RNC members say no chance of a convention fight against Trump

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LAS VEGAS — In 2016, a group of delegates attempted a last-ditch effort to stop Donald Trump from securing the Republican Party’s presidential nomination during rowdy proceedings on the convention floor. 

But don’t expect anything like that spectacle at this summer’s Republican National Convention in Milwaukee, according to party leaders. 

“It didn’t happen then, and it’s not going to happen now,” David Bossie, the Republican National Committee member from Maryland and longtime Trump ally, told NBC News at the party’s winter meeting here this week. “There is no one who is going to attempt to do that. … There’s none of that conversation that has happened in here. Not one iota of it.”

Republican Party officials — including some Trump critics — said that after Trump’s wins in Iowa and New Hampshire, the potential of convention upheaval is almost nonexistent after his allies spent years solidifying RNC rules and processes. In other words, someone like former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley — the one remaining GOP candidate challenging Trump for the nomination — won’t have much luck hoping for a convention floor fight. 

“The rules could be changed, but it probably wouldn’t be fair — and I don’t think it would pass — absent a cement truck coming around the corner and killing the nominee,” said Morton Blackwell, a member of the RNC’s convention rules committee since 1988.

“There is a lot of smoke going around that has no reality,” Blackwell said, pushing back against any prospect of a convention coup to upend Trump — even if he is in the midst of a criminal trial during July’s convention. 

In 2016, leaders of the anti-Trump convention effort pushed for delegates to be allowed to be released from any obligation to support a certain candidate and, instead, aid a last-ditch effort to boost Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas — then Trump’s primary rival — and give him the necessary delegates to become the Republican nominee.

Kendal Unruh, a former RNC member from Colorado and the leader of the “Free the Delegates” effort at the 2016 convention, has since left the GOP.

“The people who I was fighting alongside with in 2016 — those people are now fully onboard with Trump,” she said in an interview this week. “He has a lock on [the nomination].” 

“I’m at a loss,” Unruh replied when asked whether there was a RNC member today whom she could envision engaging in an effort to boot Trump as the nominee at the 2024 convention. 

“I know these people,” she said, citing the examples of Sen. Mike Lee of Utah and Harriet Hageman of Wyoming, now a member of the House, who, in 2016, were vocal allies in trying to deny Trump the nomination. They are now key Trump defenders. 

Ken Cuccinelli, who most recently worked as the founder and director of the Ron DeSantis-allied super PAC Never Back Down, ran the delegate operations effort for Cruz’s presidential campaign in 2016 and sought, at the time, changes to party rules that would affect future GOP presidential primaries. 

“It is virtually impossible to unseat Trump as the nominee,” Cuccinelli said in a text message. “The campaigns get to pick the delegates themselves in more states in 2024 than they got to do in 2016.”

This year, the Trump campaign has focused greater attention on ensuring that the actual delegates it sends to Milwaukee are Trump loyalists, decreasing the concern about potential rogue delegates on the convention floor.

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“Michigan delegates will be very strong pro-Trump; we have a new delegate pool,” said Robert Steele, Michigan’s RNC committeeman. 

“There will be many people vying to be those delegates,” he added, noting that pro-Trump party activists will select which fellow pro-Trump activists to designate as the actual delegates who will represent the state on the convention floor.

But there still is the prospect that Trump will be on trial during July’s convention — a situation that could lead some party officials to wonder whether a candidate without legal troubles might be a better bet for the general election. 

Arizona RNC committee member Lori Klein Corbin dismissed the series of trials awaiting Trump as “a political witch hunt.” 

In 2016, “they wanted to change the rules so that you’re not bound — I don’t hear anything of that nature going on,” she said. “I think whoever the presumptive nominee is — that will not be an issue.”

Henry Barbour, a longtime RNC member from Mississippi who also served on the rules committee in 2016, puts the chances of convention delegates’ changing their nominee in Milwaukee at “less than 1%.”

But he noted that the party’s convention rules do provide a small opening for the delegates to formally pick someone other than the presumptive nominee.

“The reality is that at the convention, if you have two-thirds of delegates on the floor, you can do whatever you want,” Barbour said. “But the delegates got to obviously want that change.”

“There’s no way, whoever wins the required delegates — whether it’s Trump or Haley — that the delegates are going to work against that person, especially if it’s Trump who has won overwhelmingly,” he said.

RNC rules currently obligate more than 94% of the 2,429 convention delegations to vote for the person they were sent by their state parties to support, “for at least one round of balloting.” 

One other party rule that could give delegates an out: Rule 16 (f)(4). That one says the RNC’s 168-member body may grant “a waiver” allowing state Republican parties to unbind their delegates if “compliance is impossible and the Republican National Committee determines that granting such waiver is in the best interests of the Republican Party.” The definition of “impossible” is left with some ambiguity — even if Trump is on trial, it would not be likely to make it “impossible” for him to be the nominee.

An RNC member, speaking on the condition of anonymity, pushed back against the suggestion that Haley could be a viable alternative to Trump, even if she were to amass a notable number of delegates. Through Iowa and New Hampshire, she has secured 30% of the available delegates. 

“Just ’cause she stays in does not automatically make it hers,” the RNC member said, adding that DeSantis would be a more appealing choice in the event of “some crazy hypothetical that I don’t agree with.”

“Ron DeSantis, who is a successful governor and, you know, came in second in Iowa and then had the class to get out, is someone who people would turn to immediately,” the RNC member said. 

The person then paused and concluded: “That’s never going to happen — that is not a scenario.”

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