Two Republican National Convention delegates from Michigan are joining a new grassroots coalition of party activists plotting to dump presumptive nominee Donald Trump at next month’s convention in Cleveland.
Republican activists Wendy Day of Howell and Barbara Bookout of Grand Rapids said Friday they are part of a growing multi-state network of delegates who are discussing changing the convention rules and freeing bound delegates from being forced to vote for Trump on the first ballot at the July 18-21 national party meeting.
“If such an opportunity presents itself, I will be first in line,” Bookout said. “I don’t think that Mr. Trump represents the Republican values as stated in our current platform. I don’t think he understands the task that lies in front of him. And I don’t think he’s going to win.”
Bookout said she’s concerned Trump could suffer a landslide defeat to Democrat Hillary Clinton, causing substantial losses for down-ballot Republican candidates from Congress to the Michigan House of Representatives and the State Board of Education.
Day, who managed Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz’s Michigan campaign, said Republicans “need another choice” and she’s not joining this latest effort to dump Trump necessarily to help her former boss be crowned the GOP’s new standard bearer.
“I think he already is destroying the party,” said Day, a Livingston County Republican, citing Trump’s wavering policy positions and divisive campaign rhetoric. “He is just a very bad example of what it means to be a Republican.”
Trump became the GOP’s presumptive presidential nominee in early May when Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich dropped out of the race. He won 1,542 delegates, 305 above the minimum threshold needed to capture the nomination.
But Trump is not officially the nominee until the 2,472 national delegates meet next month at the Cleveland convention, where party rules can be changed in ways that would free Trump delegates from being required to vote for him.
Greg McNeilly, a Grand Rapids-based Republican strategist, said any effort to cast away Trump at the convention would need approval from GOP leaders, in particular U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
“It’s a quixotic dream,” McNeilly said Friday. “Unless there’s a grand scheme, which there’s not, they wouldn’t be able to pull it off.”
Trump hasn’t ‘closed’ deal
With a month to go before the convention starts, no single group has yet organized delegates to mount a revolt, but advocates contend their efforts are genuine.
“It’s a very, very serious effort,” said Dane Waters, a founder of the group Delegates Unbound and a political strategist from Florida. “At the convention, we believe the delegates should be able to vote their conscience and not be restricted by some theoretical rule that doesn’t actually exist.”
Saul Anuzis, a former Michigan Republican Party chairman, said he subscribes to the theory that all delegates are technically unbound when the convention convenes.
“I’m not of the dump Trump scenario, but if a viable alternative emerged, I wouldn’t be against it,” said Anuzis, who was a senior adviser on Cruz’s campaign.
Anuzis, who spent months corralling delegates across the country for Cruz, said there’s a “loose confederation” of delegates discussing how to change the rules and nominate a consensus candidate, but no real “organized effort.”
“I don’t think you can beat somebody with nobody,” Anuzis said. “But Trump just has not closed the deal, so to speak, so that creates an opportunity, uncertainty and a window for things to happen.”
Trump said Friday in a statement to the Washington Post that any effort to deny him the nomination at this point would be “totally illegal.”
“People that I defeated soundly in the primaries will do anything to get a second shot — but there is no mechanism for it to happen,” Trump said in the statement.
New book fuels revolt
The New York businessman fended off more than a dozen opponents to emerge victorious in the primaries, knocking off mavericks and party establishment stalwarts ranging from Cruz and Florida U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, the son and brother of two former presidents.
Trump has touted that he won 14 million votes in the primaries, though critics like Waters note he only captured 46 percent of the total vote in Republican primaries and caucuses.
“He didn’t get a clear majority,” Waters said. “The reality is, he did not get a majority of the votes cast. It’s not like Donald Trump has a mandate to be the nominee.”
The movement among grassroots activists to pick a different candidate is being fueled, in part, by a new book called “Unbound: The Conscience of a Republican Delegate.”
National convention delegates Curly Haugland and Sean Parnell argue in the book that delegates can still assert the right to choose a candidate who is more electable — an argument that is being bolstered by Trump’s high negative ratings with voters in key battleground states, including Michigan.
Some Trump supporters are starting to push back at the opposition party chatter.
State Sen. Jack Brandenburg, a Trump national convention delegate, on Friday blasted fellow Republicans for distancing themselves from the party’s presumptive nominee — three days after U.S. Rep. Fred Upton of southwest Michigan said he would not endorse the New York businessman.
“Trump’s the nominee, and I would suggest that if you call yourself a Republican, get behind him,” said Brandenburg, R-Harrison Township. “Look, I don’t agree with everything my dad says, but I’d still back him. This is a guy that went out there and kicked ass.”
Day said Trump has had six weeks since Cruz and Kasich dropped out to win over his party detractors.
“We’re engaged to Trump, but we’re not married,” Day said. “If you found out your fiance was a habitual liar, adulterer and owns casinos and an escort service, you may not want to get married at that point. We want to give people a chance to not get married to Donald Trump.”
By Chad Livengood, Detroit News Lansing Bureau