A small group of Republicans is planning an effort to deny Donald Trump the Republican nomination for President. Members of this group are concerned that Trump’s inflammatory statements and poor fundraising figures could cost the GOP both the presidency and seats in the House and Senate.
Former New Hampshire Senator Gordon Humphrey is among those hoping to stop Trump at the Republican National Convention in July. He joined NHPR’s Peter Biello to talk about this effort.
This anti-Trump group is calling its movement “Free the Delegates.” How would this movement prevent Trump from gaining the nomination?
Let me first say that I’m concerned for the same reasons you cited about the effect of a Trump nomination on the Republican Party, but I’m far more concerned about the fate of the nation. I think Donald Trump is a dangerous sociopath who is ill-fitted for the office of President, and even less fitted for the office of Commander in Chief.
I am a delegate and I’m involved in an organization that is trying to put together a majority of delegates in Cleveland to deny Donald Trump the nomination on the first ballot, so that the Convention, in its wisdom, can turn to the consideration of other candidates.
At this point, though, those delegates at the convention in July are bound to the votes of their states. But you’re aiming to change that?
That is incorrect, in fact. Here, frankly, I must indict the news media (NPR and NHPR excepted) for allowing the campaign to turn into a carnival and a circus that poorly informed the voters of their choices.
As to the mechanics, putting aside the qualifications of the candidates and their mental health, in fact delegates are not bound. Delegates to the Republican Convention are not bound, and many Supreme Court decisions in regards to the mechanics of political conventions have made it clear that the Federal Government and the State Governments have no role in binding any delegate to any particular course of action. And neither do party rules bind delegates, except the rules of the Convention itself, which are and will be adopted at the outset. So depending on which set of rules are adopted, delegates are utterly free—notwithstanding the impression to the contrary—to vote their best judgement on their first ballot.
The group of which you are part is attempting to make the rules such that delegates can vote their conscience; this is not traditionally what happens, correct—traditionally they follow the will of the people in their state?
There are two schools of thoughts among this rather large group of delegates (several hundred in fact—not nearly a majority yet, but growing fast thanks to Mr. Trump). The first school of thought is that that Federal and State laws, as well as party rules, cannot and do not bind a delegate. The second school of thought posits the desirability of a rules change that would make delegates even more comfortable than relying on Supreme Court decisions. And that is a “conscience clause” that explicitly states that delegates are free on the first ballot, and on each ballot, to vote their conscience. I support both.
If you are successful, and delegates do not vote to make Trump the official nominee for President, who would be the nominee?
I can’t say, and no one can. First of all we have to muster 1,237 delegates—that’s 50 percent plus 1 of the total convention count. That is not going to be easy because Trump has more than half. But I’ve got to believe that a good many of Mr. Trump’s delegates are beginning to have second thoughts. So I think it’s doable; the odds are much better than they were a couple of weeks ago.
Who will be the nominee? Once Mr. Trump is rejected, then the delegates can do what delegates are supposed to do, and that’s deliberate about who would be the best candidate.
If the delegates are not going to vote according to how people voted in the primary, then why have a primary?
There’s a dichotomy. The proper title for what we all went through in the 50 states is, “Presidential Preference Primary.” Voters have an opportunity to express their preference. But they do not elect delegates. Subsequent to each Presidential Preference Primary, there is a meeting of the party, and delegates are chosen in proportion to the result of the candidate polling. But that’s a separate process, and those delegates are free to vote their best judgement.
It functions like Congress—in the mechanics and constitutional framework, it’s set up like Congress. Voters elect members, but they expect the members of congress to exercise their best judgement, taking into account all of the latest information.
For example, supposing a candidate, after he secured a majority of delegates but before the Convention, commits a serious crime. Are the delegates bound to nominate this person? Are they iron-bound into something? Of course not. That would be ridiculous. And it’s just as ridiculous to say that delegates are bound in any way. They are not, and the Supreme Court has said so on many occasions.
What would you say to the 13 million-plus people who voted for Donald Trump, and knew going into the voting booth that he was saying this kind of stuff (it’s not like this is new behavior)?
Well I’ve got to believe that a lot of Trump supporters are having second thoughts. I hope so! I think he’s a dangerous man. I think he says some ugly things, he obviously has some ugly thoughts about race and ethnic issues, about women, and gender; he’s impetuous, he’s a bully, and he’s just not qualified to be President.
I’m not going to support him. I have a responsibility to the nation, and to the people, and to my family to choose someone who is well-fitted for the role.
Let’s say you are successful and the delegates to the Convention do end up choosing another candidate. It seems unlikely that Trump would accept that without a fight. Are you prepared for the possibility of Trump running anyway and splitting the GOP vote?
Well the GOP’s pretty badly split now.
I want to come back to the question you asked about the point of the primaries. I didn’t mean to be cavalier in my response, because clearly the primaries have turned into a gosh-awful mess and there needs to be reform in that process. But that’s down the road. What we have to deal with now is what’s immediately in front of us, which is what I regard as a menace in the person of Donald Trump.
Earlier this year you publicly endorsed John Kasich. Would he be someone you’d have in mind to replace Trump on the ballot?
Absolutely. I think he’s the best qualified of all the candidates who presented themselves in the primaries. But the delegates will be free to nominate whomever they please: Paul Ryan, Mickey Mouse (who would be an improvement over the purported nominee in my opinion). But they’re free to do as they wish, which is the central point: they are elected to exercise their judgment, and the courts have repeatedly said that the State has no legitimate interest in telling delegates what to do, as long aren’t involved issues of racism, gender, or something fundamental like that.
What do you see as your chances of success at this point?
Less than 50 percent at the moment, but getting better by the day. Getting better every time Mr. Trump opens his mouth, reveals the bankruptcy of his political bank account, fires his top lieutenant, and in other ways acts like a horse’s ass.
By Cordelia Zars and Peter Biello, NHPR