What can the RNC do to derail Trump?
And can Trump do anything to stop the party's efforts?
Festivus may have been nearly two weeks ago, but it is never too late to air some grievances about the coverage of delegate rules in the race for the Republican presidential nomination.
Look, I get it. The rules are arcane. They are tough to follow and maybe even tougher to describe. People make mistakes. Hell, I am one of them. But now at the outset of a new year and with the 2024 primary season nearly upon us, there are some common themes that are continuing to pop up and take hold in the coverage of the Republican contest and the delegate rules that just are not quite right.
One that jumped out at FHQ was something that Maggie Haberman said to Michael Barbaro on a recent episode of The Daily. The pair had just finished talking about the Trump campaign’s efforts to influence the state-level rules that will determine how delegates to the national convention in Milwaukee will be allocated and selected. [More on that below.] Then Barbaro asked about whether that sort of influence extended to the national party as well. Here is how Haberman responded:
“Yes, Michael. It does. So remember that Trump assuming he wins all these primaries, will not officially be nominated as the GOP nominee for President until the Republican National Convention in Milwaukee in July. And you can see a world where he's convicted of a crime and some faction of the party that does not want a nominee who's been convicted of a crime tries to embark on a last minute effort to get somebody else nominated. And so what Trump's team is trying to do is make sure that the rules committee does not have the ability to make a bunch of changes that would favor another candidate and not Trump. And so an example might be a rule that would say you can't be the nominee if you're convicted.”
FHQ has no doubt that Trump and his campaign have some influence over the Republican National Committee. Not in any necessarily nefarious way, mind you. But some of the very same state party officials that Haberman said Trump was “schmoozing and glad-handing” to affect state rules are also RNC members. So it stands to reason that his influence extends to the national party level in at least that manner.
But focus on that highlighted portion from the quotation above: [W]hat Trump's team is trying to do is make sure that the rules committee does not have the ability to make a bunch of changes that would favor another candidate and not Trump.
Folks, there really is not a whole lot that the RNC can do on that or any other front with respect to the rules. There is not. The party is hamstrung by its own rules. In fact, there are only certain rules that the party can change between national conventions, and those that can be changed, can only be altered in a small window of time. That window officially closed for the 2024 cycle on September 30, 2022.
Even that rule — Rule 12 — was controversial when it was adopted at the 2012 convention in Tampa. It has remained so with pockets of the party ever since. In other words, there is resistance to allowing any changes between conventions among some in the party. None of this is any real green light for members of the RNC to make any changes against Trump at this stage.
Now, what the RNC Rules Committee could do is pass a set of rules to hand off to the Convention Rules Committee that would include a potential provision barring a convicted candidate from being the party’s nominee. That could happen. After all, the RNC Rules Committee passed the Ohio Plan back in April 2008 to fundamentally reshape the party’s future primary calendars.
Of course, future primary calendars were not fundamentally reshaped thereafter because the convention rejected those changes. The McCain campaign, in control of the 2008 convention, shot down the changes in the Convention Rules Committee.
Bear in mind also that those calendar rules changes were intended for future cycles, not the the then-current one. That is a big difference with Haberman’s hypothetical rules change against Trump.
So wait. It sounds like the RNC could send a rule barring convicted candidates from being the party’s nominee down the pike to the Convention Rules Committee if it was so inclined, right?
Yes, it could. But it would also face resistance from the very delegates produced by the state-level rules that a very disciplined Trump campaign has worked very hard the last two years to keep Trump-friendly (or if not specifically that, then frontrunner-friendly). If Trump runs through primary season and racks up delegates in the way that some seem to expect he might, then any such rules proposal will meet a crushing defeat on a Convention Rules Committee dominated by Trump delegate, or by some miracle barring that, then a Trump delegate-laden convention will likely stand in the way on the floor.
Trump does not need to exert any influence on the RNC. If the national party sent such a rules change (for the current cycle) to the convention, then it would be crushed. Any such effort would be crushed. Any such effort is futile. And if anything, that is the message Trump and his campaign are sending to the RNC either directly or through their surrogate supporters who are currently members of the national party. But there is no indication that there is any budding effort to send a rule barring convicted candidates to the convention for consideration.
But honestly, it is silly for Haberman to bring up this possibility. To talk about Trump’s influence over the delegate rules for 2024 is to talk about his efforts on the state level, not the national party level. The state level is the story.
But about that… [More on the other side of the paywall.]
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