Donald Trump’s first few weeks as the Republican standard-bearer could have gone better, what with the whole “making statements that the Party’s Speaker has to acknowledge fit the “’textbook definition’ of racism” thing. And all those revelations about his (so-called) university’s predatory practices. And the exposés on his company’s habit of stiffing contractors and screwing over creditors. And his decision to reframe the general election as a referendum on religious discrimination. And, above all, his stubborn refusal to raise money or hire more staff or build field operations (in states he can actually win) or, really, put together any kind of campaign at all.
So it makes sense that some GOP politicians and media personalities are having second thoughts. But there’s not really much those elites can do to keep the Trump train from leaving Cleveland with the nomination in tow. The only thing that could still realize the ambitions of the #NeverTrump movement would be a mutiny among the majority of the convention’s 2,400 delegates. On Friday, the Washington Post reported there are literally dozens who are planning to take up that fight.
The campaign kicked off Thursday night, with a conference call between 30 delegates from 15 states. According to the Post, the group has already recruited regional coordinators in Arizona, Iowa, Louisiana, and Washington. Many of these delegates are former Ted Cruz supporters, but they’d be happy to nominate anyone (who hates taxes and abortion) other than the mogul.
“This literally is an ‘Anybody but Trump’ movement,” Kendal Unruh, a Colorado delegate and the coup’s leader. “Nobody has any idea who is going to step in and be the nominee, but we’re not worried about that. We’re just doing that job to make sure that he’s not the face of our party.”
Trump replied, in effect, “I’m your face whether you like it or not.”
“I have tremendous support and get the biggest crowds by far and any such move would not only be totally illegal but also a rebuke of the millions of people who feel so strongly about what I am saying,” Trump wrote in a statement to the Post. “People that I defeated soundly in the primaries will do anything to get a second shot — but there is no mechanism for it to happen.”
In truth, overthrowing Trump at the convention would be totally legal and there is a mechanism for it to happen. A majority of delegates on the convention’s rules committee could vote to unbind all delegates, which is to say, allow all delegates to vote as they wish on the first ballot. This proposal would then have to be approved by a majority of all convention delegates. A slight variation on this same basic maneuver would be to insert a “conscience clause” into the convention rules. This would effectively unbind delegates, but would require them to pledge that their violation of their state’s will was not motivated by political preference, but my moral obligation.
On Friday, Speaker Paul Ryan revealed that he would not pressure House members to follow his lead and endorse the nominee. “The last thing I would do is tell anybody to do something that’s contrary to their conscience,” Ryan told NBC’s Chuck Todd — a phrasing that could give courage to dissident delegates.
Nonetheless, a coup would be a profound logistical and political challenge. The Republican National Committee has yet to release a list of the thousands of delegates and alternates headed for Cleveland, stymieing the rebels’ recruitment efforts. And RNC chairmen Reince Priebus has insisted that delegates must represent the will of their state’s voters on the first ballot. And any Trump delegate that tries to switch sides risks facing the wrath of Roger Stone.
But the opposition forces won’t go down without a fight.
“This isn’t going to go away,” Iowa delegate Cecil Stinemetz, told the Post. “Trump or others might say that these are just little groups who won’t do anything and it’ll fizz out — that’s not going to happen. Trump just continues to embarrass himself and his party and this is not going to let up.”
California delegate Tobias Fünke was even more defiant.