Delegates to the 2016 Republican convention “actually own the rights to control the convention, but most of them don’t know it. They’re convinced they have no choice. They get lied to all the time.” That’s the inside baseball assessment of Curly Haugland, the longtime Republican National Committee (RNC) member from North Dakota. Haugland served on the Rules Committee for the 2012 GOP convention and for the RNC itself. He pleads, “Don’t hate me because I love the rules.”
Haugland has long been an advocate of an open convention that can nominate a presidential ticket by a free will decision of the delegates. He believes delegates will not be bound to vote for Trump or any other candidate no matter primary or caucus results, or state party “unit rules” that prohibit delegates from voting independently. Haugland’s views bring to mind how congressmen are elected. Despite promises to oppose or support this issue or that, once on Capitol Hill the representatives of the people are only bound by their conscience.
In a monograph entitled Unbound: The Conscience of a Republican Delegate, Haugland and conservative activist Sean Parnell have put in print a specific battle plan to convince GOP delegates they are free agents. They write, “This book lays out the case for the proposition that, historically and necessarily, all delegates to the Republican National Convention have enjoyed the complete freedom to vote their consciences on all matters.”
Among the fine points of their strategy is the “Garfield Rule,” named after U.S. Senator James Garfield of Ohio, which was adopted at the 1880 GOP nominating convention. Garfield contended that, “There never can be a convention, of which I am one delegate, equal in rights to every other delegate, that shall bind my vote against my will on any question whatever.”
Republican nominating convention Rule 38 incorporates the Garfield premise: “No delegate or alternate delegate shall be bound by any attempt of any state or congressional district to impose the unit rule. A ‘unit rule’ prohibited by this section means a rule or law under which a delegation at the national convention casts its entire vote as a unit as determined by a majority vote of the delegation.” In other words, Cleveland will host a convention of GOP “superdelegates,” not indebted to any candidate or to the party leadership.
Contradicting regulations promise bloody rules fights on the floor of the convention. In 2013, the RNC established nomination voting procedures with this caveat: “Any statewide presidential preference vote that permits a choice among candidates for the Republican nomination for President of the United States in a primary, caucus, or a state convention must be used to allocate and bind the state’s delegation to the national convention in either a proportional or winner-take-all manner.”
Nice try say Haugland and Parnell, but the party rules, “expire at the start of the convention and have no authority as to how the convention is run. Instead, each convention establishes its own rules.” In Unbound, the authors state, “Just as Congress today cannot bind a future Congress, one convention cannot bind a future convention — each convention is allowed to establish its own rules, including whether to accept and enforce the binding of delegates.”
Once the convention’s opening gavel is pounded, the Republican National Committee actually dissolves then re-creates itself by writing a platform, adopting and/or changing party and convention rules, and nominating its standard bearers for the presidential election. If the 2016 delegates adopt Rule 38 again, it’s an open convention.
RNC Chairman Reince Priebus dismisses Haugland’s suppositions asserting that, “if a delegate is bound to a candidate, even if that delegate decides later, ‘I don’t care, I’m not voting for that person,’ the secretary at the convention will read the roll as if that delegate voted for the person that they’re bound to, period.”
True to form, Donald Trump is making threats in the event the Haugland faction is successful in Cleveland: “I think you’d have problems like you’ve never seen before. I think bad things would happen. I wouldn’t lead it, but I think bad things would happen.”
While Trump advisor and political gadfly Roger Stone concedes, “The Republican convention can do whatever it wants. You can’t bring a lawsuit. There’s no jurisdiction,” he’s saber rattling as well. Stone declares, “We’re going to have protests, demonstrations. We will disclose the hotels and the room numbers of those delegates who are directly involved in the steal.”
But wait, you can’t beat somebody with nobody, so delegates have to change Rule 40b to nominate a candidate other than Trump. Rule 40b says you must have a majority of delegates from at least eight states to have a nomination placed into consideration. No one but Trump meets that threshold.
That means even more hand-to-hand combat among GOP convention delegates — cries of “Down with Rule 40b!” and “Garfield was right!” will be in the air.
Curly Haugland and Sean Parnell, Republican loyalists, see the necessity of convention trench warfare. They write, “The party’s conscience protections for delegates can serve as a final check on what might otherwise be an impending electoral disaster for the party.”
Peter B. Gemma is a freelance writer whose articles have appeared in a variety of venues including USA Today, the Washington Examiner, and the Daily Caller.