As the members of the Republican Party prepare for next week’s presidential nominating convention, Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus on Wednesday pleaded with his membership not to let the party break into warring camps over whether or not Donald Trump, the undisputed winner of the primary election, ought to actually get the GOP nomination.
“Now is the time to stand united as Republicans,” Priebus said in a speech Wednesday to 168 official members of the RNC. “Now is the time to stop Hillary Clinton and elect Donald Trump.”
Reiterating a point he has made before, he said, “Let’s not lose sight of the stakes of this election ... Either we keep traveling down the road of big government failure, or set a new course for an America that is strong and is confident, more than ever before.”
The convention is usually a celebratory affair, meant to foster unity and heal any wounds left over from the primary campaign. Nobody knows that better than the audience Priebus was talking to. So it’s excusable to be a little confused. Here’s what’s going on.
What, exactly, is Priebus so worried about?
The Republican Party is coming into the convention with a presumptive nominee who is more unpopular than any major party presidential candidate in history -- and that popularity isn’t limited to the GOP’s traditional Democratic opponents.
There is a strong minority movement within the party to deprive Trump of the nomination, by hook or by crook, and Priebus doesn’t want to see that effort turn the convention into an internecine bloodbath.
Can the anti-Trump forces really take the nomination away from him?
Probably not. What’s happening is that when the RNC’s Rules Committee votes this week on how to run the convention, a motion will be introduced to allow all the delegates to vote their conscience -- meaning that even if their state party sent them to Cleveland on the understanding that they would vote for Trump, they would no longer have to.
That could result in a wide open convention, as Trump’s majority of delegates would disappear instantly.
But there isn’t enough support for the motion on the Rules Committee to get the proposal into the package that will go before the delegates for approval next week.
So, no problem then?
Not exactly. If the anti-Trump contingent can get 25 percent of the Rules Committee members to support the conscience clause, the proposal can be put before the convention as a minority report and receive a vote of the entire body.
Again, it currently seems unlikely that the anti-Trumpers can get the majority support they would need to pass the motion. However, considering the problematic nature of Trump’s candidacy in the first place, the last thing Priebus wants is to start off the convention by asking the delegates to vote on a measure expressly designed to deprive the winner of the primaries of the nomination.
Wow. Tough week ahead for old Reince, huh?
Yup. And it could get worse. Early this week, the RNC’s platform committee produced a proposed set of principles to guide Republican lawmakers for the next four years, and it is ... a bit controversial. The process was all but taken over by the religious right, resulting in additions to the platform codifying opposition to gay rights, cohabitation by unmarried couples, urging that the Bible be worked into public school curricula, and more.
Along the way, the majority stepped all over a group of socially moderate Republicans, including one lesbian member of the committee who asked for some fairly innocuous language to be added to the platform that might indicate that the GOP isn’t trying to drive homosexuals from its ranks completely.
The effort was shot down, but like the conscience clause, it may arise again in the general session as a minority report that would force another embarrassing and divisive vote at the outset of the convention.
In the past few months, Priebus has frequently joked that he’ll know it’s bad when he starts “pouring Bailey’s on my cereal.” Somebody might want to check and see if he’s mixing it with his Maalox.