How the GOP establishment can still stop a Trump nomination

March 2, 2016

Donald Trump is having another knockout primary night, hitting a winning streak in the Super Tuesday contests. But for two of his most devoted fans, the victories aren’t big enough.

Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks to supporters at a Super Tuesday campaign rally in Louisville, Kentucky March 1, 2016.    REUTERS/ Chris Bergin

Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks to supporters at a Super Tuesday campaign rally in Louisville, Kentucky March 1, 2016. REUTERS/ Chris Bergin

One is Trump’s longtime associate Roger Stone, a former adviser to the Republican front-runner’s presidential campaign who left amid conflict last August. Another is Dale Ranney, once a high-ranking Reform Party operative, who has been eager to see Trump run since the 1990s and who last week broke away to lead an independent effort to call as many potential voters as possible and convince them to back Trump.

Both fear that even if Trump gets more votes than the other candidates in almost every primary contest, Republican operatives will use a complex web of rules governing the party’s nominating process to choose another candidate.

They say Trump needs to calibrate his campaign to the more sophisticated math of a contested convention. In their view, he can’t simply win primaries; he needs to win with as wide a margin as possible, court superdelegates and keep an eye on the individual state laws governing the Republican nomination process.

 There’s evidence other candidates are already preparing to battle Trump at the convention even if he wins more delegates than any other candidate. Reports by CNN and The New York Times last week said Trump’s opponents Florida Senator Marco Rubio and Ohio Governor John Kasich, are preparing for a “contested convention,” in which GOP operatives challenge the nomination of the candidate with the most delegates, often forcing a second round of voting by delegates. And a member of the Republican National Committee from Virginia, Morton Blackwell, who supports Texas Senator Ted Cruz, in January posted an open letter on the conservative blog RedState, seeking support for rule changes he said would let other candidates at the convention try to publicly lure delegates into their camps.

In an interview on Friday, Trump’s campaign manager Corey Lewandowski dismissed the concerns Stone and Ranney expressed, saying the other candidates would not even have enough delegates to gain the standing to challenge Trump’s nomination at the convention. Stone and Ranney, he said, were outsiders who didn’t accurately reflect Trump’s campaign strategy.

“I think it’s very clear in this race Donald Trump is the premier front-runner,” Lewandowski said.  He said he was confident Trump would win, but added, “I’m not going to go out and talk about our playbook.”

Officially, Trump needs 1,237 delegates to secure the Republican nomination. But Ranney, who was Ross Perot’s national vice-chairman when the Texas billionaire ran for president as independent in 1992, sees another threshold Trump should try to meet.

“Trump has to get over 50 percent of the vote in eight different primary states,” Ranney told Reuters in an email on Thursday, citing a nominating condition colloquially known as “Rule 40″ that lets opponents challenge the nomination of anyone not meeting that threshold.

Lewandowski  countered the “Rule 40” claim by saying a candidate like Rubio would have to win primaries in at least eight states to even submit his name for a ballot.

Ranney, who is based in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, said she decided not to wait for directions from the campaign. She launched an independent volunteer group called “Trumptbird,” which she named after her Ford Thunderbird, two weeks ago.

“It is crucial that Mr. Trump inform the people that there is a huge bloc of people who simply don’t vote and if they did, they could swamp every primary and every election,” she said. She has followed him to almost every appearance he made in South Carolina last week, wriggled her way to the front of each crowd of fans pressing him for handshakes and photos, and tried to emphasize her message.

She said she’s told him that in state where the primary vote is open to people from any party, he needs to remind crowds at each campaign appearance that Democrats and Independents can also vote for him.

Stone agreed. He offered the example of New York state, where rules governing the Republican party committee members only require them to vote for the winner of the primary election during the first round of voting at the convention. If Trump’s opponents find a way to force a second round, the New York delegates are no longer bound by law to Trump.

Stone said he saw a clear way for Trump to prepare for a potential second round of voting.

“Right now it’s time to start thinking about the convention operation, do a keen analysis of the rules and how they can be changed, and to try to the extent possible to locate allies on the rules committee and figure out who is bound and who is not by law,” he said.

He pointed to the role superdelegates, who can choose their own alliances to candidates, could eventually play in the contest. There are between 150 and 160 of them and, Stone said, right now Trump doesn’t seem to have their support. He also needs to make sure the delegates don’t change the nomination rules last-minute, as they have in past years, to make his path to winning harder.

“The bigger he wins, the more the handwriting is on the wall, the bigger he wins the more delegates he sweeps and the harder it is to try anything at the convention,” Stone said.

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