A growing unease among GOP leaders about their presumptive candidate, Donald Trump, has renewed talk within the party of blocking Trump from becoming their nominee at the Republican National Convention in July.
That debate took a concrete step the week of June 19 when 400 Republican delegates joined a movement called “Free the Delegates,” which seeks to have a “conscience clause” put to vote by the Rules Committee. The new rule would unbind Republican delegates and allow them to vote for whomever they want at the convention.
While the move is technically possible, as the rules governing the convention are not set until the convention itself, the clause would require the support of a majority of delegates and would bypass the more than 13 million votes cast for Trump during the primaries.
The movement is headed by two Colorado delegates, Kendal Unruh and Regina Thomson, who have reached out to other Republican delegates for support, notably in a conference call on Sunday, June 19, to over a thousand delegates across the country.
In phone interviews with Thompson, she said that the movement has been getting a steady stream of calls from interested delegates across the country. The organization hopes to have contacted half of the 2,472 Republican delegates by the end of the week, and all of the delegates before the July convention.
As of now, the group has the support of nearly 400 delegates.
GOP Leaders Critical of Trump
The emergence of the movement comes amid increased criticism of Trump from GOP leaders.
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, who endorsed Trump earlier this month, has been critical of Trump’s renewed proposal to temporarily ban Muslims from the United States. He has also criticized Trump’s comments about Judge Gonzalo Curiel who Trump said had “an inherent conflict of interest” because he was “Mexican.”
Ryan called that the “textbook definition of a racist comment.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has also given an endorsement of Trump, has also been critical of the presumptive Republican nominee, telling him to “get on message” and to use a script in response to comments about Judge Curiel.
While both Ryan and McConnell have stressed the importance of party unity going into the November election, Ryan said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on June 19: “The last thing I would do is tell anybody to do something that’s contrary to their conscience.”
Ryan’s comments have been interpreted by the Free the Delegates movement as being supportive of its cause.
Criticism of the Movement
Trump responded defiantly to the group, saying that the group was trying “to come in through the back door” even though he won the vote in 38 states.
“Number one, they can’t do it legally. Number two, I worked for one year and we won all of those delegates,” Trump said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on June 19.
The Free the Delegates movement has also been criticized by other party members who argue that its supporters aren’t “true conservatives” or “true Christians,” but the most common criticism is that the movement is “dividing the party.”
Thomson rebukes those arguments, saying that the party is already divided and that by changing the rules it would heal the party in the long run.
“This will heal [the divide in the party] in many ways,” she said, saying that the goal of the group has more to do with the morals of the party.
“We just want moral people to lead the country.”
However, if the group is successful in achieving its goal of unbinding the delegates, it does not have a replacement for Trump in mind.
Thomson said that finding an alternative candidate is not the focus of the group, and that they didn’t have a particular candidate in mind because the supportive delegates were a mixture of former supporters of Ted Cruz, John Kasich, Marco Rubio, and Carly Fiorina.
A combined national poll average by the RealClearPolitics website shows a 4 percent drop for Trump since May 25, dropping from 43 to 39 percent, while Clinton’s polling numbers have remained consistent between 43 and 45 percent.