One week from today, the Republican National Convention gets underway in Cleveland, Ohio.
Will convention delegates “drink the Kool-Aid” and commit mass political suicide by selecting the “Toxic Trump” as the GOP nominee? Will Cleveland be the GOP’s Jonestown?
The #NeverTrump delegate revolt has a plan to deny Donald Trump the nomination, but it has no challenger around whom to rally. The Washington Post’s conservative blogger Jennifer Rubin recently pleaded, GOP delegates shouldn’t pick the worst candidate available:
There are any number of pathetic voices trying to rationalize support for Donald Trump. He is better than Hillary Clinton! (Really, how exactly?) The Supreme Court! (What about it? Trump shows no commitment to any judicial philosophy and is just as likely to make a deal with Democrats to get something he cares about.) He could pick stellar advisers! (They wouldn’t work for him, and if they did, he’d ignore them.)
It seems one argument even Trump’s most strident defenders can make is: He’s the best candidate to beat Hillary Clinton. Actually, he’s the worst, and it would be politically suicidal to nominate him when other credible contenders are readily available.
The real issue for the delegates is this: Do they assure that the GOP will suffer a stunning loss with a candidate who risks maligning the entire party, or do they act responsibly to make certain that the GOP has a competitive chance to win the White House? It just so happens that the alternatives to Trump who likely do better against Clinton are also more prepared, more conservative, more ethical, more articulate, more optimistic, more likely to choose better advisers, more likely to accomplish conservative aims, more likely to find judges at all levels who reflect a conservative judicial philosophy, more likely to avoid a meltdown during the rest of the campaign and the debates and more likely to raise sufficient funds and put together an adequate campaign team.
If the delegates believe they have no role and must rubber-stamp the primary totals, then they should not bother to go to the convention; they are superfluous. They need to embrace the role they were selected to perform: conscientious guardians of the party’s 2016 presidential prospects. They have a variety of options, including forcing Trump to release his tax returns. If he refuses, it will be he who is rejecting the nomination.
If, however, the delegates leave Cleveland with Trump as the party’s nominee, they would have failed the GOP, the conservative movement and the country. They would also be guilty of political malpractice on a scale not seen in the modern era.
All of this is true, but without a challenger around whom to rally, who will stop this act of mass political suicide?
The preliminary meetings of the GOP Convention get underway today. The critical fight will be the Rules Committee meetings on Thursday and Friday, the #NeverTrump revolt’s last chance to change the party rules to deny Trump the nomination. What to expect as Republicans start meeting in Cleveland:
[T]his year’s pre-convention meetings will be watched more closely than ever for signs of fissures — and serve as a test for several elements of the party.
First, the meetings mark the culmination of more than four years of work by Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, who has revamped how his party selects a presidential nominee. His hope of leading a more inclusive party welcoming to minorities, women and younger voters has been shredded by the coarser, combative nature of the Trump campaign.
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Trump-backed changes regarding immigration policy are likely to be considered and could be adopted. If Priebus’s lieutenants can navigate tricky discussions about the platform and the presidential nomination process, he’ll be able to salvage parts of his grand plan.
It’s also an enormous week for Donald Trump and his presidential campaign. Campaign manager Paul Manafort, a veteran of previous contested Republican conventions, will be leading a team of hundreds of staffers and loyal volunteers responsible for warding off an insurrection among more conservative party members still bitterly opposed to Trump’s candidacy. Once they do that — if they can do that — they will quickly set the stage for Trump, who has vowed to “put some showbiz into a convention.” At some point along the way this week Trump is poised to announce his running mate — arguably the biggest test yet of the candidate’s judgment.
Finally, the coming days will determine whether remnants of the “Never Trump” movement still bitterly opposed to the magnate’s candidacy can draw political blood. A widespread band of grassroots activists has spent the last several months reviewing possible options and boning up on the finer mechanics of running a convention — all in hopes of tripping up Trump, or snatching the nomination from him in order to reopen the battle to other contenders.
So what exactly is happening this week in Cleveland? Here’s a rundown of what to anticipate:
MONDAY & TUESDAY:
The convention’s platform committee meets at the Huntington Convention Center — a downtown venue that will be transformed next weekend into a massive media filing center for reporters covering the convention. The 112-member panel will meet over two days to begin drafting the party’s official position on a range of issues, including abortion rights, energy policy, foreign policy, immigration reform, national security and tax reform, among others.
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The Republican National Committee — the body that oversees the entire GOP — is scheduled to hold its annual summer meeting. Priebus and other leaders are scheduled to address the one-day meeting.
Among other things, the RNC might opt to formally recommend changes to the convention’s official rules — but those rules can only be changed by the group meeting on Thursday and Friday.
THURSDAY & FRIDAY:
For die-hard political nerds and even casual observers, these are the two days to make popcorn and tune in.
The 112-member convention rules committee is scheduled to meet at the convention center for two days, but proceedings could stretch into Saturday, if needed, according to party officials. This is the group that sets the rules of the road for the formal nomination process and can also change how the party picks its candidate in 2020.
Trump and his team are aware that this is the venue for his biggest critics to make a splash, so he’s asked William McGinley, a campaign attorney, to lead a “study committee” to track potentially adverse rules changes. Four Trump supporters elected to the committee will help thwart proposals Trump doesn’t like: Bill Palatucci, a Republican National Committee representative from New Jersey; Alex Willette, an RNC committeeman from Maine; Demetra DeMonte, an RNC committeewoman from Illinois; and Vincent DeVito, a Trump supporter from Massachusetts.
The most notable proposals set for debate by the committee are part of a “Conscience Agenda” introduced by a group called Free the Delegates. Formed in the past month, the organization claims to have hundreds of convention delegates on its side — but few actually on the rules committee.
The group wants to put to rest a years-long dispute: Are convention delegates bound to the results of their state’s caucus or primary, or can they do whatever they want? Priebus and the overwhelming majority of party leaders say there’s no debate — delegates must vote based on primary results and represent the will of the millions of people who cast votes.
But Curly Haugland, a rules committee member from North Dakota, has been trying for years to “unbind” delegates. He even wrote a book outlining his proposal, aptly named, “Unbound.”
As delegates, Haugland and his like-minded colleagues believe they are stockholders in a private organization — the Republican Party — and that they are the only people who can ultimately choose a nominee. Mostly — whether they admit it or not — members of this group simply don’t like Trump, don’t trust Trump and are convinced he’ll destroy the party.
Free the Delegates will propose a “conscience clause” that would allow delegates to vote however they want. The proposal needs at least 56 votes to pass, but just 28 votes in order to be introduced to the full convention as a “minority report” that would open it up to all 4,272 convention delegates. Organizers believe they have at least 28 votes for sure.
Two key swing votes on the committee could be Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), a conservative lawmaker with a loyal national following, and his wife, Sharon Lee. The senator has so far declined to say how he would vote on the “conscience clause” — but he’s also so far declined to endorse Trump, citing concerns that the businessman insulted his close friend, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), during the campaign.
If Lee and his wife signal support for the conscience clause, “Then it’s easy street for us,” said Kendal Unruh, leader of Free the Delegates and a rules committee member.
The group is also mulling a proposal that would force a vote by convention delegates on the nomination for vice president — requiring the running mate to meet the same 1,237-delegate threshold that Trump must earn in order to win.
“We’re definitely kicking it around” as a possible rules change, said Regina Thomson, executive director of Free the Delegates. She claimed the vote is needed on principle — “There’s a possibility that we would nominate and maybe elect a man who’s going to be 70 years old and would be going into the presidency as the oldest ever,” she said.
In reality, the group sees this as another possible way to trip up Trump, or at least force him to concede some ground to his critics.
Also on Thursday: Keep an eye out for the first wave of demonstrations or other events across Cleveland. While bigger marches are set to begin on Sunday — the day before the convention begins — some groups could begin staging protests on Thursday and Friday, according to local activists.
The Washington Post editorializes about the presidential contest today, Both are unpopular. Only one is a threat.
“This election,” a spokesman for Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) said Thursday, “remains a dumpster fire.” Well, yes, the two major-party candidates for president are historically unpopular. But if this election is unusually bad, it is not because both parties chose bad candidates. There is no equivalence between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton — as even responsible Republicans should be able to recognize.
Ms. Clinton is a knowledgeable politician who has been vetted many times over. She understands and respects the U.S. Constitution. She knows policy. She can cite accomplishments in the public interest, such as pressing through an important children’s health insurance program during her husband’s administration. As a senator, she was respected by colleagues on both sides of the aisle. She completed four years as secretary of state to generally positive reviews. She began her presidential campaign by rolling out a series of serious policy papers.
None of this means you have to like Ms. Clinton or believe she would be a good president. You may disagree with her views; we have done so often enough and will do so again when we think she is wrong. You may believe she was foolish to push for the Libya intervention, arrogant to keep her emails out of the official State Department server, greedy to take large speaking fees as a private citizen. But measured against other major-party candidates of recent times, Ms. Clinton is well within established bounds of competence, knowledge, commitment and integrity. She is not a dumpster candidate.
Mr. Trump, by contrast, has waged a campaign based on bigotry, ignorance and resentment. He has no experience as a public servant, and his private record of bankruptcies and exploitation should be disqualifying. He regularly circulates falsehoods. He has no discernible interest in or knowledge of policy. Just in recent days, Mr. Trump tweeted out an anti-Semitic image circulating on neo-Nazi websites and attacked the media for reporting as much. He called one sitting senator a loser and threatened another while proving that he lacks even a passing familiarity with the Constitution. He praised one of the most vile dictators of the 20th century.
Those Republicans with enough self-respect to be mortified by the man their party is about to nominate continually hold out hope for some magical transformation. Yet even if Mr. Trump flipped his agenda — not a problem for a man with almost no fixed beliefs — he would still be the candidate who mocked a disabled reporter, proposed banning Muslims from entering the United States, attacked a judge based on his ethnicity, celebrated violence at his rallies, demeaned women and promised to round up and deport 11 million undocumented immigrants . He would still be the candidate who vaulted to political prominence with race-based attacks on the incumbent president and launched his campaign by calling Mexicans rapists.
Mr. Sasse has proved to be a rare Republican official with the moral courage to speak as honestly about Mr. Trump after he clinched the nomination as he did before. It’s not surprising that the senator would want to dismiss the whole campaign as a mess, and we don’t doubt that he genuinely fears the direction in which Ms. Clinton would lead the nation.
But to equate the two candidates as indistinguishably unqualified products of a rigged or failed system only feeds public cynicism while blurring distinctions that should not be blurred. Ms. Clinton is a politician, long in the arena, whom you may or may not support. Mr. Trump is a danger to the republic.
So to all those Republicans who like to beat their chests in public and loudly proclaim that they are constitutional conservatives and the only true American patriots, will you put the best interests of your country ahead of partisan GOP electoral politics, or will you drink the Kool-Aid and commit mass political suicide for the “Toxic Trump”? Cleveland does not have to be the GOP’s Jonestown. Your time for choosing is now.