WASHINGTON— A conservative agenda at the Republican National Convention may be used against Donald Trump according to a top adviser from Sen. Ted Cruz’s defunct presidential campaign. Emphasizing conservative issues, including limits on the bathrooms transgender people can use, may cause headaches for the Trump campaign at this summer’s RNC.
With Trump’s last two rivals —Texas’ Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich — abandoning their campaigns, there’s no remaining talk of snatching the presidential nomination away from Trump with a contested, multiballot convention battle.
Instead, anti-Trump forces are trying to figure out how to use the GOP meeting in July to keep the billionaire from reshaping the party and its guiding principles, perhaps with fights over the platform, the rules or even his vice presidential pick.
Many expect Trump to build momentum as the convention approaches, narrowing his opponents’ options. Even so, here’s what may be in store:
IT’S OVER? WHAT NOW?
Trump’s foes concede he’s likely to arrive in Cleveland exceeding the 1,237 delegates needed to become the nominee. Yet many are still reeling from the contest’s unexpected finale last week and are just starting to think about what they could do at the convention that would be productive.
“There’s going to be a lot of thinking, a lot of praying and a lot talking between all of us,” said Kay Godwin, a Cruz delegate from Blackshear, Georgia.
Many Trump opponents see the Republican platform, the party’s statement of ideals and policy goals, as a place for a stand in Cleveland. The convention’s 2,472 delegates must approve the platform before formally anointing the presidential nominee.
All — including those chosen to support Trump — can vote however they want on the platform. Many conservatives say they will use that vote to keep Trump from reshaping GOP dogma against abortion, for free trade and on other issues.
Trump has said he would seek to include exceptions for rape and incest to the GOP platform’s opposition to abortion — a big problem for conservatives. He’s also flouted the party platform by repeatedly criticizing trade deals and calling NATO obsolete.
“If the party walks away from any of its clearly cut social, family values issues, it will be an issue,” said Tony Perkins, president of the conservative Family Research Council and GOP delegate from Louisiana. “We’re not just going to fall in line because he’s the nominee.”
A BATTLE OVER TRANSGENDER RIGHTS?
In an email over the weekend to convention delegates backing Cruz, Ken Cuccinelli — a top adviser in the Texas senator’s campaign — urged delegates to fight in Cleveland for “the conservative values that Ted Cruz embodies.” The note, bearing the “Cruz ’16-Fiorina” insignia and first obtained by The New York Times, said delegates should try getting on convention committees that will write the gathering’s rules and party platform, and a Monday night conference call with delegates was planned.
In an interview, Cuccinelli said supporters would push one platform plank saying, in effect, “Boys should only be allowed to go in the boys’ bathroom, and girls should only be allowed to go in the girls’ bathroom.”
The federal Justice Department sued North Carolina on Monday over the state’s law requiring transgender people to use the restroom of the gender on their birth certificate. Trump has opposed Cruz’s proposal that government and businesses be allowed to provide separate bathrooms for transgender people.
Presidents are not bound by their party platforms and typically ignore planks that don’t fit their agenda once in office. Even so, a showdown could be an embarrassment Trump would seek to avoid by not pushing divisive changes.
Cuccinelli said the Cruz team was not trying to block Trump’s nomination “because he’s on a path to majority, and that’s the finish line. That’s victory.”
Convention fights could occur over the party’s rules.
Cruz backers want rules making the GOP “a grassroots party rather than a Washington-centric party,” Cuccinelli said. He cited existing requirements that make it harder for some presidential candidates to have their names placed in nomination at the convention.
In addition, Trump has said he’d like a vice presidential candidate with government experience.
Yet, as with the platform, delegates can vote as they please in choosing Trump’s running mate. Some opponents suggest they may challenge his choice, either as a protest or to try forcing him to make a different selection.
Recent GOP conventions have approved vice presidential candidates by acclamation and no roll call. But if delegates make enough of a fuss, a roll call with plenty of votes for a rival vice presidential candidate is possible.
“If he wants to dictate who the nominee is” for vice president, “the delegates may not go along,” said Roger Stauter, a Cruz delegate from Madison, Wisconsin, who said he would never support Trump.
Others said the convention would probably defer to Trump’s thinking about a strategically smart choice.
“He could pick somebody we’d all get pretty excited about,” said Shane Goettle, a Cruz delegate from North Dakota.
ALAN FRAM, Associated Press
Associated Press writers Julie Pace and Thomas Beaumont contributed to this report.