Obscure Panel May Have Big Effect on GOP Convention
As the possibility of an open convention looms over the GOP presidential primary, the Republican National Committee’s rules panel -- which will set the criteria in Cleveland in conjunction with its convention rules sibling -- has been dragged to the forefront.
But another, less talked-about committee could earn a place in the spotlight: The RNC Committee on Contests.
If less high-profile, it is nonetheless similarly pivotal in shaping the outcome of an open convention. In June, it will evaluate challenges to convention delegates selected at the state level, with the power to recommend that delegates be de-certified by the convention Committee on Credentials.
A delegate can be de-certified for a number of reasons, including not being a registered voter or not being a resident of the state where he or she was selected. The Committee on Contests reviews each contested delegate individually.
“You’re going to have 4,400 delegates show up and vote on a nominee, and in some way or another you have to decide: Who are these people?” explained one Republican official familiar with the process.
The impact of such challenges could have a monumental bearing on the nomination in the event of a second ballot, potentially replacing delegates favorable to one candidate with alternates favorable to another.
For that reason, the campaigns’ lawyers will likely be researching delegates in depth over the coming weeks, looking for any potential inconsistencies. Although the RNC does not yet have a sense of how many cases the committee will need to review, the process has begun in earnest on the candidates’ side: Earlier this month, Donald Trump’s campaign brought on the attorney William McGinley to begin addressing delegate-related matters, including potential challenges.
The Trump camp has already publicly discussed attempting to de-certify delegates selected in Louisiana, where Sen. Ted Cruz allies dominated the slate despite Trump’s victory in the popular vote.
“Well, the problem we’re having here is that there was a secret meeting in Louisiana of the convention delegation, and apparently all of the invitations for our delegates must have gotten lost in the mail," Trump adviser Barry Bennett told MSNBC's Ari Melber last month. "There’s a process to deal with this. It’s in the certification process, and it’s been with our legal team for most of the morning now, and we are moving forward with the complaint to decertify these delegates."
Bennett further explained that the challenge is "not something you file with a court; it’s something you file inside the party, but it’s a decertification so that these delegates and these rules committee members and folks don’t get seated.”
Indeed, it is the Committee on Contests that will address this matter and others like it. It is unclear, however, how the increased scrutiny of the RNC and the primary process could affect the way the panel conducts its business.
At a recent RNC meeting in Florida, the Rules Committee declined under increased scrutiny to make recommendations for the convention rules, as is typically the case. The Committee on Contests, for its part, will likely still make its recommendations to the Credentials Committee, if purely to shrink what could be a massive caseload to a more manageable size — but the committee’s decisions could be parsed and examined like never before.
The process of contesting delegates could also shine a harsh light on a nominating process that has already stirred controversy, fanned by Trump’s charges that the system is “rigged.” A group of campaign lawyers affecting the delegate selection process could further irk voters.
Doyle Webb, chairman of the Arkansas Republican Party, is the contest committee’s chairman and will oversee this process. His friend Jim Bopp, special counsel to the RNC Rules Committee, describes Webb as “a fair-minded straight shooter.”
The RNC will soon begin to have a sense of what challenges the panel will address, and how many; challenges are due by June 13.