By Jim Ellis
April 21, 2016 — There is no doubt that Republicans are headed for a major convention rules fight the week before their national conclave begins, and it appears the brawl is already underway.
Controversy is arising over a proposed rule change to ditch the US House rules that have governed the national convention for decades in favor of Robert’s Rules of Order, which would give more control to the 2,472 individual delegates by allowing them to raise objections and points of order. US House rules give the convention chairman — at this point House Speaker Paul Ryan acting on behalf of the party leaders — the power to deny such motions. RNC Oregon National Committeeman Solomon Yue is officially bringing the idea for rules committee consideration as the panel prepares to meet at the Republican National Committee spring meeting next week in Florida.
Already personalities are clashing as Yue and rules committee chairman Bruce Ash (RNC Arizona committeeman) are accusing RNC Chairman Reince Priebus of stonewalling the measure in order to prevent a full rules committee vote. Priebus and RNC legal counsel John Ryder, the Tennessee national committeeman, claim not referring the proposal to the committee was merely an oversight.
Yue believes his proposal will bring more transparency to GOP convention governance since Robert’s Rules gives more power to the assembly itself, while the House rules place greater power in the chairman’s hands. By tradition, the permanent convention chairman is the Speaker or Minority Leader of the House, depending upon the party’s status in the national legislative chamber, for the very reason that the House rules provide the convention its procedural framework.
But Yue and others are interested in pushing the rules change because they believe it will be more difficult to open the convention to potential candidates who either did poorly in the primaries and caucuses or did not become presidential candidates.
Under current convention rules, the dissenters believe the convention chairman could bring forth a new candidate, possibly Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who polls very well against Hillary Clinton. Priebus denies any such move is being conceived.
Using the rules from the 2012 convention, which includes Rule 40(b), only Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz would be eligible for nomination. Rule 40(b) requires the majority of eight delegations to jointly place a candidate’s name before the body. Since the combined Trump and Cruz delegates will easily control the convention floor, they will have the power to repel any challenges to Rule 40(b), even if the rules committee votes for its elimination. On the first day of regular convention order, the full body will either pass or reject the rules package. It is here where the entire membership would have the opportunity of restoring 40(b) should it not be included in the final rules document.
It is unlikely that Chairman Priebus is planning a move to usurp the two anchor campaigns in favor of someone who has already been rejected or, heretofore, not been a candidate. Though the concluding process will almost assuredly produce a Trump or Cruz nomination, the path to arriving at such an resolution will likely be bumpy and rough.