GOP: time to end convention Rules madness

Greg Nash


The scene is now being set for another debilitating and destructive Rules fight at the Republican National Convention as the various factions – the Trump campaign, the DC moderate establishment, grassroots conservatives, Cruz campaign operatives and #NEVERTRUMP dead-enders – plot rules changes to effect the Presidential nomination. The wild card in this stew of competing forces are the RNC loyalists, lead by RNC Chairman Reince Priebus, who are keeping their powder dry and their options open.

Of course, we have seen this scene in a previous movie – the 2012 National Convention. There, two leading D.C. power brokers and Republican moderates, Romney lawyer Ben Ginsberg and Romney insider Ron Kaufman, bushwhacked members of the Convention Rules Committee with numerous Rules amendments, purportedly demanded by Mitt Romney, the presumptive nominee. They had two goals: (1) to concentrate power inside the Beltway and with the RNC Chairman and (2) to silence Ron Paul and his supporters. Almost all were adopted by the Committee.

{mosads}The most odious Ginsberg-Kaufman amendment would, in effect, have stripped the power to pick delegates from state parties and primary voters and vested it in the Presidential candidate that carried that state. But that amendment did not make it to the Convention floor when conservatives revolted and threatened to challenge this power grab on the floor of the Convention. The resulting firestorm caused the Romney campaign to abandon that amendment and it was stripped out of the Rules package before it reached the Convention floor.

But the other Ginsberg-Kaufman amendments got adopted which accomplished their goal of preventing Ron Paul’s nomination and convention speech and denied Paul supporters any voice at the Convention. In exchange for that, Romney suffered strategic damage as this foolish controversy which aborted the consummation of the marriage of Romney with conservatives thereby undermining his chances in November.

So this year, as the volatile political winds have changed directions during the primary season, each of the factions within the Party have taken their turn at either railing against the current Rules and demanded Rules changes or calling for no rules changes in the middle of the game. So now the question is whether some version of the Ginsberg-Kaufman debacle will play out again.

Oregon’s Solomon Yue, a member of both the RNC and Convention Rules Committees, says no. He filed this week with the RNC a proposed Rules change which would defer the effective date of all Rules changes until the adjournment of the Convention. This would take the current political struggle largely out of the Rules process.

The proposed Rules change would also put an end to the current madness of Rules manipulation, would prevent another Convention debacle, would refocus people’s attention on beating Hillary Clinton and would permit the adoption of Rules changes that focus on the future and on empowering the grassroots.

But there are even more important reasons to put off the effective date of any Rules changes until after the Convention – substantial constitutional concerns that go to the foundation of our Nation.

First, the Rule of Law. 17 candidates have run for the Republican nomination based on the current Rules. The requirement of a majority of the delegates of eight states to be nominated, for instance, has driven many candidates from the race, as only Trump and Cruz have achieved that threshold. Proposals to changes it have largely come from the D.C. moderate establishment who still long for a white knight to appear at the convention to preserve their power.

But the Rule of Law is the cornerstone of the Republic, at least as Republicans usually view it. So changing the Rules now to effect some transitory political outcome means that the Rules have no real ultimate meaning. This sounds more like the arbitrary and capricious government most Republican object to.

Second, there is the consent of the governed. The Rules of the GOP, through state laws and state party rules, have vested in the people the power to elect our nominee. This has meant that millions have voted in our primaries and caucuses on the understanding that their vote meant something – the winner was entitled to the votes of the delegates from their state.

Now some of the #NEVERTRUMP dead-enders what to change that by an RNC Rules change which would nullify state binding rules. To mislead millions of Republican voters into believing that their votes mean something and then to dash that belief courts disaster of a magnitude that could destroy the Party.

Third, State’s Rights. The RNC is a federation of the 56 Republican Parties in the 50 States, the District of Columbia and five territories. It is state party rules and state laws that empower Republican voters to bind delegates in accordance with their will. Using the power of the RNC to nullify those laws sounds more like Obama’s White House than a Republican proposal.

Finally, there is just the issue of fairness. Is it fair to state parties, millions of Republican voters, and 17 candidates for the RNC now to say that they were just kidding? That the GOP Rules under which the states created state primaries, caucuses and conventions, that voters voted under and that candidates ran under are not the Rules under which the results will be determined? If fundamental constitutional concerns aren’t enough, surely fairness is.

James Bopp Jr is a constitutional lawyer with The Bopp Law Firm, PC. He is former Vice Chairman of the RNC and has served as Special Counsel for the RNC and its Rules Committee. He is a delegate to the 2016 GOP national convention and will serve for the fifth time on the Convention Committee on the Platform.


The Hill has removed its comment section, as there are many other forums for readers to participate in the conversation. We invite you to join the discussion on Facebook and Twitter.

Most Popular

Load more


See all Video