There has been much speculation about a possible contested Republican convention in July if Donald Trump does not arrive there with the 1,237 pledged delegates he needs to give him a majority on the first ballot. It is clear that the main effort right now in the Republican party and even in the mainstream media establishment is to try and prevent that from happening. We have seen an astonishing coordinated attack by the party and media establishments to coalesce against him and now a group of billionaires has joined in the effort. The Stop Trump alliance seems to be increasingly confident that they will be successful though whether this is largely wishful thinking is unclear.
Based on the assumption that Trump will arrive at the convention with less than an outright majority of pledged delegates, there is heightened scrutiny on the way that subsequent ballots during the convention will play out and how delegates may switch their preferences and whether someone who ran and lost or even someone who did not run at all can be nominated.
But what many may not realize is that the real drama may well take place not during the convention but in the days just before the convention begins. This is because one of the first orders of business at the convention is to adopt the rules under which the party will operate during the convention. The Convention Committee on Rules and Order of Business of the party is required to submit to the convention a draft of what rules will govern the convention and these have to be voted on and accepted before the convention can proceed. As any veteran of bureaucratic battles knows, at least half the battle takes place in the backrooms before the public events, where the framework for the discussions are set.
There are draft rules already in place that are largely based on the rules that the 2012 convention adopted on August 27, 2012, the first day of that convention, plus some later amendments. But it is important to emphasize that the rules adopted by the last convention become merely draft rules for the subsequent one. The Convention Committee on Rules and Order of Business can change these rules as they wish (see rules #27 and #41) and since this committee is dominated by party insiders, this is likely where the Stop Trump movement will focus considerable efforts, trying to make sure that their people are elected to serve on this all-important committee.
For example, rule #40b currently says that only someone who can “demonstrate the support of a majority of the delegates from each of eight (8) or more states” is eligible to have his or her name put in nomination. This rule may have arisen because of the situation in 2012 where establishment favorite and presumptive nominee Mitt Romney was repeatedly challenged by Rick Santorum, Ron Paul. Newt Gingrich, and Herman Cain. I am not privy to the deliberations of Republican party insiders but this rule may have been adopted to make it harder in the future for any non-establishment candidate to be nominated at subsequent conventions and thus avoid any signs of division, since both party establishments like to have the conventions be more ceremonial, like coronations.
Unfortunately for them, that plan ganged agley in a big way since this time all the possible establishment candidates fell by the wayside long before the convention and strictly applying that rule this time means that only Donald Trump and Ted Cruz are eligible to be nominated. Since neither of them are palatable to the party, there may well be efforts to modify rule #40b so that it can allow the party establishment to nominate a ‘compromise’ candidate, perhaps someone who did not even run in the primaries, in the event that the first ballot is inconclusive.
Of course, it is one thing to win a bureaucratic battle and quite another to deal with the political fallout. If Trump has the largest number of delegates and is denied the nomination by these kinds of maneuvers, his supporters will be incensed. If both Trump and Cruz are denied the nomination, that anger will be multiplied many times. I don’t quite see physical fights breaking out on the convention floor but things could get ugly nonetheless.
So watch out for all manner of shenanigans in the days leading up to the convention as the various factions jockey to have the rules that are most favorable to them be adopted.