Convention Committees

While most of the media attention is currently focused on whom might or might not still be in consideration for vice-president, a key activity over the next several weeks will be the work of the convention committees.

Because the Democrats give candidates a key role in selecting their delegates (and here in Missouri we had a bit of an uproar at our state convention due to the Sanders campaign exercising its right to trim the number of candidates for at-large delegates), the Rules Committee and the Credentials Committee tend not to be that important.  The fight this year was in the Platform Committee which wrapped up its work yesterday in Orlando.  There were several changes to the draft platform adopted at the full committee meeting in Orlando, and the revised draft has not yet been posted on the convention’s website (which does have the original version of the draft platform.)  There were some issues on which the committee had significant splits between Clinton and Sanders delegates.  It is unclear if any of these splits will lead to a minority report and debates on the floor.

This week the attention shifts to the Republicans.    Both the Rules Committee and the Platform Committee will be meeting this week.  For the Platform Committee (meeting on Monday and Tuesday), the big problem is that Donald Trump has taken many positions that are inconsistent with the 2012 Platform.  If the 2016 Platform mostly resembles the 2012 Platform, the Trump campaign could have a busy week trying to explain away those differences — explanations that might hurt his ability to retain control of the convention.

The most important meeting, however, will be the Rules Committee (meeting on Thursday and Friday).  As has often been discussed during the primary campaign, the rules governing the convention are part of the official Rules of the Republican Party.  The key rules at issue are Rule 16(a) (part of the rules for convening the 2016 convention) which indicates that delegates are bound based on the primary vote in their state and that the Secretary of the Convention shall record the vote of each state based on the results of the primary and Rule 40 (part of the rules governing the conduct of the convention) which requires any nominee for president or vice-president to submit nomination papers showing the support of the majority of eight delegations before they can be formally put into nomination.  The combined effect of these rules would limit the names formally put into nomination to Donald Trump and Ted Cruz and to assure that Donald Trump gets the nomination.  (Contrary to some media reports, if another VP contender could get the necessary support from eight delegations, the rules do not prevent additional VP candidates besides Trump’s designated candidate and do not require the convention to nominate the candidate that Trump picks.)

It is expected that there will be some move to either repeal Rule 16(a) or otherwise indicate that the binding provided in that rule is not absolute and that the Secretary of the convention is to record the vote as given.  Trump probably has the support of the majority of the Rules Committee.  Whether this fight gets taken to the convention and how it plays out comes down to several other rules (and what the temporary chair does),  Rule 34 requires that a minority report (supported by 25% of the Rules Committee) must be filed within one hour of the filing of the committee report.  Rule 39 requires a roll call vote on any matter if the majority of seven delegations request a roll call vote.  Rule 37, however, permits that roll call to be by electronic device, unless the majority of fifteen delegations request an actual roll call.  Finally, Rule 35 permits a motion to table.  The bottom line is that, in order to get a full roll call on any change to these rules, the anti-Trump folks will first need twenty-five percent of the Rules Committee, then a majority of seven (or preferably fifteen) delegations requesting an actual roll call on the minority report and on any motion to table.  Not counting the potential for “disloyal” Trump delegates, there are enough states in which Trump did not win a majority of the delegates that the non-Trump delegates do have the theoretical ability to force an actual roll call.

In short, by the end of the day on Friday, we should have an idea of whether Cleveland will be chaos or a ghost town.   Even without any rule changes, the possibility does exist for supporters of the losing candidates to force a full roll call for President and to put up an alternative candidate for Vice-President.  On the Republican side, there is at least a theoretical possibility that such an alternative candidate could get the nomination.

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