The "conscience clause” — a change in party rules that would unbind delegates from commitments made to any presidential candidate — is dominating convention talk as July 18 draws near.
Such a clause would say that every delegate is free to vote his or her conscience on the first ballot — despite state laws or party rules.
Every convention votes on its own rules, so if this year’s 1,237 Republican delegates wanted to unbind themselves, there is nothing to stop them.
On Sunday, Colorado delegate Kendal Unruh told participants that she is “planning to propose adding a ‘conscience clause’ to the convention’s rules so that there is no confusion about what delegates can do.”
Most delegates who spoke to Newsmax anticipated that a majority of the 112-member Rules Committee would vote down the "conscience clause."
However, betting is strong that at least one-fourth of the committee — 28 members — will vote for the measure, thus requiring the full convention to debate and vote on it next week.
"I can state unequivocally we have the 28 votes," Unruh told Newsmax Wednesday.
Discussion of unbinding the delegates began at the General Session of the Republican National Committee on Wednesday afternoon. On Thursday morning, the opening session of the convention Rules Committee is expected to have a robust debate on the issue.
Members of the Free the Delegates organization founded by Unruh were busy buttonholing RNC members as they arrived in Cleveland.
Moreover, Liz Mair's Make America Awesome organization has launched a nationwide on-line petition drive urging the Republican National Convention to enact the "Conscience Clause."
"I support the ‘Conscience Clause' because I believe strongly that no delegates should be bound to any candidate and they should be empowered to vote for whomever they want," Maine's Republican National Committeewoman Ashley Ryan told Newsmax.
A backer of Ron Paul in '12 and Rand Paul this year, Ryan insisted her position "has nothing to do with Donald Trump. I just believe in non-binding delegates."
But, for the most part, even delegates who are not enamored with the idea of Trump carrying their presidential standard told us that such a change in the way the party conducts its business at such a late date in the nominating process was likely to be voted down by a large margin.
"It's like giving a losing football team a fifth quarter to make up the runs they couldn't score earlier," David Norcross, counsel to the Rules Committee and former New Jersey state GOP chairman, told Newsmax, "Look we've built up this whole primary process and voters expect the process to be translated into results they supported at the national convention."
While admitting he would like to see "a little more spontaneity" in the modern conventions that appear so scripted, Norcross nonetheless said the rewriting of rules at the last minute would have negative results.
"It was a dumb thing to do at the end of the last convention to raise the number of states a candidate had as requirement for being placed in nomination," he said, "It was meant to protect Mitt Romney by denying Ron Paul a nomination speech and roll call. All it did was upset his supporters. And Mitt didn't need any protecting."
Arkansas State Attorney General Leslie Rutledge agreed. In her words, "a decision by the convention to ignore state law [requiring delegates to support the primary winner] would be serious. It would cause serious problems with the elected legislature that passed the primary law and the voters who have entrusted the delegates with carrying out their will."
"The people spoke, and the delegates should honor the will of the people," Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin told Newsmax.
The concept of the "conscience clause" has been around for a while. At the 1976 Republican National Convention, supporters of Ronald Reagan discussed (but later rejected) a similar proposal to try to put their man ahead of President Gerald Ford in their nip-and-tuck contest.
Four years later, Democrat Ted Kennedy's presidential team brought up a "good conscience" clause in which delegates would vote as they choose but it was voted down by a convention dominated by incumbent President and eventual nominee Jimmy Carter.
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