Delegate uprising threatens Trump

The push to stop Donald Trump from becoming the Republican Party’s presidential nominee at the GOP convention in Cleveland is picking up steam as concerns about his campaign multiply. 

But those within the party hoping to thwart the business mogul face long odds, not least because there is no alternative candidate around whom delegates can rally. Senior figures in the party exhibit little appetite for the kind of chaos that would ensue if Trump were denied the nomination.

Several factions are trying to "unbind" delegates from Trump— or, in some cases, argue that they are not bound to him in the first place. They hope to deprive him of the nomination on the first ballot, opening up a window of opportunity for some other candidate to swoop in. 

Their case has been buttressed by the turmoil that has engulfed the Trump campaign. The billionaire began Monday by firing his campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, and ended it with the release of dismal fundraising numbers. 

He lags presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton by around 6 points in most national polls, and many Republicans are gravely concerned about his lack of campaign infrastructure. He has about one-tenth Clinton’s number of paid staff members.

Put all of this together and add it to Trump’s already divisive candidacy, and the result is “amazing momentum” for the effort to thwart the business mogul — at least according to one of the leading players, Kendal Unruh. 

Unruh is a GOP delegate from Colorado who backed Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) in his bid for the nomination. She is also a member of the crucial Rules Committee for the Republican National Convention. She intends to introduce a “conscience clause” allowing delegates to vote for whomever they wish.

Unruh told The Hill that a conference call held on Sunday to discuss the effort reached its maximum capacity of 1,000 participants and that another such call — likely to be scheduled for Sunday or Monday — could draw as many as 5,000.

Dane Waters, an adviser to another group calling itself “Delegates Unbound,” said it would begin an advertising push in the near future aimed at making the case that delegates are free to decide for themselves, even in the absence of such a resolution.

“We’re having conversations with specific delegates; we’re reaching out to officials at the RNC. To us, it’s like a campaign,” Waters added.

Waters’s group argues the whole idea that delegates are bound to a particular candidate via primary results is false. In part, this is based upon a book co-authored by North Dakota Republican National Committee (RNC) representative Curly Haugland, which leans on language governing the process dating back to 1880. Delegates Unbound also presents itself — plausibly or not — as an effort that is not explicitly anti-Trump.

Unruh, by contrast, has no such qualms. 

“I have spent 30 years building this party — my entire adult life — to keep the party conservative” she said. “And you now have a potential nominee who wants to come in and destroy our party. ... If he is the face of conservatism, there is no Republican Party.”

Steve Lonegan, a former mayor of Bogota, N.J., who chaired Cruz’s presidential campaign in the Garden State, is also supporting the effort to thwart Trump.

Lonegan said it was theoretically possible that Trump could win a convention in which the delegates were unbound. But he expressed deep concern that “right now, the Republican Party is headed to a cataclysmic defeat. … I think we have a much better chance to win with a higher-caliber candidate. And we can also shut the door on the idea that the Republican Party is some kind of party of racism and bigotry.”

Aside from the lack of an alternative candidate, however, a chaotic convention would itself create massive political difficulties. Trump and his supporters would put up a ferocious fight — the presumptive presidential nominee described the idea of supplanting him as nominee as “totally illegal” last week. 

Most obviously — and most importantly — Trump got far more votes than any other candidate during the primary process.

“It seems like it is very doubtful that it is going to happen, especially when there isn’t an alternative,” said Ron Bonjean, a longtime GOP operative in Washington who has been critical of Trump. “What do you do with the millions of people who supported Trump when they turn around and leave the Republican Party?”

Sean Spicer, the RNC communications director, also knocked down the incipient coup late last week, tweeting a statement Friday that called the idea of the Rules Committee acting to stop Trump “silly.” CNN reported that RNC Chairman Reince Priebus has been talking to state party chairmen to try to gauge the seriousness of the effort to thwart Trump.

A spokeswoman for the RNC told The Hill via email, “The rules that will govern the 2016 convention will be created by the Convention Rules Committee and approved by the delegation.”

Unaligned experts agree that the effort’s chances of success are slim. 

“It’s an uphill climb for them,” said Josh Putnam, a University of Georgia lecturer and an expert on the delegate process. “The reporting I’ve seen today indicates these folks know it’s unlikely to be successful and it’s likely to divide the party — but they are just not on board with Trump.”

Still, the would-be revolutionaries take encouragement where they can. They took particular note of a comment from Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) when he told NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday that “the last thing I would do is tell anybody to do something that’s contrary to their conscience.”

“Paul Ryan gave us the green light. ... Of course it was in reference to my effort,” said Unruh.

Earlier this month, however, Ryan voiced a more common sentiment. Speaking of Trump, he told ABC’s “This Week,” “The way I see it is he won the thing fair and square.” 

By Niall StanageThe Hill