Unconventional #33: How Paul Ryan could decide whether Trump is dumped in Cleveland (and more!)

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Unconventional is Yahoo News’ complete guide to what could be the craziest presidential conventions in decades. Here’s what you need to know today.

1. Inside the plot to ‘save’ the GOP from Trump — with Paul Ryan’s help

A few months ago, conservatives desperate for a white knight to ride into the Republican National Convention in Cleveland and rescue the party from presumptive nominee Donald Trump turned to House Speaker Paul Ryan. Help us, Paul, they cried. You’re our only hope. Ryan turned them down flat.

But a scenario is shaping up that may force Ryan to play the white knight after all.

As chairman of the convention, Ryan will command the podium in Cleveland. He will hold the gavel. His face will be front and center on primetime TV.

And if a group of renegade delegates from the speaker’s home state of Wisconsin gets its way, Ryan’s duties won’t stop there.

He will also, they hope, allow his fellow Wisconsinites to block Trump from winning the nomination.

Can these Cheeseheads really overthrow Trump at the convention? And will Ryan, who officially supports the presumptive nominee, actually wade into a civil war on the convention floor and deliver the Donald’s deathblow?

Before we proceed, the usual caveats: Trump has 1,542 delegates. No other candidates are currently challenging him for the nomination. Trump is by far the most likely person to wind up as this year’s Republican presidential nominee. It’s not even close.

Still, various Dump Trump efforts are afoot — and various delegates from various states support these efforts. As a result, there is a non-zero chance that something might happen between now and the final hours of the convention to upend expectations and loosen Trump’s grip on the nomination.

So far, most of the Dump Trump speculation has focused on whether at least 28 of the Rules Committee’s 112 members will back a so-called “conscience clause” designed to give bound delegates permission to cast their ballots for whomever they want, thereby triggering a convention-wide vote on the measure.

But as Yahoo News Senior Political Correspondent Jon Ward reports, “The Rules Committee will not be the only stop-Trump game in Cleveland.”

Here’s where that gang of Wisconsinites comes in. They call themselves Delegates Unbound — and they’re plotting to torpedo Trump on the floor of the convention regardless of what happens with the Rules Committee.

Their plan? To convince at least 306 of the 1,542 delegates ostensibly bound to Trump to abstain from voting on the first ballot. If they succeed, Trump would fall short of the magic 1,237-delegate mark required to win the nomination. A second round of balloting would follow. Most state laws and party rules about binding would no longer apply. Other candidates would step forward and offer their services. The convention would become contested.

(Or so the thinking goes.)

“I personally believe there are enough delegates who will abstain to keep Trump from getting the nomination on the first ballot,” Dane Waters, an official with Delegates Unbound, tells Yahoo News. “And I think that will open up a lot of options for the delegates.”

This approach has a couple of advantages for the Dump Trump crowd. First, it doesn’t require any midstream rule changes — a procedure that makes most Republicans squeamish. And second, it allows delegates who don’t want to vote for Trump to obey their consciences without disobeying any rules.

In response to the Dump Trump chatter, RNC Chairman Reince Priebus has threatened to invoke Rule 16(a) and simply ignore bound delegates who defy their obligations in Cleveland. But if you actually read Rule 16(a), you’ll see that it prohibits bound delegates from “demonstrat[ing] support … for any person other than the candidate to whom he or she is bound.” [Emphasis added.]

It doesn’t say anything about not voting at all.

Presidential nominating conventions have always permitted Bartlebys — delegates who “would prefer not to” vote. In 1896, for example, Democrats loyal to President Grover Cleveland pushed for a nominee who supported the gold standard, like their hero. But they were outnumbered by “free silver” Democrats. “When the time came to vote, 178 Gold Democrats just sat on their hands,” says convention historian Stan Haynes. “And that remained pretty consistent until the fifth ballot, when the Silver Democrats finally settled on William Jennings Bryan as the nominee.”

Will Delegates Unbound be able to pull any of this off? They are, at the very least, a serious group. Their leader is Eric O’Keefe, a respected political activist in Wisconsin who worked aggressively to bolster Gov. Scott Walker during the 2012 recall campaign, and they are “rumored to be better organized than the more publicized efforts focused on the Rules Committee,” according to Ward.

The numbers, meanwhile, suggest an uphill battle — but not an unwinnable one. A whip count of the delegates conducted this week by a pro-Trump member of the Republican National Committee found large numbers in favor of an open vote, plus many hundreds more up for grabs.

According to a Wall Street Journal report, Randy Evans, an RNC member from Georgia, has estimated that 890 delegates are “personally loyal” to Trump, while another 680 oppose the presumptive Republican nominee. About 900 are undecided or undeclared. That leaves Delegates Unbound with a lot of wiggle room.

Ultimately, however, the success or failure of the group’s effort — and, as a result, the success or failure of the Trump campaign — may depend on Ryan.

Why? Because of how the GOP is supposed to tally its delegates’ votes.

Typically, the chairman of each state’s delegation announces how many delegates each candidate won in his state. But according to Rule 37, “if exception is taken by any delegate from that state to the correctness of such announcement by the chairman of that delegation, the chairman of the convention shall direct the roll of members of such delegation to be called.” In other words, if a delegate bound to Trump wants to abstain, he can object to his state’s tally — and force the “chairman of the convention” (i.e., Ryan) to conduct a recount.

If there are enough of these abstentions in Cleveland — and enough of these recounts — Trump could lose.

“Delegates have the right to object and challenge the authenticity of their state’s announcement of votes cast for the possible nominee,” Waters of Delegates Unbound tells Yahoo News. “There are a significant number of states where delegates have made clear their intent to challenge the number of votes announced if they have been stopped from exercising their right to vote their conscience.”

As chairman, it’s up to Ryan to decide whether he wants to recognize these objections. He has a choice. He could stifle the dissenters by expediting the roll call, which is the trick his predecessor John Boehner pulled on the Ron Paul rebels in 2012. Alternately, he could contract a severe case of selective hearing — a malady that seemed to afflict Boehner’s Democratic counterpart, Antonio Villaraigosa, that same year.

Or Ryan could follow the rules and faithfully record every vote.

In some ways, the speaker has played the dutiful party man this cycle; he has technically endorsed Trump even though he seems to object to every other thing the tycoon says. But if you’re looking for clues about how Ryan might react to a bunch of Bartlebys coming forward on the floor of The Q, recall what he said in June when asked whether he would urge his fellow Republicans to follow his example and endorse Trump.

“The last thing I would do is tell anybody to do something that’s contrary to their conscience,” Ryan told NBC’s Chuck Todd. “I get that this is a very strange situation. He’s a very unique nominee.”

Translation: Cleveland could still be crazy. And Paul Ryan might be in the middle of the melee.

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2. In the arena

Our roundup of the big names making convention news today

Donald Trump has asked Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, his former chief rival for the Republican nomination, to speak in Cleveland — and Cruz has accepted. “We had a positive and productive meeting this morning,” Cruz told reporters Thursday after huddling with Trump on Capitol Hill. The senator was quick to note, however, that “there was no discussion of any endorsement”; the implication was that none is forthcoming.

Cruz is already laying the groundwork for a comeback in 2020 and is said to see himself as Ronald Reagan in 1976 — a runner-up who delivers a rousing speech at the convention before leading his party to victory four years later. And Trump may not have had much of a choice in the matter; Cruz delegates were already gathering signatures to place their man’s name into nomination in Cleveland, which would have guaranteed the Texan a speaking slot whether Trump invited him or not.

Also worth noting: If things somehow go south for Trump in The Q, Cruz will now be perfectly positioned to challenge him on a second ballot. We imagine Cruz’s best speechwriters are already hard at work on his address.

No surprise here: Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska — perhaps the GOP’s most vocal Trump critic — will not be heading to Ohio later this month. Instead, he plans to “take his kids to watch some dumpster fires across the state, all of which enjoy more popularity than the current frontrunners,” according to Sasse’s spokesman. Along with other lawmakers, Sasse met Trump Thursday in Washington, D.C. At one point during the gathering, Trump turned to the senator and said, “You must want Hillary.” Sasse did not respond.

Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake ― another outspoken Trump critic ― added that he won’t be attending the convention, either. “I’ve got to mow my lawn,” Flake explained.

Democratic silver medalist Bernie Sanders isn’t going anywhere (yet). Earlier this week, his campaign released a long list of policy tweaks the Vermonter wants the platform committee to pass when it meets Friday in Orlando: a carbon tax, a ban on fracking, language promising to expand Medicare and so on. Most striking, however, was Sanders’ demand to put the party on record as strongly opposing the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Needless to say, this is a huge ask; President Obama supports the TPP, and Democrats are unlikely to defy him in their platform. Of course, that hasn’t stopped Team Sanders from collecting more than 700,000 signatures on a petition or threatening to force a floor vote if the plank fails on the platform committee. Recent reports suggest that Sanders will endorse Hillary Clinton on Tuesday in New Hampshire, but no official announcement has been made yet. Perhaps Bernie is holding on to his last shred of leverage in hopes of pushing the platform even further to the left in Florida.

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3. What Clinton’s veep pick will say about her presidency

Another week, another must-read piece by Yahoo News National Political Columnist Matt Bai.

This one is about a subject near and dear to Unconventional’s nerdy heart: the veepstakes. In his column, Bai writes that Hillary Clinton is under enormous pressure to “unite the party” with a liberal pick like Elizabeth Warren. Then he explains why she should resist.

Here’s the core of Bai’s argument:

Democrats aren’t going to stay home in November. The party isn’t going to be short of door knockers or yard signs. Clinton could show up to debate in one of those plastic Reagan masks they sell at Halloween, and she’d still turn out all the reliably Democratic votes any nominee can expect.

That’s because all politics is adversarial these days, and even if Clinton couldn’t unify her own party, believe me, Trump would. All those Sanders voters aren’t going to sit out an election where some kind of Muslim ban — exactly which kind depends on the week — is on the ballot.

But that doesn’t mean there will be enough of them to guarantee Clinton a victory. And herein lies her more pressing problem. Independent voters, and white men in general, really don’t trust her.

For Clinton, the smarter move — and, I think, the one closest to where she really is politically, once you strip away all the artifice of the primaries — is to choose a more conventional running mate with a younger, more comfortable vibe. A swing-state senator like Virginia’s Tim Kaine or Colorado’s Michael Bennet could help reassure independents and maybe even draw some anti-Trump Republicans, too.

Or Clinton could do what she’s pretty good at, which is to split the difference. She might gravitate toward Sherrod Brown, the populist Ohio senator, who’s every bit the class warrior that Warren is, but with a less condescending touch and a proven ability to win working-class votes.

The larger point is that Clinton’s choice isn’t just about winning in November. It’s also a window into how she intends to govern.

You can look at governing as an exercise in rallying your own raucous forces and writing off the rest, trying to get to 51 percent, imposing the will of a narrow majority because you don’t believe in your own ability to make the case convincingly.

Or it can be about making pragmatic choices, trying to persuade some significant number of people you might be right, and building as broad a coalition as you can, in order to enact reform that lasts longer than the next election cycle.

The question is which way Clinton might go, now that she’s finally in control of the party. Clinton’s not just choosing a running mate. She’s choosing a path.

We agree — and that’s why (we’ll just come out and say it) we think Clinton should pick Sherrod Brown.

But whom do you think Hillary should pick — and why? Drop us a line on Twitter (@andrewromano) and let us know. We’ll include the smartest pitches in a future installment of Unconventional.

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4. The new GOP convention app is the best ever — at least until the Democratic app comes out later this month

By Caitlin Dickson

The Republican National Convention launched its official 2016 mobile app Wednesday morning, the latest facet of what is slated to be, by far, the most tech-savvy political convention season to date.

The smartphone app, which is now available for download in the Apple and Google Play stores, resembles those that have become staples of music festivals and other large events in recent years.

The app provides delegates, press and other convention attendees with a list of hotels in the Cleveland area and a guide to the free convention shuttle bus stops closest to each hotel; the guide also has real-time updates on shuttle bus departure and arrival times. The app also uses Google Maps to provide driving directions to and from the convention venue, as well as interactive guides to restaurants in the Cleveland area and specific destinations, including bathrooms, within the Quicken Loans Arena, the site of the convention.

In addition to maps, another product of the GOP convention’s partnership with Google — which has prompted a backlash from anti-Trump activists — is the app’s live-streaming video feature. Though the app now displays a static countdown to the convention, the convention promises “gavel-to-gavel live-streaming of the convention’s proceedings” so that “anyone with the app will have every moment in the palm of their hand.”

The app will also provide live, 360-degree footage from the convention “for the first time ever,” according to a press release from the convention.

Although the convention begins in less than two weeks, the newly released app isn’t entirely ready for primetime. The interactive convention venue map, for example, is not yet available nor is the event schedule. In fact, the only name now listed in the “Speakers” section is George Washington.

Still, the product — which was developed with AT&T, the convention’s official communications, video and technology provider — already seems light-years ahead of the first-ever convention apps released by both the Republican and Democratic conventions in 2012.

“Neither political party has launched an app as technologically advanced for their respective national conventions,” the convention said in its press release announcing the app’s launch Wednesday.

That’s a challenge the Republicans’ Democratic counterparts are happy to accept. Although unable to confirm a release date for its own official app, Democratic National Convention spokesperson Morgan Finkelstein told Yahoo News: “When our convention app launches, with more inclusive and engaging features than ever before, it will indisputably raise the bar.”

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5. Best of the rest

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Countdown

For the latest data, make sure to check the Yahoo News delegate scorecard and primary calendar.

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