Could the Cleveland Trumpfest get sabotaged by delegates who detest their own nominee? We’ll soon find out, because it’s high noon for the noisome rebellion.
Pay attention to what happens, perhaps today, in the Republican rules committee. When this election cycle began, you surely never expected to expend a brain cell of energy on the Republican rules committee, but, then again, you never expected that a racist sexist demagogue with a thimble-full of policy smarts would snatch the nomination, either. It’s been that kind of year.
In advance of Monday’s convention opener, the rules committee is the place for action. That’s where the Republican National Committee, as part of its strange-bedfellows pact with Donald Trump, is currently scrambling to snuff an anti-Trump insurgency that, if unchecked, could spread to the convention floor. And chaotic disunity on the floor is the last thing that Republican leaders want to see paraded on TV and circulated on social media.
The rules committee has 112 members; most of them are loyal to Trump’s irrepressible poodle, party chairman Reince Priebus. But if only 28 members decide, as early as today, to support a pending resolution that would allow delegates to vote their conscience – in defiance of the pro-Trump primary results – this so-called “conscience clause” would go to the convention floor as a minority report. And all 2,475 delegates would have to vote on it.
I doubt it would pass; even delegates with reservations about Trump would be reluctant to stiff the Republican primary voters. Trump topped the field with 44 percent – lower than Mitt Romney’s 52 percent in ’12, lower than John McCain’s 47 percent in ’08, lower than George W. Bush’s 61 percent in ’00 – but hey, a win is a win. And if delegates were suddenly free to vote their conscience, and denied Trump the nomination, the Trump-loving delegates would scream betrayal. And there’s no alternative candidate in the wings to hose everyone down.
It really doesn’t matter whether a conscience clause actually passes. If it reaches the floor at all, that alone would be damaging. The ensuing debate would put Republican disunity on full display. It would give the anti-Trump Republicans a golden opportunity to vent in public. If this were to happen, Preibus and Trump would probably schedule the whole episode (the debate, the majority No vote) on Monday afternoon, long before evening prime time. But social media would keep it alive anyway.
Are there 28 votes in the rules committee for a minority report? Quite possibly. Two key voters are Mike Lee, the tea-partying senator from Utah, and his wife Sharon. They haven’t yet signaled how they intend to vote, but, if it’s any indication, the senator – whose best friend is Ted Cruz – has already shared his thoughts about Trump. From a recent interview with the conservative outlet Newsmax:
“We can get into the fact that he accused my best friend’s father of conspiring to kill JFK. We can go through the fact that he’s made statements that some have identified correctly as religiously intolerant. We can get into the fact that he’s wildly unpopular in my state, in part because my state consists of people who are members of a minority church….Statements like (Trump’s) make them nervous.”
Lee just says publicly what many of his brethren feel privately. Gordon Humphrey, a former New Hampshire senator who’s working behind the scenes for the conscience clause, reportedly insists that “there’s a huge softness with Trump delegates.” We’ll soon see if he’s right.
A delegate himself, Humphrey earlier this week shared his own thoughts about Trump. I ‘ve covered many political conventions in my time – Cleveland will be my ninth – and I can assure you, with full confidence, that I have never heard a delegate-politician talk this way about his own party’s nominee on convention eve. Ready?
“Trump is a sick sociopath. He has no conscience. No guilt, remorse, empathy, or embarrassment….He has severe personality disorders, and is not fit to be president.”
The conservative Wall Street Journal editorial page is a bit more chaste – Trump “continues to behave in ways that reflect poorly on his political and strategic judgment” – and it’s openly rooting for a conscience debate on the convention floor: “Political parties exist to win elections – in other words, nominating the candidate with the best chance in November….If that means a raucous debate on the floor, then Americans might appreciate the exercise in democratic self-government.”
We might get the debate (please!), but I doubt that sanity will win. Most of the Trump-wary delegates seem poised to knuckle under and soldier on.
In fact, that process is playing out in the Trump veepstakes. Chris Christie, who used to ridicule Trump (“I just don’t think that he’s suited to be president”), is now Trump’s obsequious backstage manservant. Mike Pence, who reportedly loathes Trump, now says that Trump is the greatest thing since Reagan. And Newt Gingrich, who said in February that Trump speaks to voters “at the lowest level of any candidate in either party…language for fourth-graders,” now insists that Trump is awesome.
George Washington once urged his fellow citizens, “Labor to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire called conscience.” We’ll see whether Trump and Preibus can stamp it out.
I’ll preview the Republican Convention – partnering with my fellow traveler, ace political reporter Dave Davies – at 10 a.m. tomorrow on WHYY’s “Radio Times.”