By Linda Qiu and Lauren Carroll
Donald Trump’s tough stretch on the campaign trail has Republicans talking about his candidacy and whether it needs a course correction.
In recent weeks, Trump made a racially charged attack on a federal judge of Mexican descent, delivered a rambling speech following the Orlando shooting, and made conspiratorial suggestions about President Obama’s terrorist sympathies.
Some Republicans are defending Trump, some are condemning his remarks, and some are just evading questions. Now there is talk of delegates organizing against him at this summer’s Republican National Convention.
But given that Trump clearly won the primary and nabbed the majority of delegates, such a move would violate party rules and election law, the candidate said on NBC’s Meet the Press when asked about whether delegates at the convention could stop him.
“I don’t believe that. I think that’s the press. No. 1, they can’t do it legally. No. 2, I worked for one year, and we won all those delegates,” Trump said. “So I win 37 states and somebody else won none, and they’re going to be the nominee? I don’t think so.”
Trump has a point that such a move would be against the current rules, but those rules won’t necessarily govern this year’s Republican National Convention. If the delegates decide to change the rules in July and thwart his nomination, it might seem anti-democratic, but it’s within their authority to do so. Trump’s statement rates Mostly False.
At the heart of the matter are the 112 members of the rules committee—a man and a woman from each state, territory, and the District of Columbia.
The committee has the power to change rules, such as passing a “conscience clause,” imposing a supermajority rather than a majority threshold, or releasing all the delegates to support whomever they want rather than the candidate who won their state’s primary or caucus. The Trump campaign seemed aware of this possibility in March 2016.
“They can throw out the chairman. You can throw out the RNC members. You can do anything,” Barry Bennett, Trump’s convention strategist, said in March.
That means the rules committee can allow delegates to pick any nominee they like, said Joshua Putnam, a professor of government at the University of Georgia.
But having the delegates vote how they wish from the start of the convention would be controversial. Putnam noted that Trump could certainly sue if the conscience clause, freeing delegates to vote as they wish, is adopted. After all, Trump did secure the majority of delegates, and some state party rules and state laws do commit their delegates.
But Putnam and others say it’s unlikely the courts will decide in Trump’s favor, given how they’ve ruled in the past.
Ed O’Keefe of the anti-Trump Club for Growth and David Rivkin Jr., a constitutional litigator who served in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations, wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed that state laws binding delegates are not enforceable because they violate the First Amendment.
“The government has no business telling parties how to select their candidates or leaders: That would be a serious infringement of the rights to free association and speech,” they wrote.
O’Keefe and Rivkin pointed to two Supreme Court cases, Cousins v. Wigoda (1975) and Democratic Party v. Wisconsin ex rel. LaFollette (1980), that both held states don’t have the authority to override a party’s nominating process. In other words, the parties are in control of themselves.
In Trump’s case, that means the rules committee’s decision to release the delegates would effectively override a state’s law binding its delegates.
“Any time the issue of intraparty politics come up, the court sides with the party,” said Putnam.
Anti-Trump ads to air
Meanwhile, Democrats are seizing on Trump’s various comments to launch attack ads against him. Meet the Press host Chuck Todd played a portion of a new ad from Priorities USA as an example of what Trump will face in the general election.
The ad claims Trump is “too dangerous for America” and shows video of him saying, “I’m really good at war. I love war in a certain way…including with nukes, yes, including with nukes.”
It’s clear that the “nukes” video is separate from the preceding comment—“I love war in a certain way”—but the implication seems to be that Trump is a warmonger who isn’t afraid to use nuclear weapons.
Trump did utter those phrases, but he doesn’t seem to be so enthusiastic about using nuclear weapons. Trump’s quip about “nukes” actually referred to his belief that Japan might be better off if it had nuclear weapons. The ad’s claim rates Half True.
Trump made the comments about loving war during a 90-minute speech in Iowa on Nov. 12, 2015. In the speech, Trump discussed the Iraq war before briefly sidetracking into his feelings on war generally.
“I’m really good at war. I love war in a certain way. But only when we win,” Trump said.
Trump made his comments about “nukes” in an April 3 interview with Fox News Sunday’s Chris Wallace. Speaking of Japan, Trump said, “Maybe they would in fact be better off if they defend themselves from North Korea.”
Wallace asked: “With nukes?”
Trump: “Maybe they would be better off—including with nukes, yes, including with nukes.”
Overall, Trump has offered somewhat conflicting views on using nuclear weapons throughout the campaign.
He has said he “wouldn’t rule out” using tactical nuclear weapons against ISIS, but added in the same interview, “Definitely nuclear weapons are a last resort.”
Nor would he rule out using nuclear weapons in Europe, if a conflict ever were to arise. “You don’t want to, say, take everything off the table,” he said.
On the other hand, he told The New York Times in March, “It’s a very scary nuclear world. Biggest problem, to me, in the world, is nuclear, and proliferation.”