Never Trump groups plan last-ditch effort

Never Trump groups plan last-ditch effort
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The Never Trump contingent is going into the Republican National Convention determined to block Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpCoast Guard chief: 'Unacceptable' that service members must rely on food pantries, donations amid shutdown Dem lawmaker apologizes after saying it's never been legal in US to force people to work for free Grassley to hold drug pricing hearing MORE from the nomination regardless of the rules about unbinding delegates. And for them, Monday marks the finale of the groups’ efforts to pump the brakes on officially nominating Trump.

These forces have descended upon Cleveland, already whipping delegates in behind-the-scenes efforts to convince them to vote their conscience.

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Two of the groups helming this effort — Free the Delegates and Delegates Unbound — have joined forces and are sharing resources to allow delegates to vote their conscience rather than according to the results of their state primaries and caucuses.

Over the past several weeks, these groups have been preparing their convention efforts, hiring staff, setting up a Cleveland office and putting in place a system that allows them to mass-text delegates and send them updates.

But no matter what rules are in place going into Monday, the groups maintain that all delegates are unbound regardless.

“What we’re doing is the same process we’ve had in place for several weeks, and it’s not dependent upon the ‘conscience clause’ in any way for us to do what we’re doing,” said Regina Thomson, executive director of Free the Delegates.

Critics of the Never Trump groups have brushed off their efforts. Republican National Committee (RNC) chief strategist Sean Spicer has called the anti-Trump push “silly,” and others believe the numbers aren’t in the movement’s favor.

“I hope people will accept the outcome of the rules, but I just don’t see a majority of Republican delegates willing to overturn what the voters did in their states,” said RNC member Steve Duprey. “That’s not how we roll.”

Free the Delegates and Delegates Unbound claim they have a large enough force and hope the recent Virginia lawsuit victory — in which the state’s binding statutes were ruled unconstitutional — will energize their base. They say the number of delegates willing to vote their conscience will be unknown until Monday night because many still fear retribution from their states.

“I think that we may all be surprised that once we get to the convention of how strong the movement actually is, and I think until that time, no one is really going to know for sure,” said Cecil Stinemetz, an Iowa delegate and team leader for Free the Delegates.

Dane Waters, leader of Delegates Unbound, which is planning to spend up to $3 million, said the whipping operation is already underway.

He explained that the group categorizes delegates based on where they stand on supporting Trump as the nominee and focus on those in the middle.

There are “leaders” in 30 states who essentially oversee the whipping process in their respective states.

Waters said the bulk of meetings with delegates will occur in each state’s delegation, likely convening privately in places such as delegation hotel rooms or bars.

The real action will take place on the convention floor Monday, when all delegates will be able to vote on the entire rules package, which will need a majority to pass, and when the presidential nomination comes up for a vote.

“If and when [a floor fight] goes on, it will be about finagling the delegates, appealing to their duty, to their country, to the conservative movement to nominate someone other than Trump,” said Beau Correll, a Virginia delegate and member of Delegates Unbound.

It’s not entirely clear what a floor revolt would look like, but Kendal Unruh, a Colorado delegate who co-founded Free the Delegates, places the blame on the RNC if chaos ensues.

“The RNC chose the chaos; it’s up to the RNC about what this will look like,” Unruh said. “The more you push down, the more it explodes.”

If all else fails, the groups plan to call for a roll call vote, a lengthy process that would go through how the 2,472 delegates voted in all states and territories.

But RNC officials would likely lean on the rules that bind them to the delegate allocations in the states Trump won.

Another group, Save Our Party, is calling on delegates to stay off the convention floor to prevent Trump from achieving 1,237 delegates — the amount needed to secure the Republican nomination — on the first ballot. The group says they can return once the bound delegates become unbound in subsequent ballots.

But Trump supporters remain confident he will capture the nomination and finally unify a Republican Party that went into the convention fractured.

“It may prove to be a distraction, but at the end of the day Donald Trump will leave as the nominee,” said Lee Hoffman, a Nevada committeeman. “The party is starting to unite, and there will always be some voices who don’t agree with all of that, but I think that’s where we’re headed.”

If Trump is nominated, the groups also see a bright spot in having an impact on the nomination of a running mate.

Regardless of the rules, delegates aren’t bound to the nominee’s vice presidential pick, and the Never Trump groups have a similar whip mechanism in place.

Thomson argues that the nominee shouldn’t anoint the second in command but instead that the decision should be on the table for delegate participation since that person could potentially fill in for the president.

“The vice presidential pick should not just be whoever the presidential nominee carries in and says, ‘This is my guy,’ and we rubber-stamp it, because you never know at what point they may be replacing their president,” Thomson said.

Regardless of what happens Monday night, it’s now or never for the Never Trump movement. If Trump clinches the nomination, it will effectively be the end.

“Now is the time to fight for our principles, not later,” Correll said. 

Jonathan Easley contributed.