Five things to watch for in GOP platform, rules meetings

Five things to watch for in GOP platform, rules meetings

CLEVELAND — Scores of GOP party leaders and delegates are descending on Cleveland this week to hammer out the party’s platform a week before Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpFormer Joint Chiefs chairman: 'The last thing in the world we need right now is a war with Iran' Pence: 'We're not convinced' downing of drone was 'authorized at the highest levels' Trump: Bolton would take on the whole world at one time MORE is named the Republican presidential nominee.

Opponents of the unconventional candidate will also be making a last-ditch effort to deny Trump the crown, or to at least loudly highlight opposition to him within the party.

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Here are five things to watch for as the GOP platform and rules committees convene:

Will “Never Trump” score an early victory?

Colorado delegate Kendal Unruh will be in the spotlight when the powerful Rules Committee meets for the first time on Thursday.

Unruh is spearheading the controversial “Free the Delegates” movement seeking approval of a rule unbinding delegates from the primary and caucus results. Unruh and her allies want delegates to be able to “vote their conscience” — and against Trump, who easily won the primary contest.

There are two thresholds to watch that could represent an early victory for the  “Never Trump” forces and signal an appetite for a floor rebellion.

Unruh would like to get 56 of her 112 colleagues on the Rules Committee to join her on a vote in favor of a “conscience clause.” That would effectively codify into the convention rules that delegates are free to support anyone they choose.

But few believe the rule will get that much support from a committee stacked with party loyalists.

The second number to watch for is 28.

If Unruh can get 28 signatures from committee members in favor of the rule, it would produce a “minority report.” The rule would then get an up or down vote by the nearly 2,500 delegates on the floor of the convention.

Most insiders interviewed by The Hill doubt she’ll hit even that lower threshold, although the “Never Trump” forces insist their numbers are underestimated because some in their ranks are afraid to announce their support in public for fear of retribution.

Trump supporters will be pushing their own rules to either bind the delegates or to blunt the rules put forward by the “Never Trump” contingent.

No matter what happens, it won’t be the last people hear from Never Trumpers.

Movement leaders are reaching out to delegates to inform them that they’re unbound irrespective of what the Rules Committee decides. The group has assembled what it describes as a sophisticated and well-funded whip operation to encourage delegates to vote their conscience and revolt on the floor against Trump no matter what.

In addition, a federal ruling is expected soon on a lawsuit challenging the legality of binding delegates in Virginia.

The Republican National Committee and the Trump campaign say they’re not worried in the slightest. They see Unruh’s movement as a small but vocal minority given outsized coverage by the media.

Cruz 2020

Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward Cruz Hickenlooper, Bennet bring deep ties to 2020 debate stage 2020 Democrat Bennet releases comprehensive government reform plan GOP frets about Trump's poll numbers MORE (R-Texas), who finished second to Trump in the primary, will have a strong contingent of support this week.

They’d like to see him run again in 2020 and will be looking to pass rules that could tilt the field in his favor the next time around.

Options include rules that would close future GOP primaries to Democrats and independents, or at least reward the states that only allow registered Republicans to participate.

Another potential rule change would eliminate delegates from Congressional districts held by Democrats.

Cruz allies believe Trump’s win can be attributed in part to independents and Democrats backing him. Cruz’s support, they say, came from traditional conservatives.

Rules Committee members also will almost certainly hear proposals to adjust the calendar for early-voting states.

In 2016, Iowa, New Hampshire and other early-voting states in the contest fell later on the calendar and were lumped closely together.

Cruz supporters believe that set-up damages the candidate with grassroots appeal by not allowing for enough time to run a retail campaign or raise small-dollar donations.

Of course, changes made with an eye on the next cycle can backfire. 

The 2016 calendar was pushed by Romney supporters in 2012, who believed the design would help the establishment candidate wrap-up the nomination sooner. 

Instead, it helped Trump close the deal by early May.

Establishment vs. Grassroots

Trump and Cruz supporters at times will be on the same side in Cleveland.

They’ll team up to push through rule changes aimed at weakening the party’s power structure.

Ken Cuccinelli, the former attorney general of Virginia who was Cruz’s delegate wrangler, told The Hill he plans to propose all manner of rules designed to move power away from the Republican National Committee and other party leaders.

One of the most closely watched will be a rule that would ban lobbyists from being RNC members.

The Rules Committee will also likely revisit a measure passed in 2012 by pro-Romney forces that made it more difficult for a candidate to get their name on the ballot at the convention.

The rule raised the threshold by requiring that a candidate win a plurality of delegates in eight states, instead of five, to be considered at the convention.

The rule was passed to minimize the impact Ron Paul and his supporters could have at the 2012 convention. 

It remains a flashpoint of anger among grassroots conservatives, who point to it as evidence that party leaders are seeking to silence and block them from the nominating process.

Trade Wars

Trump supporters may look to make a statement about their influence over the party by seeking to codify Trump’s positions on trade — which are radically different from most in the party — into the party platform. 

The 2012 platform, which will essentially be the working document for 2016, voiced support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Trump has vowed to rip that agreement to shreds along with other landmark international trade deals.

The difficulty is that platform committee meetings have largely been reduced to ceremonial undertakings.

Few GOP candidates in the modern era have used their political capital to change a platform document that the nominee isn’t bound to anyway.

Trump vs. Ryan

Even though the GOP platform is largely viewed as inconsequential, the committee meetings will highlight where the presumptive nominee differs from Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanDemocrats talk up tax credits to counter Trump law Trump says Democrats are handing out subpoenas 'like they're cookies' The unexpected shadow of 1994, 25 years later MORE (R-Wis.), who is widely viewed as the party’s intellectual leader.

Ryan has been working on a new conservative agenda for months, and the bulk of his policy proposals are likely to be reflected in the GOP platform, which will be assembled by lifelong conservative policy wonks.

Ryan and Trump differ on taxing the wealthy, trade, easing restrictions on Cuba, funding for Planned Parenthood, raising the minimum wage and entitlement reform, among other issues.

The meetings will put a spotlight on the sometimes contentious and fragile partnership between the Speaker and presumptive nominee.