July 18th, 2018


What to expect as Republicans start meeting in Cleveland

Ed O'Keefe

By Ed O'Keefe The Washington Post

Published July 12, 2016

The Closing of the American Mouth

This is a crucial week for the Grand Old Party.

Competing forces that warred during the most bitter, protracted GOP presidential race of the modern era will come face-to-face inside a convention center in Cleveland, just blocks from the basketball arena poised to host the Republican National Convention starting next Monday. In most years, the activities scheduled to transpire this week usually amount to little-watched toiling among party elders and the most ardent foot soldiers of the national conservative movement about minute details of party management.

But this year's pre-convention meetings will be watched more closely than ever for signs of fissures -- and serve as a test for several elements of the party.

First, the meetings mark the culmination of more than four years of work by Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, who has revamped how his party selects a presidential nominee. His hope of leading a more inclusive party welcoming to minorities, women and younger voters has been shredded by the coarser, combative nature of the Trump campaign.

"We are the party of the open door," he told party leaders as they began meeting in Cleveland on Sunday night -- a subtle plea to avoid changes to the party's platform that would further alienate minorities.

But Trump-backed changes regarding immigration policy are likely to be considered and could be adopted. If Priebus's lieutenants can navigate tricky discussions about the platform and the presidential nomination process, he'll be able to salvage parts of his grand plan.

It's also an enormous week for Donald Trump and his presidential campaign. Campaign manager Paul Manafort, a veteran of previous contested Republican conventions, will be leading a team of hundreds of staffers and loyal volunteers responsible for warding off an insurrection among more conservative party members still bitterly opposed to Trump's candidacy. Once they do that -- if they can do that -- they will quickly set the stage for Trump, who has vowed to "put some showbiz into a convention." At some point along the way this week Trump is poised to announce his running mate -- arguably the biggest test yet of the candidate's judgment.

Finally, the coming days will determine whether remnants of the "Never Trump" movement still bitterly opposed to the magnate's candidacy can draw political blood. A widespread band of grassroots activists has spent the last several months reviewing possible options and boning up on the finer mechanics of running a convention -- all in hopes of tripping up Trump, or snatching the nomination from him in order to reopen the battle to other contenders.

So what exactly is happening this week in Cleveland? Here's a rundown of what to anticipate:


The convention's platform committee meets at the Huntington Convention Center -- a downtown venue that will be transformed next weekend into a massive media filing center for reporters covering the convention. The 112-member panel will meet over two days to begin drafting the party's official position on a range of issues, including abortion rights, energy policy, foreign policy, immigration reform, national security and tax reform, among others.

Compared to four years ago, "You're going to have the same general subjects, but each one will be a little different from last time," said Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., who is co-chairing the committee. Changes come about because "the world has changed in the last four years," he added.

For example, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, another committee co-chair, said Sunday that the GOP will "remain pro-life" and wouldn't guarantee that Republicans would change platform language on abortion despite Trump's calls to allow for exceptions in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother.

"He will have representation -- he's going to be the presumptive Republican nominee -- and certainly he will have a voice with his people, who will make recommendations, too," Fallin told CNN's "State of the Union" on Sunday. "But in the end, this platform is driven by grassroots Republican people throughout the nation who will represent the very values and principles of the Republican Party."

Barrasso didn't rule out potential discussions about Trump's calls to ban Muslims from entering the United States, but made clear he opposes such a ban.

"I don't think there should be religious and racial tests for people," he said. "But that's why you have a committee of 112 people. We'll see exactly where the wording goes."

The panel will divide into subcommittees to discuss specific issues and work on finalizing language through the rest of the week so that the full convention can approve the new platform early next week.


The Republican National Committee - the body that oversees the entire GOP -- is scheduled to hold its annual summer meeting. Priebus and other leaders are scheduled to address the one-day meeting.

Among other things, the RNC might opt to formally recommend changes to the convention's official rules - but those rules can only be changed by the group meeting on Thursday and Friday.


For die-hard political nerds and even casual observers, these are the two days to make popcorn and tune in.

The 112-member convention rules committee is scheduled to meet at the convention center for two days, but proceedings could stretch into Saturday, if needed, according to party officials. This is the group that sets the rules of the road for the formal nomination process and can also change how the party picks its candidate in 2020.

Trump and his team are aware that this is the venue for his biggest critics to make a splash, so he's asked William McGinley, a campaign attorney, to lead a "study committee" to track potentially adverse rules changes. Four Trump supporters elected to the committee will help thwart proposals Trump doesn't like: Bill Palatucci, a Republican National Committee representative from New Jersey; Alex Willette, an RNC committeeman from Maine; Demetra DeMonte, an RNC committeewoman from Illinois; and Vincent DeVito, a Trump supporter from Massachusetts.

The most notable proposals set for debate by the committee are part of a "Conscience Agenda" introduced by a group called Free the Delegates. Formed in the past month, the organization claims to have hundreds of convention delegates on its side -- but few actually on the rules committee.

The group wants to put to rest a years-long dispute: Are convention delegates bound to the results of their state's caucus or primary, or can they do whatever they want? Priebus and the overwhelming majority of party leaders say there's no debate -- delegates must vote based on primary results and represent the will of the millions of people who cast votes.

But Curly Haugland, a rules committee member from North Dakota, has been trying for years to "unbind" delegates. He even wrote a book outlining his proposal, aptly named, "Unbound."

As delegates, Haugland and his like-minded colleagues believe they are stockholders in a private organization -- the Republican Party -- and that they are the only people who can ultimately choose a nominee. Mostly -- whether they admit it or not -- members of this group simply don't like Trump, don't trust Trump and are convinced he'll destroy the party.

Free the Delegates will propose a "conscience clause" that would allow delegates to vote however they want. The proposal needs at least 56 votes to pass, but just 28 votes in order to be introduced to the full convention as a "minority report" that would open it up to all 4,272 convention delegates. Organizers believe they have at least 28 votes for sure.

Two key swing votes on the committee could be Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, a conservative lawmaker with a loyal national following, and his wife, Sharon Lee. The senator has so far declined to say how he would vote on the "conscience clause" -- but he's also so far declined to endorse Trump, citing concerns that the businessman insulted his close friend, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, during the campaign.

If Lee and his wife signal support for the conscience clause, "Then it's easy street for us," said Kendal Unruh, leader of Free the Delegates and a rules committee member.

The group is also mulling a proposal that would force a vote by convention delegates on the nomination for vice president -- requiring the running mate to meet the same 1,237-delegate threshold that Trump must earn in order to win.

"We're definitely kicking it around" as a possible rules change, said Regina Thomson, executive director of Free the Delegates. She claimed the vote is needed on principle -- "There's a possibility that we would nominate and maybe elect a man who's going to be 70 years old and would be going into the presidency as the oldest ever," she said.

In reality, the group sees this as another possible way to trip up Trump, or at least force him to concede some ground to his critics.

Also on Thursday: Keep an eye out for the first wave of demonstrations or other events across Cleveland. While bigger marches are set to begin on Sunday - the day before the convention begins - some groups could begin staging protests on Thursday and Friday, according to local activists.

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