CLEVELAND, OHIO — The revolt of the NeverTrumpers was entirely the fault of the Republican Establishment. They wrote the rules that could have blown up the GOP Convention on Monday.
As I reported months ago (https://capitalresearch.org/2016/03/convention-rules-splained/ ), the delegates always had the power to pick anyone they wanted. They always had the ability to overturn Trump’s primary victory and give the nomination to someone else, because there was no mechanism to enforce binding unless the delegates voted to bind themselves.
Of the delegates gathered for this convention, fewer than half would have picked Trump if they had had the power to select anyone they wanted. Hundreds of Trump-bound delegates are—or, at least, were—for Cruz, Bush, Kasich, or another one of the also-rans. Trump’s hardcore support here is probably less than 1,000 delegates, out of the 1,237 needed to win.
What kept them from tossing Trump? Fear of the consequences of rejecting the people’s choice. The fact that he seems to have a chance to win. And the fact that the people running the convention could declare any seemingly close voice vote—or even one that wasn’t close—to be a vote for the Trump side. That’s why, at a convention like this, you always want to control the chair.
There’s a lesson in this: The real power at political conventions is expressed on procedural votes and in the procedural bodies such as the Rules Committee. (Personal note: At the 1980 GOP convention, I was disappointed to be named to the Rules Committee rather than the Platform Committee. Over the years, as I learned more about politics, I realized that I had been lucky not to get my first choice.) Also critical is the body that deals with credentials, that decides whether a delegate seat belongs fairly to one would-be delegate or another. (There are 56 states, with D.C., Puerto Rico, American Samoa, et al. counted as states.)
At the Republican convention, each state gets two members on the major committees, and those people can vote any way they want, regardless of who won their state. The same is true on procedural votes when they get to the floor; there is not and cannot be binding. Thus, Trump-but-really-Cruz delegates could have provided the votes to unseat Nevada’s Trump delegates due to irregularities in that state (any reason, real or imagined, would suffice).
Don’t think this kind of thing can’t happen. In the days before binding, at a time of few primaries, Dwight Eisenhower snatched the 1952 nomination from Senator Robert Taft (Ohio) by challenging delegations in Texas, Georgia, and Louisiana.
Most explosively, Trump-but-not-really-Trump delegates could have voted against binding the delegates at all, and thrown the convention open.
Why is there a disconnect between winning the primary and picking the delegates, so that, for example, Trump could win a state and the delegates would be supposedly bound to vote for him but, in their hearts, they’re for Cruz and can cast procedural votes that throw the nomination to Cruz?
Because, in many states, Republicans use a two-tier system for selecting delegates. There was the state’s primary or caucus, which determined the number of delegates from each state bound to each candidate. And there was the delegate selection process, in which supporters of Cruz or Kasich or whomever could run for seats as “Trump delegates.” In addition, the GOP version of superdelegates, which are the three persons from each state who serve on the Republican National Committee, are “bound” to the state’s winner. (Democrat superdelegates include elected officials and big contributors, and are unbound, which is a much worse situation that in the GOP. Largely because of this, a Trump-style grassroots rebellion is not possible in the Democratic Party, as Bernie Sanders learned to his regret.)
There’s no reason for have this two-tier delegate selection process, except to make sure that party bigwigs get to be delegates regardless of the results in the presidential balloting. (To be fair, some of those bigwigs earned bigwig status through years of mostly thankless toil for the party.) A simple reform would prevent this situation from arising again: Make sure that delegates for Candidate A are actually for Candidate A, by requiring them to run as delegates for Candidate A, with would-be delegates’ names on the ballot next to their preferred presidential candidate. Or allow Candidate A’s campaign to select or veto his/her delegates.
Yes, that means that some arguably deserving people won’t get to be delegates, if they back the wrong presidential candidate. But no political party should ever be tempted, as this one was, to overturn the clearly expressed will of the voters. Removing a candidate at that point should be reserved for the most extreme circumstance such as medical disability or a disqualifying scandal. (Hint, hint, Democrats!)