Hollywood, Fla. — “This is not the time to be debating rule changes to our rules,” Utah Republican committeewoman Enid Mickelsen told the assembled members of the RNC’s Standing Committee on Rules Thursday afternoon.
That was the oft-repeated refrain of the closely watched meeting. There had been much speculation leading up to the meeting about what new rule-change recommendations the committee might make ahead of July’s Republican convention, and about which candidate, if any, those changes might benefit.
The response from Rules Committee members Thursday was resounding: two and a half months before the convention, in one of the most closely watched Republican primaries in recent memory, was not the right time to change the rules. Members did not want to be seen as putting their thumb on the scale.
Mickelsen had previously put forward an amendment to remove the privileged “carve-out” status of the early primary states — Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada. It’s an issue she said she felt strongly ought to be taken up again at a later date. “But,” she said, “I would submit that this is not that day. I would submit, Mr. Chairman, that in the super-charged political environment in which we find ourselves, that this is not the time to be debating rule changes to our rules.”
It was the second proposed amendment to the rules that was withdrawn at the start of the meeting.
When the debate moved on to the one amendment that was not withdrawn — a proposal by Oregon committeeman Solomon Yue to run the convention under Robert’s Rules of Order instead of under the House Rules — a series of members streamed to the microphone to make clear that they did not want to do anything that would make it seem like they were favoring any one presidential candidate over another.
“We’re basically in the seventh inning of the ballgame, and I don’t think it’s right to change the rules,” said Georgia committeeman Randy Evans, noting that any changes made “would be viewed with a large degree of cynicism.”
“Is this the convention where you want to try out a new set of operating rules? . . . I think not,” said RNC general counsel John Ryder.
A proposal to move the discussion of that particular rules change to a separate, smaller committee was met with similar concerns. “We’ve been accused of plotting to change the rules at the last minute, and we’ve been accused of trying to do this behind closed doors,” said Washington committeeman Jeff Kent. Moving the discussion to a smaller committee, he said, would make it seem like they were doing exactly that.
Both the amendment to change the rules and the motion to discuss it in a smaller committee were voted down.
The meeting reflected the consciousness of RNC members that the convention, and the nominee who emerges from it (if no one has clinched the nomination beforehand), need to be viewed as legitimate by the increasingly disparate factions of the party. Donald Trump has taken to repeatedly saying that the RNC rules are “rigged” and that the way delegates are awarded is unfair.
The anti-climactic Rules Committee meeting that ensued, which recommended no rules changes, was exactly what many RNC members were hoping for.