They’re leaderless, cash-poor and facing an impossibly tight deadline. But Republican activists clamoring to block Donald Trump from the GOP nomination say they’re suddenly in the midst of a Dump-Trump bump.
News of the mogul’s dismal fundraising and skeletal campaign staff has energized the ragtag band of delegates looking to unseat Trump as the party’s nominee at next month’s national convention. A handful of Republican Party insiders, long dismissive of attempts to block Trump, are now more convinced that there will be a substantive effort to stop him.
“It’s implausible but not impossible given the unrest,” said Randy Evans, a Republican National Committeeman from Georgia.
Throughout Tuesday, as Trump’s campaign sought to quash concerns about his anemic fundraising and decision to fire campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, anti-Trump delegates seized on glimmers of hope.
First, they snagged the endorsement of former U.S. Sen. Gordon Humphrey, who told POLITICO he’ll work full-time to help encourage New England delegates to rebel against Trump and to connect his allies with mid-level GOP fundraisers who can sustain their push through the convention. Later, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker endorsed one of their preferred methods for stopping Trump: freeing all 2,472 Republican National Convention delegates to vote their conscience, rather than abiding by rules and state laws that bind them to support Trump.
“Delegates are and should be able to vote the way they see fit,” Walker said, according to an Associated Press account.
At the same time, Saul Anuzis, a top adviser to Ted Cruz’s former presidential campaign who has long dismissed attempts to unhorse Trump, floated the notion that a Walker/Cruz ticket would provide the only political mix to tempt conservative delegates away from Trump at the convention.
Delegates leading the stop-Trump efforts have largely been coordinated by New Jersey’s Steve Lonegan — a former Cruz adviser — and Colorado’s Kendal Unruh, a delegate serving on the convention’s rules committee, a 112-member body that will set the terms of convention’s nomination process. They’ve arranged two conference calls in the past week, including one on Sunday in which organizers claimed nearly 400 convention delegates and alternates participated. Another is scheduled for this weekend.
“If a candidate was going into a convention, they have their votes counted — making sure that their supporters are staying strong,” said Unruh. “[Trump] doesn’t have the infrastructure to do that. He has no clue how many delegates he has. We’re getting his soft support.”
Like Trump, the Republican National Committee has written off efforts by anti-Trump delegates. “There is no organized effort, strategy or leader of this so-called movement,” said RNC spokesman Sean Spicer in a Friday tweet. “It is nothing more than a media creation and a series of tweets."
Spicer said Tuesday that his assessment of the group hasn’t changed, despite their recent conference call and claims of momentum. And a slew of RNC leaders agree with his assessment.
“I believe it’s empty talk. I don’t think they have the numbers,” said Solomon Yue, an RNC committeeman from Oregon and a member of the convention Rules Committee. “It’s noise. Talk is cheap … Show me your name."
So far, only a few handfuls of anti-Trump delegates have volunteered to publicly advocate for stopping Trump at the convention. And they haven’t snagged the endorsements of any big-name elected officials or Republican donors that would inject momentum into their cause.
“We have no big donors at all. There’s no big money people,” said Lonegan.
But perhaps the greatest hole in their plan is the inability to agree on who should lead the Republican Party instead of Trump.
“A lot of people who are making noise don’t have any answers,” said Jonathan Barnett, an RNC committeeman from Arkansas. “They don’t have a white knight. They say there’s a problem, but they don’t have a solution.”
Humphrey, for example, said he’s hopeful that the effort results in John Kasich claiming the nomination, even though many of the drivers of the push backed Cruz during the primary.
“The first thing, obviously, the sine qua non, is to stop Trump on the first ballot,” he said. “Then, I intend to split off lickety-split.”
Humphrey, who calls Trump a “sociopath,” said he doesn’t believe the effort requires a settled alternative to succeed. Rather, he said, continued struggles by Trump’s campaign will coalesce support around stopping him.
“To my knowledge, there is no heavy-hitter as yet involved. My opinion is, if this effort becomes more credible –and it has grown in credibility by leaps and bounds – … it will become an easier sell and hopefully will attract one or more of these major donors who spent a lot of money during the primary season contributing to various pro-Cruz, pro-Rubio, pro- Kasich people.”
Their efforts are centered around multiple strategies that will require a complex level of organization the group hasn’t yet shown. One would require recruiting at least half of the 112-member convention rules committee to approve a “conscience clause,” permitting delegates bound to Trump to invoke a moral objection to free themselves and support another candidate. Unruh is spearheading this effort.
If she succeed on the committee — an enormously uphill battle — the measure would still need to win approval on the convention floor from a majority if the 2,472 delegates present.
But Even if Unruh fails to mobilize enough support on the rules committee, she can still create a headache for Trump by pushing for a “minority report.” Just a quarter of the rules committee – 28 members – can ask the full convention to vote on her proposal. Evans, the Georgia committeeman, suggested that there are already at least 22 anti-Trump members on the rules committee, so reaching the threshold for a minority report seems achievable.
“All of the campaigns – Trump, the RNC, Cruz, the Never Trumpers – are making their respective arguments,” he said.
Another method would require individual delegates to challenge existing party rules that purport to bind them to the results of state primaries and caucuses. That effort has been championed by North Dakota RNC Committeeman Curly Haugland, who’s argued for years that delegates can’t be bound to any particular candidate.
Bill Bruch, a Washington state delegate who is part of the anti-Trump drive, said he called Haugland earlier this month to learn more about the nuances of his argument. Now, he says, at least seven of Washington state’s 44 delegates have signed on – names he said would be publicly released soon – to the effort.
Bruch said he’s prepared to challenge any attempt by Washington GOP leaders to declare the delegation’s full support for Trump at the convention. But during nomination roll call votes, states are called alphabetically, he noted, so it may already be clear whether Trump will be the nominee by the time it’s his state’s turn. He said states like California and Colorado will clarify the situation first.
“If for some reason we can’t get a nominee other than Trump, we might abstain,” he said.
By Kyle Cheney and Alex Isenstadt, POLITICO