A contested convention at this point would be the end of the Republican party itself. Here are the insiders secrets and what you need to know.
If no presidential candidate wins a majority of delegates and Republicans face a contested convention this summer, a small group of party insiders will have huge sway over who wins — and how to resolve a rift that could fracture the Republican Party.
After all the campaigning, debates and primaries, the GOP’s presidential nomination could hinge on what these insiders decide.
The RNC Rules Committee decides party regulations and writes the first draft of convention rules, which are finalized by a convention rules committee and submitted to a floor vote.
Those rules are crucial. They decide which candidates are on the ballot: They could pass a rule allowing only Donald Trump to run in Cleveland, or a rule enabling new candidates to challenge him. They can decide how delegates vote — and when delegates can switch teams to support rival candidates. These are the kind of restrictions that could make the difference between a coronation or chaos in Cleveland.
According to new interviews with more than a third of the 56 members of the RNC Rules Committee, these party insiders have strong views about how to run a convention.
Most say a contested convention is legitimate when no candidate has a delegate majority, but they disagree about whether there is an concerted effort to use this year’s convention to stop Trump. Some say delegates have every right to overrule the preferences of Republican primary voters. Many Rules Committee members say they are comfortable with the prospect of several rounds of balloting to pick a winner this summer — and most rejected one big idea establishment Republicans have put forward for the convention.
While politicos have speculated about a new candidate swooping in to win a contested convention, such as House Speaker Paul Ryan, insiders on the RNC Rules Committee say that idea would be dead on arrival in Cleveland this July.
‘World War III’
“Ridiculous — not happening,” said one Rules Committee member, asked about the prospect of candidates getting on the ballot who did not run this year.
“There’s no way in hell that any of these candidates — who have worked this hard and spent this much money — are going to say, ‘OK, now, for the good of the party, I’ll sit down and let’s bring back Mitt Romney,'” said the insider. “That’s a fantasy world — there’s zero chance of that happening.”
Another committee member said creating a path for a new candidate would lead to a party meltdown.
“Change the rules drastically you will have a problem,” said the insider, who requested anonymity to discuss controversial convention scenarios. “You want to have World War III and destroy the party?”
Indeed, most of the 19 Rules Committee members reached by MSNBC opposed any rule enabling new candidates to run at the convention. Only three backed a rule allowing new candidates to run.
One of them is Steve Frias, a committee member from Rhode Island, who argues there is nothing wrong with a large number of convention delegates agreeing to offer a new candidate.
“If a majority wants to put forward a candidate, I don’t see what the problem is,” he told MSNBC.
Democracy Is ‘Not the Way We Do It’
Some Rules Committee members worry about an effort to shape the rules in order to stop Trump.
Diana Orrock, who backs Trump, believes the RNC should intervene to stop any effort to make a contested convention more likely under the rules.
“The fact that Reince Preibus, as chair, has not come out and denounced these high-level Republican operatives who are blatantly trying to sabotage Donald Trump’s campaign speaks volumes,” she said. Any effort to block “the consistent GOP front-runner” at the convention, she argued, would be “shameful.”
Others say it all depends on the size of Trump’s lead.
“If you are fairly close and next person is 300, 400, 500 delegates down — I think you are playing with fire,” said Steve Scheffler, a Rules Committee member.
“If the person is short, but not a lot short — and I don’t know what the magic figure is — I think it’s pretty dangerous to gang up,” he said, “and say he’s not the nominee.”
Other RNC members dispute the idea, however, that a contested convention reflects any orchestrated effort to stop Trump. These Republicans stress that the rules dictate it takes 1,237 delegates to clinch the nomination — so either someone wins those delegates, or there is no official nominee.
“I’ve heard people say, ‘If one candidate — whether it’s Trump or Cruz — goes in with a plurality, your duty is to vote for the one with a plurality,'” said one committee member, incredulously.
“The hell it is! You’ve got to win a majority — if you don’t have a majority, let’s chat,” said this insider, conjuring negotiations with the campaigns.
Another committee member, Zori Fonalledas, said the convention also gives delegates a chance to change their mind.
“Maybe the delegates that voted for Trump can now change their mind — a lot has happened,” she said, “it’s really delegates will elect the candidate.”
Curly Haugland, a North Dakota committee member, echoed that view, arguing the whole point of the convention is for delegates to pick the nominee. “Do the primaries choose a nominee or do the convention delegates?” he asked. “It can’t be both.”
“Democracy is pretty popular,” he added, “but it’s simply not the way we do it.” Haugland has long advocated for the party to play a bigger role than public primaries in selecting the nominee.
Henry Barbour, a Rules Committee member from Mississippi, stressed there is nothing exceptional, let alone unfair, about following the party’s procedure for a primary that ends without a candidate clinching the nomination.
“The rules are plain: You have to get a majority of the delegates,” he said, noting that if no candidate wins them before the convention, “we have a process in place and the delegates vote.”