WASHINGTON — A coalition of Republican delegates are mounting a last-ditch effort to block Donald Trump from obtaining the GOP nomination by pushing for a “conscience clause” that would allow delegates to vote against the presumptive nominee.
Kendal Unruh, a Colorado delegate, organized a call with dozens of other delegates Thursday night to discuss ways to block Trump at the convention. The group, Unruh says, marks the coalescing of disparate “pockets of resistance” — including backers of Sen. Ted Cruz, Sen. Marco Rubio and Ohio Gov. John Kasich — which had been opposing Trump with little success.
“This is a coalition of Kasich, Cruz and Rubio (supporters) and we are all agreeing on one goal, which is: Anybody but Trump,” Unruh said Friday.
The Washington Post first reported the details of the phone call.
Any stop-Trump effort would be nearly impossible to pull off at this point in the election cycle. But moves such as Thursday’s call demonstrate that Trump’s opponents inside the GOP are trying to organize more effectively.
And, perhaps more importantly, it reflects the mounting anxiety inside the party about Trump’s candidacy amid polls that show him badly trailing presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. His comments in the aftermath of the Orlando attacks — and his earlier criticism of a judge because of his Mexican heritage — have alarmed many in the GOP.
House Speaker Paul Ryan is providing cover to Republicans who don’t want to support Trump by saying no one should betray their conscience.
“The last thing I would do is tell anybody to do something that’s contrary to their conscience,” Ryan told NBC’s Chuck Todd in an interview on “Meet the Press” that will air Sunday. “Of course I wouldn’t do that.”
Trump dismissed the effort Friday, suggesting it would be “illegal” if the delegates tried to thwart the binding of the delegates.
“I have tremendous support and get the biggest crowds by far and any such move would not only be totally illegal but also a rebuke of the millions of people who feel so strongly about what I am saying,” Trump said in a statement. “People that I defeated soundly in the primaries will do anything to get a second shot — but there is no mechanism for it to happen.”
The Republican National Committee, which has largely aligned with the Trump campaign, also dismissed the effort Friday.
“The extent of this effort is a bunch of random people tweeting about it, full stop,” said Sean Spicer, RNC chief strategist.
Unruh, a member of the powerful Republican convention Rules Committee, said she is lobbying others to sign on to her proposal. She would need 56 other supporters from the 112-member panel, which will determine precisely how Republicans select their nominee in Cleveland.
The group, Unruh said, has dubbed itself “Free the Delegates 2016” — a nod to another rules committee member, Curly Haugland, who has been arguing that delegates should not be forced to vote for Trump.
The renewed push to block Trump from securing the nomination comes after two incredibly choppy weeks for the presumptive nominee, following his comments blasting Judge Gonzalo Curiel and his promise to pursue a ban on Muslims entering the country in response to the Orlando terror attack.
Steve Lonegan, a New Jersey delegate who was on the organizing call Thursday night, said that Republicans who do not believe Trump represents what the party stands for have a “moral obligation” to stop him in Cleveland next month.
“I will tell you, about every two hours people contact me about how to join this effort,” said Lonegan, a Cruz delegate and former U.S. Senate candidate. “This has never been done before, so there’s no textbook on how to do it. So we’re building an organic effort, state by state, to convince members of the Rules Committee to sign onto a rule that unbinds the delegates to vote their moral conscience.”