By Robert J. Guttman and Whitney Smith
June 21, 2016
The Cleveland Cavaliers pulled a major upset in winning the NBA championship over favorite Golden State this month. Will there be another major upset at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland next month? Will delegates voting their “conscience” upset the Donald and nominate a dark horse candidate?
Will there be a surprise at the Republican Convention in Cleveland next month with delegates in open revolt against the presumptive candidate Donald Trump?
Trump, most likely the least qualified presidential candidate of either major party in the United States in many decades, faces growing skepticism that he can actually run an effective campaign against Hillary.
Trump may think he is LeBron James but the Cleveland star worked incredibly hard with his teammates to finally bring a championship back to the city.
The Donald seems as if his heart is not really in winning. He is off to a short trip to Scotland soon to check on his business interests. This does not show a candidate all in the game to win.
Trump just fired his campaign manager, has no real campaign infrastructure, has no real staff in the states, has very little money compared to Hillary and is sinking fast in most national polls. And, of course, he is continuing to make his bigoted, crude and overall out of the mainstream comments against almost every major voting bloc.
With all this in mind and the growing knowledge that Trump is definitely not ready for prime time, some delegates to the GOP Convention are organizing to deny Trump the nomination and pick some candidate who knows the issues, is civil and could win in the fall.
Voting your conscience has gained some steam in the weeks heading into the July convention. “There literally is an ‘Anybody but Trump Movement’”, says Kendal Unruh, a founder of the Free the Delegates movement and a member of the RNC’s Rule Committee as elected by the Colorado Republican Party. The Colorado teacher and Cruz delegate to the convention comments “Nobody has any idea who is going to step in and be the nominee, but we’re not worried about that. We’re just doing that job to make sure that he’s (Trump) not the face of our party.”
Unruh’s Free the Delegates is comprised of Republican delegates looking to add a “conscience clause” to the rules of the convention to end the dispute over whether delegates are bound to their votes and free them to use their vote as they choose.
The proposed conscience clause reads: “If any such delegate notifies the secretary of his or her intent to cast a vote of conscience, whether personal or religious, each such delegate shall be unbound and unconstrained by these rules on any given vote, including the first ballot for the selection of the Republican nominee for President of the United States, without the risk of challenge, sanction, or retribution by the Republican National Committee.”
The people leading this small but growing and vocal movement against Trump being the GOP presidential nominee are delegates to the upcoming convention in Cleveland in July. Chris Erkstrom, founder of the Courageous Conservatives PAC which supported Senator Cruz, is heading a campaign fundraising and media outreach for Free the Delegates.
The RNC’s response to the Free the Delegates movement is dismissive. “All of the discussion about the Rules Committee acting to undermine the presumptive nominee is silly,” says RNC spokesperson Sean Spicer, “There is no organized effort, strategy or leader of this so-called movement. It is nothing more than a media creation and a series of tweets.”
Despite the criticism, Free the Delegates organizers remain optimistic after Speaker of the House Paul Ryan commented on Meet the Press last Sunday, “The last thing I would do is tell anybody to do something that’s contrary to their conscience.”
Beau Cordell of Virginia, a Free the Delegate supporter says, “We’re a private organization. Due to this, our right to vote our conscience is protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and supersedes any state binding statutes.”
Voting your conscience is not new to the upcoming GOP convention this summer. As I have been telling my Johns Hopkins and University of Virginia students this summer in two classes I am teaching on the history of political conventions, this has been tried before.
In 1980, at the Democratic Convention in New York which I attended, Senator Ted Kennedy did not have the votes to unseat President Carter so he and his supporters came up with a “conscience clause” vote to try and deny Carter re-nomination. It failed, and Carter won re-nomination and then went on to lose to Ronald Reagan in the general election.
Kennedy said that voters may have chosen Carter over him in the primaries, but now times had changed and Carter looked like a weak candidate and delegates should vote their conscience.
Sound familiar? The upcoming 2016 GOP convention has similarities to the 1980 Democratic convention. A candidate who won in the primaries and caucuses is seen as a “loser” in the general election campaign.
The losing candidate, Kennedy in 1980, tried a Hail Mary pass and introduced the conscience rule as a way to change the rules of the game. Every candidate who has lost in the primaries will try a last ditch effort at the convention to try and wrest the nomination away from the winning candidate.
There is precedent for a “conscience clause”.
The question is: Will it work better for the anti-Trump forces this year than it did for Ted Kennedy in 1980?
No nominee of the Democratic or Republican Party has ever had such incredibly high negatives as Donald Trump. No recent candidate has shown such poor skills and such a lack of knowledge on the key issues of the day. And, on top of that, he is not doing very well raising money for the general election campaign.
Look for the Free the Delegates movement to continue to grow as the Donald continues to look weaker and weaker going into the convention.
Will the Free the Delegates movement be as successful as the Cleveland Cavaliers in pulling an historic upset?
Most likely not, but in this unpredictable and weird election year anything could happen at the GOP convention next month.
The Donald is not a 100% certainty. He may be going into Cleveland as the presumptive nominee but he may not come out as the actual nominee.