The movement to select someone — anyone — other than Donald Trump as the Republican Party’s presidential nominee faces its first major test this week, and a handful of delegates from Washington state are among those working to make sure the effort succeeds.
A lawyer from Tacoma, Jeff Helsdon, is part of the team devising a legal strategy for a possible delegate revolt at the Republican National Convention, which begins Monday in Cleveland.
Meanwhile, Eric Minor, a software consultant from Gig Harbor, is working to build support for a longshot plan to let convention delegates vote for a presidential candidate based on their conscience, instead of based on their state’s primary election or caucus results.
The proposed change to the convention rules is expected to be considered Thursday or Friday by the convention’s Rules Committee, which is meeting in Cleveland before the majority of delegates convene Monday.
I do not want him as the nominee, and I’m going to use every vehicle at my disposal to try to block his nomination.
Eric Minor, delegate to the Republican National Convention from Gig Harbor
“Many of us are opposed to Donald Trump just on principle,” Minor said. “I do not want him as the nominee, and I’m going to use every vehicle at my disposal to try to block his nomination.”
Under a traditional reading of GOP rules, delegates to the Republican National Convention are initially bound to vote for candidates based on the results of their state’s caucus or primary. Trump won a majority of caucus and primary competitions across the country, including in Washington.
But if at least 28 members of the convention’s 112-member rules committee favor adding a “conscience clause” to the convention rules, the plan would advance to the convention floor in the form of a minority report. And, if the plan is approved by a majority of convention delegates Monday, delegates would be free to vote for the candidate of their choice.
“The initial goal is to ensure every delegate has the opportunity to exercise his or her free will to decide who he or she is going to vote for,” said Helsdon, who said he is one of about two dozen lawyers working on the effort to unbind delegates at the convention.
“It’s more about that at this point than it is about denying the nomination to (Trump), though my personal preference is that he not be nominated,” he said.
Donald Trump won fair and square, and he won with an extraordinary number of votes.
Susan Hutchison, who chairs the Washington State Republican Party
In Washington’s May 24 primary election, Trump won 76 percent of the Republican vote, giving him claim to nearly all of the state’s 44 delegates to the Republican National Convention, according to a traditional interpretation of party rules.
Yet most of those delegates — 40 of the 41 chosen at the state Republican convention — didn’t initially support Trump, but instead favored Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who dropped out of the race in May.
While Cruz has indicated he doesn’t want to be nominated through a coup at the convention, another person could step forward to claim the nomination if enough delegates become unbound and deny Trump the nomination, Helsdon said.
Even if the attempt to add a conscience clause to the convention rules fails, Minor said ambiguities and inconsistencies in the Republican rules still allow convention delegates to challenge how their state’s delegates are awarded at the convention. Such challenges could take place on the convention floor next week, he said.
Minor said he believes more than half of Washington’s delegation — 24 delegates — support the movement to choose someone other than Trump as the party’s nominee. At least 28 other states also have delegates who are working on the plan to free delegates from voting based on caucus and primary results, he said.
The initial goal is to ensure every delegate has the opportunity to exercise his or her free will to decide who he or she is going to vote for.
Jeff Helsdon, a Tacoma lawyer working on the effort to unbind delegates at the Republican National Convention
At least one of the Washington delegates serving on the convention’s Rules Committee is receptive to the idea. “I’ve received maybe close to 400 to 500 emails from people all across the country,” said Gina Blanchard-Reed, a delegate from Graham who serves on the committee. “I think because of that, it should go to the floor for a vote.”
Graham Hunt, a former state lawmaker and past chairman of Cruz’s Washington state campaign who serves on the Rules Committee, said he’s staying neutral on the plan and hasn’t decided how he’ll vote on it, but worries about discounting the votes of millions of people who participated in Republican primary elections.
Susan Hutchison, who chairs the Washington State Republican Party and is a delegate to the national convention, said she doesn’t foresee the delegate revolt gaining momentum. She said the only question in her mind is whether it will die in the convention’s Rules Committee this week, or survive long enough to be voted down on the convention floor Monday.
She said it is time for the party to unite around Trump as its nominee, and believes that will happen at the convention or shortly thereafter.
“Donald Trump won fair and square, and he won with an extraordinary number of votes,” Hutchison said.
“As time goes on and people see he can beat Hillary… I really think people will get on board. Nothing succeeds like winning.”