Politics & Policy

Trump Thinks Doubtful Delegates Are Hostile, but They Just Fear Reality

(Brian Snyder/Reuters)
Trump’s sinking poll numbers are inspiring some GOP delegates to look for a Plan B.

Donald Trump wasn’t pleased at news that some delegates to the GOP convention next month have become so exasperated with his latest antics (including calling the judge in his Trump U fraud case “a Mexican” and tweeting, in response to the Orlando massacre: “Appreciate the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism, I don’t want congrats, I want toughness & vigilance”) that they are looking for ways to nominate someone else.

The news isn’t surprising. Polls currently show Trump slipping badly against Hillary Clinton and Democrats opening up a double-digit lead in the generic congressional vote. After looking at these numbers, a member of the 112-member Rules Committee for the convention told me: “Delegates aren’t kamikaze pilots. They can’t ignore that in the six weeks since Trump beat all his primary opponents, he has been leading us to a crack-up.”

Trump doesn’t see it that way. In Las Vegas on Saturday, he accused Jeb Bush and possibly Ted Cruz of being behind any effort against him.

“By the way, Jeb is working on the movement, just so you understand,” Trump told a rally. “Jeb is one of the people that’s working — and the other one should be obvious.” Kirsty Campbell, a spokeswoman for Jeb Bush, dismissed the charge by tweeting that “Donald Trump’s unending obsession with @JebBush is really unhealthy.”

RELATED: Not a Single Republican Delegate Is ‘Bound’ to Donald Trump

Trump at first dismissed the effort as “a media hoax,” but he now takes it seriously. Saturday, he said: “First of all, it’s illegal. Second of all, you can’t do it. Third of all, we, not me, we got 13, almost 14 million votes since the primary system.”

Trump might want to go to school on the actual Republican-party rules. Only a handful of states seek to bind delegates to vote for anyone — even on the first ballot — and those rules are never enforced. In recent years, GOP delegates have gone against the vote of their caucus or primary at least 256 times. Curly Haugland, a member of both the Republican National Committee and the convention’s Rules Committee, has co-authored with Sean Parnell a persuasive mini-book, Unbound: The Conscience of a Republican Delegate, to make the case that delegates are free to vote their conscience and have been at every convention, except for the 1976 fight between Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan. (The book is available free as a pdf at the Citizens in Charge website.)

#share#Even so, the delegates seeking to challenge Trump recognize that many delegates feel bound to vote for Trump even though he has violated many promises since he wrapped up the nomination. He has not released his tax returns, for instance, or hired sufficient staff to combat Hillary Clinton’s $40 million ad blitz against him.

Colorado delegate Kendal Unruh, a member of the Rules Committee, is proposing to add a “conscience clause” similar to one that Democratic delegates have. Such a clause would explicitly allow delegates not to vote for Trump. It reads:

If any such delegate notifies the secretary of his or her intent to cast a vote of conscience, whether personal or religious, each such delegate shall be unbound and unconstrained by these rules on any given vote, including the first ballot for the selection of the Republican nominee for President of the United States, without the risk of challenge, sanction, or retribution by the Republican National Committee.

Unruh told NBC News that her resolution is designed to give delegates “cover.” “I call it the permissions slip from mom. It gets to the nitty gritty of the fact that Republicans tend to be rule followers. They don’t like distraction or disunity or being labeled a troublemaker or a rabblerouser and they love decorum.”

Of course, even if Unruh’s proposed resolution gathered momentum, it’s not clear who would challenge Trump for the nomination at the convention. Ted Cruz is a possibility, as is John Kasich.

RELATED: Trump Is Holding the GOP Hostage

Another option is Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, who has privately told friends he is “intrigued” by the possibility of reentering the GOP race he dropped out of last August. This week, CNN cited anti-Trump sources, who wished to remain anonymous, as saying that “while Walker has publicly denied any interest, the possibility was not dismissed when discussed with him privately.” And these sources see it as “a plus that he left the race early and was never defeated in the primaries.” One source added, speaking of Walker: “It’s clearly planted in his mind. How real this all becomes depends on a lot of things.’”

The apparent collapse of Trump’s campaign in the last three weeks is making delegates look for possible fire exits.

Normally, such talk of anti-Trump mutiny would be mere idle speculation. Indeed, the Republican National Committee has gone into overdrive to shoot down the rumors. But the apparent collapse of Trump’s campaign in the last three weeks is making delegates look for possible fire exits. In the latest ABC News poll, Trump’s unfavorable ratings among all Americans have hit 70 percent; and 77 percent of women view him unfavorably. His favorable rating among his base of white men is 46 percent, down from 54 percent in last month’s ABC News poll. Only 47 percent of self-identified conservatives view him favorably, down from 58 percent in May. “I see him as having a ceiling of around 45 percent in a general election,” says veteran GOP pollster Ed Goaes. “At that level, GOP control of the Senate is probably gone and the House is in peril.”

Back in January, a supremely confident Donald Trump boasted that support for his presidential campaign wouldn’t go down even if he shot someone. “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose voters,” Trump told a campaign rally.

#related#Trump hasn’t gone out and shot anyone, but shooting his mouth off in recent weeks does seem to have affected his support — both political and financial. Trump, who boasted of self-funding his primary campaign (though a quarter of the money actually came from outside donations), has had horrible results in fundraising since he became the presumed GOP nominee in May. “Donors are giving to Senate races and are resisting giving money to a candidate who only listens to his own advice,” a top Republican who is friendlier to Trump than most told me.

Trump professes to be unfazed by all of this. “If [donors] don’t want to help out as much, I’ll fund my own campaign,” he says. “I’d love to do that.” As for his campaign, he says “I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing.” That is precisely what many delegates are worried about.

— John Fund is NRO’s national-affairs correspondent.



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