The Republican Party had a chance to change its rules in a way that would help them stop Trump back in January, and neglected to do so. This could make any attempt to do so later more dangerous, argues longtime Party hand and rules fanatic Morton Blackwell.
As I learned when trying to report on the pre-convention shenanigans involving the GOP and Ron Paul's fans back in 2012, Party rules are often opaque to the outsider and indeed often deliberately so.
When I wrote last month about a Ron-Paul-kneecapping rule put in place in 2012 requiring a candidate to have won eight states to even have votes for them counted at the convention and how that might kneecap any anti-Trump candidate, many correspondents assured me this was a meaningless thing to think or worry about.
Why? Because the Party Rules Committee or convention assembled can just change the rules before votes happen in 2016. Quite true.
But how that happens is at least somewhat important for the Party's future, and Blackwell worries that the chance to take care of it outside a context of "we are trying to help or harm a specific candidate" have slipped away.
Blackwell explains how at a January meeting of the RNC Standing Committee on Rules, he tried to amend the rules such that all candidate votes from credentialed delegates that follow their own state rules for allocation should be officially counted, with the more stringent rules only keeping candidates from getting to make nominating speeches and floor demonstrations. (The way it used to be, to keep "favorite sons" from eating up valuable convention floor time and attention.)
He says he found a lot of support for the idea, until he claims a Reince Priebus-associated lawyer turned things around and what Blackwell calls the "Romney power grab" from 2012 still remains in place for now.
If it stays in place until the 2016 floor, as Blackwell has been complaining a lot, that could lead to a deadlocked convention since:
so many legitimate Delegates' votes couldn't be counted that no one could assemble the required 1,237 delegate votes. Or after a deadlock, a majority of the Delegates might be ready to nominate someone they couldn't vote for because that preferred candidate didn't meet the required threshold before the first ballot.
This is because in the rules as written as Blackwell interprets them, even on second ballots, no magic candidate from outside the scrum could sweep in and win in a so-called "brokered convention."
As Blackwell explains the current rule's implication:
Only candidates who meet the eight-state threshold required to receive votes that count on the first ballot can receive votes that count on subsequent ballots.
Under the current rules, therefore, it's nonsense to talk about any candidate coming from behind to win the nomination unless that candidate meets the eight-state threshold before the first ballot, much less to talk about breaking a possible convention deadlock by nominating anyone who is not right now a candidate for the nomination.
There are plenty of opportunities for the Party to still turn around on this, all of which Blackwell details. But the politics of it are more complicated after his failure to turn it around in January, he insists:
Unfortunately, the January RNC meeting in South Carolina was the last time it was likely to be possible to make changes dispassionately based on what is fair and best for our Party in the rules governing the nomination process at the coming convention. Now every proposed rule change will be evaluated by the effect it would have on the respective candidates still in the nomination contest.
So while the Party could change the rules to make it easier to stop Trump, at this point it will be dead obvious that the reason they are doing it is to stop Trump. That will likely lead to a fair amount of potential GOP voters feeling pretty disenfranchised and dare I say it, angry.