GOP Convention Stuck With Convicted Felon As Nominee, With No Clear Path To Replace Trump

WASHINGTON ― Eight years after a credible effort to dump Donald Trump as their presidential nominee because of his vulgarity, Republicans today appear stuck with the newly convicted felon for November, with no realistic means of taking the nomination away from him at their convention next month, even if they wanted to.

“There will be no move to, no mechanism for and no interest in removing Trump at the convention,” said Richard Porter, a Republican National Committee member from Illinois.

To Fergus Cullen, a former RNC member as a onetime chair of the state party in New Hampshire, the key element of that analysis is “no interest in.”

“The residents of Jonestown chose suicide rather than leave,” he said, likening Trump to the infamous cult leader Jim Jones. “He has a death grip on the RNC and the delegates. Even if polls showed him losing 65-35, they would choose to go down with him.”

Trump campaign officials did not respond to HuffPost queries.

Republicans who vocally opposed the coup-attempting former president as the 2024 nominee often mentioned that his various criminal cases could put the party in the position of having a convicted felon at the top of the ticket on Nov. 5.

Not only has that warning come to pass, but there also is now the possibility that their nominee could even be staring down an actual jail sentence when RNC members and delegates meet in Milwaukee next month for the Republican National Convention.

The judge in Trump’s New York criminal case, Juan Merchan, has scheduled sentencing for July 11, just four days before the convention begins, after a jury convicted him on 34 felony counts of falsifying business records in an attempt to hide a hush-money payment to a porn actor to prevent her story from hurting his 2016 campaign. Though Trump could receive probation as a first-time offender, his decision to go to trial rather than plead guilty and his continuing lack of remorse could result in a stretch behind bars, legal experts said, although Merchan is likely to allow him to remain free until his appeal of the May 30 verdict is decided.

But within the Republican National Committee, which, like other groups allied with Trump, has taken to calling all prosecutions against him politically motivated “witch hunts,” even the prospect of a nominee facing incarceration is not sparking any effort to depose him.

“Even if there was such a movement, and I have not seen such, most all delegations are bound by state law on one or more ballots at this stage of the process,” said Ohio RNC member Jim Dicke.

Most state parties and some state laws do, in fact, require that delegates at the national party convention vote for the candidate who won their state or congressional district, at least for the first ballot or two. Nevertheless, the Republican Party is a private entity that can change its own rules at it sees fit.

“I suppose that the Convention Rules Committee could propose a new rule that would release all delegates, but that seems unlikely,” Oscar Brock, an RNC member from Tennessee. “The Trump campaign will have practical control of the Rules Committee.”

After his election in 2016, Trump and his allies made sure that people personally loyal to Trump moved into party slots at the local, state and national levels. Similarly, grassroots-level Republicans attending the party convention this summer are overwhelmingly loyal to Trump.

The situation was almost exactly the opposite in 2016, after Trump unexpectedly defeated 16 more established Republican candidates for the nomination despite a background as a New York City developer and a “reality” TV game show host with no political experience.

Almost none of the 168 members of the Republican National Committee were personally loyal to Trump that year. Nor were a majority of convention delegates, most of whom were decades-long activists in Republican politics.

Supporters of Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas show their appreciation for the former presidential candidate on the third day of the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland.
Supporters of Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas show their appreciation for the former presidential candidate on the third day of the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland. Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Republicans who disliked and distrusted Trump ― primarily religious conservatives and abortion opponents ― believed that they could persuade enough RNC members and convention delegates to change the party’s rules to permit delegates to vote according to their conscience rather than mirroring how primary voters in their state had voted earlier that year.

That effort led to Sen. Mike Lee of Utah urging Rules Committee members to “unbind” the delegates so they could vote against Trump. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, the 2016 primary candidate whom Lee and other anti-Trump Republicans were hoping to nominate instead, in his convention speech never endorsed Trump. Instead, he told delegates and Americans in general to vote “your conscience.”

But party leaders, including then-chairman Reince Priebus, decided that jettisoning Trump would enrage his supporters, leading to huge losses that November for Senate, congressional and state legislative races.

Kendal Unruh, the founder of the “Free the Delegates” group that lost its convention floor fight to replace Trump, said the party is now basically Donald Trump’s party.

“The delegates elected this time to the Republican National Convention were rock-solid Trump supporters who will never waver from their support,” she said. “In 2016, we stood a good chance because enough of the delegates truly did not want Trump and wanted another option.”

Three years before Trump became the first former president in American history to be convicted of a crime, he became the first president to refuse to hand over power peacefully after losing reelection. Instead, he falsely claimed the election had been “stolen” from him and tried to overturn the results, which would have effectively ended American democracy, by coercing his own vice president and Congress to award him a second term.

Trump faces two criminal indictments based on that Jan. 6, 2021, coup attempt and his actions in the preceding weeks. One indictment is federal and one is a state case in Georgia. He is under a second federal indictment for his refusal to turn over secret documents he took with him to his South Florida country club upon leaving the White House.

He is unlikely to go to trial on any of the other three cases before the November election thanks to his legal maneuvers to delay proceedings. However, the federal Jan. 6 case could result in an evidentiary hearing this summer or fall featuring a string of his top aides and former aides publicly testifying about his actions leading up to Jan. 6 and on the day his supporters attacked the U.S. Capitol.

Whether that evidentiary hearing might happen depends on the Supreme Court’s decision on Trump’s claim that he cannot be prosecuted for his coup attempt because it was an official action he took while president, making him immune.