Insurgent Republicans, against the odds, are trying to rally support to dump Donald Trump as the party’s presidential nominee at the upcoming GOP convention, saying the brash billionaire is a “lost cause.”
Meanwhile, Trump allies, while casting the revolt effort as unlikely, still are preparing plans to keep convention delegates in line. They are warning delegates about consequences of a revolt. Even if the “Dump Trump” forces fail, it’s a story line that won’t go away as the Republicans prepare for their convention in Cleveland beginning July 18.
“To disrupt the convention would be huge, even if it gets them nowhere,” Republican strategist Susan Del Percio said of the insurgents’ efforts.
She said anti-Trump delegates face an “uphill battle” but can’t be written off yet.
“Going by the reaction of Trump and the RNC,” Del Percio said, referring to the Republican National Committee, “it appears there may well be traction” in the movement.
The Dump Trump forces said they gained steam in the past few weeks after the Republican candidate dipped in the national polls against the presumptive Democrat nominee, Hillary Clinton, and as he filed a campaign-finance statement showing him with relatively little cash on hand.
The insurgents announced plans to raise funds for staff and legal team to back a “Free the Delegates” movement — a reference to allowing GOP convention delegates to vote their conscience rather than follow primary election results in their respective states.
They’ve held conference calls to try to organize supporters. For example, former New Hampshire Sen. Gordon Humphrey, a Republican, called Trump the “worst candidate you could think of, for the country first and for the party second.”
They also released a TV ad that compares Trump unfavorably to former President Ronald Reagan, juxtaposing statements the two have made on military force, thoughtfulness and religion. At the end, it closes by telling GOP delegates: “Choose your values. Follow your conscience.”
“This has tapped into a movement of a majority of people out there who do not want to vote for Donald Trump,” Kendal Unruh, a conservative GOP delegate from Colorado, said on MSNBC.
Later, Unruh said on Twitter: “This campaign is not only to save the GOP, but also to give us a chance to beat Hillary. As we know, Trump is already a lost cause.”
Unruh is on the convention rules committee and said she has launched an effort to get the panel to back a rule that would allow delegates to vote as they wish. She said she needs a majority of the 112-member committee; she has 12 so far, but contends momentum is growing.
A veteran Republican operative who is neutral on the issue called the effort a “moon shot,” but one that had to be taken seriously.
The anti-Trump group got a further boost recently when Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a former presidential candidate himself, said delegates shouldn’t be bound to Trump.
“I think historically, not just this year, delegates are and should be able to vote the way they see fit,” Walker said, according to Wisconsin media outlets. “We’ll see how things go between now and the convention as to what the next steps are.”
That gave other conservative critics of Trump hope.
“Like a shot of B12 for the #NeverTrump movement,” said William F.B. O’Reilly, a longtime Republican consultant in New York who switched his registration to the Conservative Party after Trump clinched the GOP nomination.
“Despair was beginning to set in, but now it looks like a full-throated convention revolt is brewing. The fact that Trump is dead broke and without a plan is giving even loyal Trump supporters serious pause,” O’Reilly said in an email.
Trump denigrated the effort as “a little bit of a delegate revolt” that was “illegal.” That said, his camp is not ignoring it.
“We’re readying for it,” said one Trump ally who wished not be named. “Does anyone in convention operations think it’s going to happen? No. But you have to take it seriously. It would be malpractice if you don’t.”
Media outlets reported that Trump’s top adviser, Paul Manafort, has held a conference call to beef up efforts to block Trump opponents. His plan reportedly called for, among other things, adding convention “whips” to oversee state delegation votes.
Through the primaries, Trump has secured 1,542 delegates — 1,237 were needed to clinch the GOP nomination. Anti-Trump forces first would have to change the convention rules — which would be difficult — then persuade delegates to leave the candidate who won the most votes in the primaries.
And then they would have to find a candidate who then could unify the party, including Trump supporters.