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“Salvaging Some Of Their Power”: Why Republicans Won’t Even Try To Nominate The Next President At Their Convention

Let me be the first to say this: The 2016 Republican National Convention is not, and will not be, about whether the Republicans nominate a candidate who can win the presidency.

I’ll say it again: The GOP convention is not about selecting the next would-be, could-be president.

In normal years, of course. This year, it won’t be.

The question on which the convention will turn, most likely, assumes that the presidency is lost. It also assumes, for the sake of preserving their own sanity, that everything else isn’t — that there’s a chance that the GOP can still salvage some of their power.

So when Republicans ask, can we win in November if Donald Trump is our nominee, what they’re really asking is: Well, it may be too late to save the presidency, but can Republicans retain the Senate with Trump at the top of the ticket? Can they keep Democrats from whipping up enough anti-Trump sentiment in marginal House districts to make that chamber competitive?

If the answer is no, then they will nominate someone else.

Republicans will consider this question twice in July. The first time it will be debated internally is before the convention begins. The RNC’s rules committee will determine whether to expand the number of candidates who are eligible for the nomination. They can decide whether to scrap Rule 40, which requires presidential nominees to have won five contests, and replace it with something else. There will be no reason for either Donald Trump or Ted Cruz’s hand-chosen rules committee members to vote in favor of any change, so if the rest of the rules committee does, it means they think that the party’s control of everything is in serious jeopardy with either man as their nominee.

Then the delegates will decide. They’ll look at the polls: If both Trump and Cruz are not competitive with the likely Democratic nominee, they will nominate someone else — or nominate the person who is most likely to do the least amount of damage.

As a long-time watcher of how the cognoscenti makes up their collective mind, I get the feeling that a number of Beltway Republicans are resigned to the notion that running with Trump might actually help save their own candidates down the line. Most of them will have financial stakes in some of the races, and so they’re thinking now: Who’s easy to throw under the bus? And who is likely to gin up turnout in some of the places we care about? The answer to both of those questions is Donald Trump.


By: Marc Ambinder, The Week, April 20, 2016

April 24, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, GOP Establishment, GOP Presidential Nominee, Republican National Convention | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“GOP Convention Rule 40(b)”: How An Obscure Rule Could Limit The GOP Convention To A Choice Of Trump Or Cruz

Back in the day, when national party conventions were largely autonomous events rather than infomercials for a nominee chosen in primaries and caucuses, you’d have many names, including multiple “favorite son” candidates who were not really running for president, placed in nomination, with extensive time spent on nominating speeches and even “spontaneous” floor demonstrations. As conventions became more tightly controlled and their managers worried about things like ensuring that the balloting and acceptance speeches occurred before East Coast television viewers were asleep, nonserious candidacies were sacrificed to efficiency. Among Republicans, the tradition developed that no one’s name could be placed in nomination without support from at least three delegations; that cut off the pure favorite-son candidacies. Beyond that, the status of conventions as ratifying rather than nominating events exerted its own pressure on “losers” who typically succumbed to the pressure to unite behind the nominee and grin for the cameras.

That was before the Ron Paul Revolution appeared on the scene. In 2012, the Paulites shrewdly focused on winning fights for delegates that occurred after primaries and caucuses in hopes of making their eccentric candidate and his eccentric causes a big nuisance at Mitt Romney’s convention. And so the Romney campaign and its many allies reacted — some would say overreacted — by using its muscle on the convention Rules Committee (meeting just prior to Tampa to draft procedures for the conclave) to change the presence-in-three-delegations threshold for having one’s name placed in nomination to this one:

Each candidate for nomination for President of the United States and Vice President of the United States shall demonstrate the support of a majority of the delegates from each of eight (8) or more states, severally, prior to the presentation of the name of that candidate for nomination.

This Rule 40(b), moreover, was interpreted to mean that no candidate who did not meet the threshold could have votes for the nomination recorded in her/his name.

Rule 40(b) succeeded in keeping the Paulites under wraps in Tampa, but as is generally the case, it remained in effect as a “temporary” rule for the next convention, subject to possible revision by a new Rules Committee meeting just prior to the 2016 gathering, and by the convention itself, which controls its own rules. In fact, its drafters may have intended to keep the rule in place to head off some annoying convention challenge to President Romney’s renomination.

Back in the real world, Rule 40(b) may have been in the back of some minds early in the 2016 cycle as a way to keep the convention from being rhetorically kidnapped by noisy supporters of Rand Paul, or of the novelty “birther” candidate Donald Trump.

Now, obviously, the shoe is on the other foot, and there is a growing possibility that the two strongest candidates for the GOP nomination, Trump and Ted Cruz, could join their considerable forces to insist on maintenance of Rule 40(b) or something much like it to prevent their common Republican Establishment enemies from exploiting a multi-ballot convention to place someone else at the top of the ticket.

Trump is currently the only candidate who is beyond the eight-state-majority threshold for competing for the nomination under the strict terms of Rule 40(b). But Team Cruz is confident enough that its candidate will also satisfy the rule that he’s the one out there arguing that Rule 40(b) means votes for John Kasich are an entire waste because they won’t be counted in Cleveland. And with both Trump and Cruz repeatedly claiming that the nomination of a dark horse who hasn’t competed during the primaries would be an insult to the GOP rank and file, maintaining Rule 40(b) is the obvious strategy to close off that possibility. A good indicator of the new situation is the evolving position of Virginia party activist and veteran Rules Committee member Morton Blackwell, a loud dissenter against Rule 40(b) before and after the 2012 convention, who now, as a Cruz supporter, is arguing that changing the rule “would be widely and correctly viewed as [an]  outrageous power grab.”

But can the Republican Establishment stack the Rules Committee with party insiders determined to overturn Rule 40(b) and keep the party’s options wide open going into Cleveland? Not really. That committee is composed of two members elected by each state delegation. No likely combination of Kasich and Rubio delegates and “false-flag” delegates bound to Trump or Cruz but free to vote against their interests on procedural issues is likely to make up a majority of the Rules Committee, or of the convention. Indeed, most of the anecdotal evidence about “delegate-stealing” in the murky process of naming actual bodies to fill pledged seats at the convention shows Team Cruz, not some anti-Trump/anti-Cruz cabal, gaining ground. If Trump and Cruz stick together on this one point no matter how many insults they are exchanging as rivals, they almost certainly can shut the door on any truly “open” convention and force Republicans who intensely dislike both of them to choose their poison.

That would leave Kasich with his fistful of general-election polls and the proliferating list of fantasy “unity” candidates on the outside in Cleveland, playing to the cameras but having no real influence over the proceedings. And you can make the case that this is precisely what the Republican “base” wants and has brought to fruition through the nominating process. It would, of course, be highly ironic if the Republican Establishment’s Rule 40(b) became the instrument for two candidates generally hated by said Establishment to impose a duopoly on the party. But there’s no President Romney around to put a stop to it.


By: Ed Kilgore, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine,  March 31, 2016

April 4, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Establishment Republicans, GOP Convention, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Establishment Heroes?”: Romney, Ryan Won’t Come To The Republicans’ Rescue

It’s a dream more than a few Republican officials have no doubt had in recent months: the party’s presidential nominating contest remains unresolved through June, and a contested election opens the door to Mitt Romney or Paul Ryan rescuing Republicans by riding in on a white horse. “Finally!” party officials declare in the dream. “Our establishment heroes will rescue us from the dreaded Trump monster!”

There are, of course, all kinds of problems with the fantasy. For one thing, both Romney and Ryan – who comprised the party’s failed 2012 ticket – have said they have no intention of seeking national office in 2016. For another, if the party sticks to its Rule 40, neither of these guys would even be eligible for the nomination.

But even putting this aside, there’s a more obvious problem: the American mainstream just doesn’t like Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan that much. Public Policy Polling published some interesting results today:

PPP’s newest national poll finds that Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan wouldn’t exactly be the solution to the GOP’s Donald Trump problem, with Romney doing even worse head to head against Hillary Clinton than Trump does.

That’s not an exaggeration, by the way. For all the recent interest in Trump’s poor standing with the American mainstream – interest that’s well deserved given his position as the GOP’s frontrunner – Romney actually fares worse in hypothetical general election match-ups.

In the PPP results, both Clinton and Sanders lead Trump by about eight points nationally. Romney, however, trails both of the Democratic candidates by double digits.

The pollster’s analysis added, “Romney is incredibly unpopular nationally now – his 23/65 favorability rating is even worse than the 29/63 Trump comes in at.” It may seem odd, but when Romney delivered his recent speech condemning Trump, most of the public liked the attacker even less than his target.

And what about the Republican House Speaker? PPP found that the Wisconsin congressman would trail Clinton and Sanders in a general election by 5% and 7%, respectively, which is pretty similar to the advantages Clinton and Sanders enjoy over Trump.

In other words, the imagined saviors of the party wouldn’t actually save the party. Plenty of voters remember the last two Republicans on the national ticket, but that doesn’t mean they’re remembered fondly.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, March 31, 2016

April 1, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Establishment Republicans, Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Rudderless Ship”: This Little-Discussed Organizational Issue Could Create Total Chaos At The Republican Convention

In early June, several hundred paid professionals and a supporting army of volunteers will slowly begin to assemble near the banks of the Cuyahoga River in Ohio, with the quadrennial mission of planning and executing a Republican National Convention, scheduled for July 18 to 21, at Quicken Loans Arena, in Cleveland. The event is convened by the RNC, but the ostensible managers actually play a subordinate role. Over the past four decades, their job has been only to build an apparatus for the conclave — a solid but mindless machine — and then turn it over to the “putative nominee” along with a long list of decisions that must be made to bring the event to life and then to fruition.

In a normal election year, the RNC’s Committee on Arrangements gives the assumed general election candidate and his staff a schedule of speakers with no names; the skeleton of a platform with few planks; some ideas for framing acceptance speeches with no actual speeches; and a process for total control of every word placed on a teleprompter, and for making sure nothing else gets said in the hall, but missing the vetters and enforcers who will crack the supplied whip.

But this time around — if, say, neither Donald Trump nor (less likely) Ted Cruz manage to rack up 1237 delegates — there may be no one to whom the keys to this turnkey operation can be handed. If there is a contested convention with any doubt about the identity of the nominee, a planning process that depends entirely on the arrival of a candidate-captain at least a couple of weeks before the first gavel drops will instead be rudderless. That in turn could immensely complicate the process of naming a nominee, and at the same time turn the convention from the highly choreographed informercial we’ve seen in both parties for decades into a disorganized mess that undermines the show of unity these events are intended to produce.

News media interest in a contested convention so far has focused almost entirely on byzantine scenarios for the presidential balloting and what they might produce. But a better and more immediate question is whether chaos will break out long before the balloting begins, in the full view of cameras and with no one in particular in charge.

As I’ve confirmed by conversations with veterans of conventions in both parties (and from my own experience as a script and speech staffer at six Democratic conventions), the modern national party conclave is designed to be celebratory, not deliberative. Many internal convention decisions normally made by the putative nominee’s operatives will have to be made some other way, and the number of conflicts could massively proliferate if the nomination contest spills over into every corner of the event, making every routine decision part of the struggle for power. Is the chairman of the host committee who typically greets delegates after the opening gavel a Trump person or a Cruz person? Maybe the convention needs two greeters! Is there boilerplate language in the draft platform carried over from the last five conventions that could serve as a point of departure for undermining a candidate’s support (e.g., vague support for trade agreements condemned as job losers by Trump or for infrastructure investments condemned by Cruz as wasteful)? They won’t be boilerplate anymore; they could become the meat and potatoes of minority reports and platform fights. Normally non-controversial proceedings such as credentials and rules could and probably will become exceptionally controversial, making “neutral” decision-making by the event’s nomenklatura impossible.

The potential for and fallout from a fight over convention rules — normally something handled long before the convention itself, out of the public eye — was actually illustrated by the 2012 GOP convention. Putative nominee Mitt Romney’s people grew so annoyed by the possibility of trouble on the floor from Ron Paul delegates (many named in post-primary-delegate-selection events that diverged dramatically from actual voters’ preferences) that the rules were rewritten to make Paul officially a non-candidate. Traditionally at Republican conventions candidates just needed some supporters in five delegations to have their names placed in nomination and roll call votes recorded for them. In 2012, a new rule (Rule 40) was adopted raising the delegation threshold to a majority of eight delegations. If not amended or repealed prior to or at the Cleveland convention (by a Rules Committee composed of two delegates for each state, and then confirmed by the full convention) Rule 40 could, ironically (given its Establishment provenance), wind up ruling out or at least limiting any competition for Donald Trump.

If there are any unresolved state-level disputes over properly credentialed delegates at the end of the primary process, those, too, could be revived at the convention if a candidate has something to gain or lose from a particular delegate being ruled in or out. In recent years the convention’s Credentials Committee has done its work discreetly, but again, if seating decisions have any impact whatsoever on the arithmetic of the nomination contest, they will suddenly be a big and controversial deal.

In this leaderless situation, there are really only two basic approaches the convention management can take. It can treat the absence of a putative nominee as a vacuum to be filled and plunge ahead with good-faith decisions made in loco parentis, subject to reversal by the full convention. If, as seems likely, the two viable presidential candidates in Cleveland are Trump and Cruz, decisions that may affect their interests (on, say, credentials or rules challenges, or even on which friends or enemies get prime speaking roles) coming from Convention CEO Jeff Larson — Reince Priebus’s appointee — or from Convention Chairman Paul Ryan will draw immediate and intensely hostile attention. Remember that Trump and Cruz are living repudiations of everything the RNC called for in its famous post-2012 “autopsy” report. Many of the operational people they will confront during those potentially tense weeks in June when decisions about the convention simply have to be made are presumptive enemies and saboteurs. It will not make for a cooperative atmosphere.

Besides, there’s only so much party or convention officials can do to offset the absence of a putative nominee. The overriding purpose of the modern party convention is to tout the nominee’s sterling personal qualities, inspiring “story,” accomplished record, and courageous agenda. Not knowing the identity of the hero to be lionized leaves little to be done other than to attack the opposition, perhaps too often and too loudly for the party’s good. The 1992 Republican convention, which featured Patrick Buchanan’s prescient but controversial “culture war” speech, showed the risks of too negative a convention message.

The alternative and politically safer approach for a convention without a putative nominee is to allow representatives of all viable candidates for the nomination to participate in decisions. So if Donald Trump and Ted Cruz are the only active and feasible candidates going into Cleveland, the convention managers could simply duplicate the usual approach and have two sets of eyes on absolutely everything they do. Aside from making decisions harder rather than easier, this approach could politicize virtually everything the convention does, however minor, generating fight after fight.

This is the messy scenario that a contested convention is likely to create in the run-up to the event and over the first two to three days before the first (and possibly subsequent) presidential ballots are cast. If the chaos is allowed to proliferate or if inversely it is quelled with too much force, the legitimacy of the nomination itself could be called into question. And even if that doesn’t happen, very little time will be available after the nominee is known to get the party and the convention prepared for the rousing unity gestures of the crucial final night. One can easily imagine frantically suppressed protests, rows of empty seats, security and message-discipline lapses (like the Clint Eastwood fiasco of 2012), and just a bad scene all around.

The people already engaged in planning Cleveland surely know these growing risks, even if they are not eager to talk about it publicly, and even though the pundits haven’t focused on all the small and boring “process questions” that together add up to a potential calamity for Republicans. Maybe they can devise some radical changes in convention procedures to reduce the risk, such as front-loading the presidential balloting as much as possible to increase the percentage of the convention that’s “bossed” as it should be. Perhaps someone like Paul Ryan has the prestige to knock heads in those crucial days of late June and early July and force the remaining candidates to agree on as many things as possible out of sight of the cameras.

But all in all, and whatever their private candidate preferences, the people charged with executing this convention should probably hope Trump puts away the contest on June 7 decisively enough to remove the temptation of deliberation from Cleveland. For all the contrived gravity of motions made and seconded and votes recorded, American political conventions these days work best when they are Potemkin Villages built rapidly on the Prince’s orders to fool the casual observer.


By: Ed Kilgore, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, March 27, 2016

March 28, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Republican National Convention, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment


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