factory” episode of I Love Lucy—disregarding the fact that, in the TV episode and in the movie that inspired it, Modern Times, the fool was the manager who made the rules, not the worker who couldn’t keep up.)

I consider it cheating if a political practice, explained to reasonable people who aren’t political wonks, shocks their conscience. If Mr. or Ms. Average Voter goes to the polls and casts a vote for Bernie Sanders for president, and Bernie Sanders wins that state, and Hillary gets most of that state’s delegates because of a rigged delegate allocation formula or because of superdelegates, and Mr. or Ms. Average Voter finds out about it, he or she would rightly consider that to be cheating.



The existence of “superdelegates” (pseudo-delegates, in my view) is a form of cheating—of giving the Establishment enough automatic delegates to prevent an insurgent like Goldwater or McGovern or Reagan or Cruz or Trump or Sanders from being nominated. Just the fact that the superdelegates exist is sufficient to discourage insurgent campaigns. Currently, Sanders is just behind Clinton in national polls of Democrats, yet the Vermont Senator is being pressured to get out of the race because Hillary’s control of superdelegates makes it highly unlikely Sanders can win at the convention, regardless of what the people think.

Like I said, cheating.

Superdelegate provisions, draconian ballot-access laws, and other rules-based impediments to insurgency are especially effective when combined with campaign finance laws that are written so as to stop insurgents from raising sufficient money to challenge the well-funded candidates. (Yes, the campaign finance laws are written so as to protect and promote, not prevent, corruption.)

All Democratic Senators and U.S. House members and governors, along with staffers, celebrities, donors and others appointed by the party, get slots as delegates to the Democratic National Convention without having to go through the standard delegate selection process. These superdelegates are theoretically free to vote however they please.

The GOP superdelegate delegate slots go to the GOP state chairman and the state’s two other members (one male, one female) of the Republican National Committee. During a brief time, roughly 36 years ago when the party machinery was controlled by Reagan supporters rather than RINOs, all superdelegate slots were eliminated, but the Establishment restored them as a way of limiting the influence of the grassroots and of ensuring that more party bigwigs and donors, rather than everyday citizens, got the honor of being convention delegates.

The Republican superdelegate system, though inexcusable, is not as bad as the Democrats’. At least there is a rule, passed in 2012, that obligates them to vote for the winner of their state’s primary if their state held a primary. As Rudy Takala noted in the Washington Examiner, “That rule was fortified by amendments made at the Republican convention of 2012, ironically to handicap insurgent candidates in the future. It was a response to the phenomenon of Texas Rep. Ron Paul winning nearly all of the delegates in states like Maine, Minnesota and Nevada, in spite of losing wider initial contests in those states.”

Keep in mind that, as I note below, binding doesn’t bind delegates in the way that you might think.


Binding not binding

If you’re a regular voter, you probably assume that, if you vote for Joe Blow for president in your primary, and Joe Blow wins, your vote has helped further Joe Blow’s nomination by causing the selection of delegates who support Joe Blow.

Wrong, in two ways. Delegate selection in a given state may have nothing to do with who won the primary. States generally use two different processes, one for the presidential campaign and one for picking the delegates. The two are often closely related, with, in most states, each candidate getting a number of “bound” delegates based on some combination of proportionality, winning by congressional district, and winning statewide. (It’s complicated, and varies from state to state.)

The Ron Paul campaign in 2012 exploited the split between the processes for voting for president and for selecting delegates. He was able to win big on delegates in some states he had earlier lost. This year, the relatively poorly organized Trump campaign will be the victim of this loophole.

  • In South Carolina, where Trump won, delegates are selected from among Republicans who attended the state GOP convention of 2015—held at a time when Trump hadn’t even announced his candidacy—and the delegate-selection process is controlled by party leaders like Governor Nikki Haley, who backed Rubio and now backs Cruz.
  • Last weekend, in Louisiana, Cruz forces apparently won a 10-delegate advantage over Trump even though Trump won the state and appeared on primary day to have tied Cruz in delegates from that state. (Trump has threatened a lawsuit.) The Wall Street Journal reported that the Cruz campaign also “seized five of Louisiana’s six slots on the three powerful committees that will write the rules and platform at the Republican National Convention and mediate disputes over delegates’ eligibility this summer in Cleveland.” (I’m not accusing the Cruz people of cheating last weekend. They’re playing the game by the existing rules. It’s the people who wrote the rules who cheated.)

These sort of disconnects occur in many places across the country.

It would be very easy to ensure that only Trump supporters became Trump delegates, that only Cruz supporters because Cruz delegates, and so on. All it would take is a requirement that delegate candidates be elected on primary day publicly pledged in advance to their presidential pick, or that the campaigns select the delegates they are allotted or, at least, have veto power over the delegates for each candidate. The only real reason for a separate president/delegate process is to allow Cruz supporters to pose as Trump delegates, or Kasich supporters to pose as Cruz delegates, or otherwise to thwart the will of the people. The “binding” of delegates to candidates is a smokescreen to foster the selection of unfaithful delegates, like demanding that people at a swingers’ convention produce their marriage certificates.

The binding of delegates is not as restrictive as it might seem, for two reasons:

  • First, because the restriction can be eliminated with a rules-change by the delegates. Delegates are unbound on procedural matters such as rules—meaning that they can vote to unbind themselves.
  • Second, because, at a closely contested convention, procedural votes are often more important than direct votes on candidates in determining the winner. Eisenhower’s nomination in 1952 over Senator Robert Taft (R-Ohio) was secured by convention votes unseating the delegations from Georgia, Texas, and Louisiana and replacing them with pro-Eisenhower delegates. If binding had existed then, it would not have stopped Taft-bound delegates from voting to help the Eisenhower side win or vice versa. Similarly, Ronald Reagan almost upset President Ford at the 1976 convention, narrowly losing a rules vote on which Ford-bound delegates who really favored Reagan were free to vote for the pro-Reagan position regardless of binding.

In Cleveland, delegates who are bound to vote for Trump but actually oppose him—some call them “ringers”—may have a number of opportunities to do Trump in. For example, given the mess that the party made of the caucuses in Nevada—insufficient staffing and materials, Trump supporters filling the leadership vacuum by taking over caucuses while wearing Trump shirts in violation of party rules, and general chaos—there could be a challenge to the Nevada delegation (Trump 14, Cruz 6, Kasich 1, dropouts Rubio 7 and Carson 2). Pro-Trump-but-not-really delegates could vote to unseat the delegation, hurting the candidate they are bound to help.

Pro-Trump-but-not-really delegates could also vote against the binding itself. States can have all the laws they want and state political parties can have all the rules they want to bind delegates to vote a certain way on the nomination ballot, and they have no power to enforce it if the majority decides otherwise. Only the party itself can enforce the binding, and the convention can choose to do so or not. Thus, if Trump has 1,300 delegates who are bound to him, but only 1,100 are Trump supporters in their hearts, the anti-Trump-in-their-hearts majority at the convention could simply vote not to enforce any binding rules, and Trump’s apparent majority would vanish.



Then there’s Rule 40. The key provision of Rule 40 is that, in order to be nominated for the presidential nomination, a candidate must have the written support of a majority of the delegates from eight states at least one hour before names are placed in nomination. Currently, only Trump qualifies, and only Cruz is likely to qualify later. Rule 16 allows that only such nominated candidates—that is, only Trump and probably Cruz—can have nominating speeches, or floor demonstrations, or even have their votes announced by the recording secretary.

[Important note: For purposes of a national political convention, rules in both parties declare that jurisdictions that send delegates are “states” even if they aren’t. Thus, the American Samoa, the District of Columbia, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands count as states in the Republican rules.]

Morton Blackwell is a former Reagan aide and one of the country’s top conservative activists. He has served for many years as the GOP national committeeman for Virginia, and is a member of the party’s in-between-conventions Rules Committee. Here’s what he wrote about Rule 40 ( , March 8:

. . . [A]s the national rules now stand, no delegate votes cast for any presidential candidate will be counted in the tally of first ballot votes unless that candidate had earlier demonstrated his support from a majority of the delegations from at least eight states or territories.

That’s exactly what happened at the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa.

No votes for any candidate other than Mitt Romney were counted in the final tally of the votes on the first and only ballot in Tampa. That caused a great uproar and many hard feelings. Large numbers of Delegates went home furious. They had come to Tampa to cast their votes for other candidates, but their votes weren’t even counted!

The Romney campaign used the power of the incoming presidential nominee in the national convention’s Rules Committee to impose a great many rules changes, including a change that had the intended effect of eliminating the counting of votes for anyone but Romney.

Romney was the only candidate who could demonstrate the support of a majority of delegates in at least eight states, and a rules change he pushed through prohibited even the counting of delegate votes for any other candidate.

Of course, Romney already had a big majority of the convention’s delegates. He had the nomination sewed up, but he used his power, as establishment Republicans often do, in a ruthless power grab to marginalize non-establishment Republicans.

As the Virginia Republican National Committeeman and Virginia’s member of the Republican National Committee’s Standing Committee on Rules, I attempted at the RNC’s January 2016 meeting in Charleston, South Carolina, to correct this outrageous, unfair, and counterproductive 2012 Romney power grab. I came close there to removing the prohibition on counting the votes of any credentialed Delegates who cast their votes according to their state party rules and state law. . . .

As the national rules now stand, no delegate votes will be counted in Cleveland that are cast for any 2016 candidate who can’t show support from the majority of the delegations from at least eight states or territories.
If one candidate arrives at the Cleveland convention with a majority (1,237) of all the Delegates at the convention, a great many legitimate Delegates whose votes won’t be counted will be furious. But that candidate would already have a majority, so the eight-state threshold wouldn’t affect who wins the nomination.

Blackwell, noting the obvious problems, attempted to fix this problem months ago. At that time, changing the rules would not have been cheating. Now, changing Rule 40 to add more potential nominees would be cheating. That’s because we now know that the change would be of great benefit to one side over the other.

It’s not cheating if the NFL decides ’way ahead of time, say, in 2016 for the 2020 season, that field goals will count for 10 points. But what if it’s halftime in a tied Super Bowl, and one team has a much better kicker than the other, and NFL honchos suddenly change the point value of field goals? That’s cheating.

Currently, GOP honchos are planning to change Rule 40, now that it’s clear that Trump and possibly Cruz would benefit greatly due to the existing Rule 40 and that other candidates would be disadvantaged. That’s changing the rules in the middle of the game.

The victims of this cheating—the anti-Establishment voters who elected three-quarters of the delegates—will be advised to stay calm, to remain civil. It’s just a matter of public relations, of having party leaders explain things to those idiot voters.

GOP Rules Committee member Curly Haugland, interviewed March 16 on CNBC:

The media has created the perception that the voters will decide the nomination. That’s the conflict here. The political parties choose their nominees, not the general public, contrary to popular belief.

Prof. Hans Noel, Georgetown University, on “Fox & Friends,” March 17:

I think Republican leaders really have two strategies at this point. One is to deny him [Trump] the actual nomination by having a contested convention. . . . and then, if that happens, and they do try to deny him the nomination at the convention, you have to convince the American people that it’s OK that the party makes a decision at the convention that’s not consistent with whoever got the most votes.

Rebecca Berg, RealClearPolitics, on “Your World w/ Neil Cavuto,” Fox News, March 10:

It would be very difficult from a public relations perspective because most Republican voters who are voting in those primaries probably don’t understand how the convention process works. This is something that hasn’t happened in the modern political era and so people would likely be angry and they would likely have to have the Republicans explain to them exactly what is happening. But that’s why the party goes through this delegate selection process to pick the people who will represent the party at the convention. But at the same time these aren’t people elected by Republican voters, it’s the party selecting these people, and I think you would see a lot of people in the party, in terms of voters, very upset with that.

So they’ll sit us down and patiently explain: We’re not subverting the democratic process. We’re not stealing an election. We’ve always had the power to pick the nominee. That “election” business was just a show. Your problem is, you’re just too dang stupid to realize you were being bamboozled.

Where I come from, that’s called ‘splainin’.


The ends

Cheating is justified when you’re fighting for the presidency, right? It’s that important! Consider this, from a segment about the 1860 Republican convention in the CNN documentary “Race for the White House: Lincoln vs. Douglas,” broadcast March 13:

Narrator (Kevin Spacey): “Lincoln wins [the nomination]. At a price. His campaign team has bribed some of the most corrupt men in the land.”

David Plouffe, former Obama campaign manager: “Was it justified? Well, Abraham Lincoln is probably our most important president, so I would argue every means that was utilized was justified.”

Every means,” or, in Malcolm X’s phrase, “By any means necessary.”

Barring a wild turn of events or an Act of God, the Republican nominee will be—can only be—either Donald Trump or Ted Cruz… unless members of the Establishment cheat, in which case there will be riots, hell will break loose, and, well, pick your metaphor.

If you’re going to visit Cleveland the third week in July, you might want to pack your pitchfork.

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