Spotlight to shine on GOP rules committee at convention

The 112-member Republican National Convention rules committee is poised to have an outsized role at this year’s GOP convention in Cleveland.

If Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpIvanka Trump pens op-ed on kindergartners learning tech Bharara, Yates tamp down expectations Mueller will bring criminal charges Overnight Cybersecurity: Equifax security employee left after breach | Lawmakers float bill to reform warrantless surveillance | Intel leaders keeping collusion probe open MORE doesn’t clinch the nomination before the convention by winning 1,237 delegates, a nominee will be decided through what could be a series of votes by convention delegates.

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That gives enormous weight to the rules committee, which will meet the week before the convention to outline the rules that will govern those votes.

And it means the 112 Republicans on the committee will be in a spotlight they are not used to, as candidates and the media scrutinize their moves to see if they are tilting the scales toward Trump or his two standing rivals — Texas Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzWhatever you think the Alabama special election means, you’re probably wrong This week: Congress gets ball rolling on tax reform Week ahead: Senators work toward deal to fix ObamaCare markets MORE and Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

“Very seldom do matters relating to the national rules of the Republican Party create much public or media attention,” Morton Blackwell, a longtime national committeeman from Virginia, told The Hill.

“But now you can’t discuss changes in the process without everyone focusing on which candidates will be helped and which will be hurt.” 

There are actually two rules committees at play.

One is the Republican National Committee's Standing Rules Committee, a permanent body of 56 members that meets three times each year between conventions. 

Before this year’s GOP convention begins on July 18, it will have ironed out a package of rules that essentially serves as a starting point for the convention. 

Then, the convention-specific rules committee will take that guide and decide on the official rules for the convention.  

That entire rules package for the convention would then need to be ratified with a majority vote of the 2,472 delegates attending the convention.  

The convention-specific committee includes one man and one woman from each of the 56 states and territories that play a role in picking the GOP nominee.

Members to that committee are being selected now at state conventions across the country. The vast majority have yet to be picked, and are in the spotlight as Trump, Cruz and Kasich look to make sure delegates loyal to their views are represented.

“I don’t have any doubt that there will be more effort and attention devoted to determining who are the two members from each state elected by their delegation,” Blackwell said.

In the modern era, the prospective GOP nominee has always been known before the convention began. The last time there was a contested GOP convention was in 1976, when President Gerald Ford battled Ronald Reagan for the nod after neither clinched the nomination in the primary process.

The rule getting the most attention ahead of the convention is Rule 40(b), which was adopted in 2012 and states that a candidate must have won a majority of delegates in at least eight states to be on the convention ballot.

Republicans who wanted to help 2012 nominee Mitt Romney adopted the rule as a way to shut out Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) and his vocal supporters in Tampa Bay. Under a previous rule that allowed a candidate on the ballot with a majority of delegates in five states, Paul would have been on the convention ballot.

Only Trump has won a majority of delegates in eight states, though Cruz appears likely to match him before the convention.

A move to drop the threshold could be made to allow the consideration of a third candidate. That could bring in Kasich or even someone not presently in the GOP race.

Trump and Cruz would be likely to oppose such a change, or course. But that doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen.

Other rules changes are also possible if the 112 delegates decides a change is in order.

“A new set of rules must come into play. That's how every organization, including our convention, the House of Representatives is organized so that you write the rules for the session that you're about to go into,” Republican National Committee spokesman Sean Spicer explained in a CNN interview last month. “It may be the same. It may be tweaked. It may be vastly different. But the elected representatives of the Republican voters will make those decisions.”

With many Republicans expressing worry that Trump could lead the party to a terrible loss in November, observers will be watching closely to see if any rules are approved that would make it harder for him to win the nomination.

Trump, for his part, has warned of riots in Cleveland if the GOP establishment works to prevent him from winning the nomination with any underhanded tactics.

Standing Rules Committee Chairman Bruce Ash said he doubts Rule 40(b) will be changed given the atmospherics.

“To make a change in 40 (b) in the middle of a contest would change where the goal line is for all of the contestants,” Ash said.

Trump has proposed that the rules be changed to guarantee that who ever enters the convention with the most delegates goes out the winner.

Blackwell said that change has “zero possibility.”