Five answers about an open Republican convention in Cleveland

Randy Evans is the chairman of the Republican National Lawyers Association, a member of the Republican National Committee, as well as a member of the RNC’s rules and debate committees. He has served as outside counsel for two U.S. House speakers, Newt Gingrich and Dennis Hastert, and was a top advisor to Gingrich during his 2012 presidential run.

Evans has also presided over debate at every Georgia Republican Convention that most of us can remember. In other words, his interpretation of rules and bylaws matter.

An attorney with Dentons in Atlanta, Evans just sent over these points aimed at a potential open convention in Cleveland this July. So pay attention:

Q: What are the chances of an open convention with no candidate getting to the 1,237 bound delegates needed to win the nomination on the first ballot?

A: Generally speaking, I have consistently said since January that there is a one-in-three chance that Republicans end up with an open convention. Largely, this is the result of the way the process was changed, the number of candidates, and the mathematical challenges of getting to that number.

With only 10 winner-take-all states (and territories) and 46 proportional states (and territories), the ability to get a majority of delegates in any one state or throughout the process is very challenging until the race gets down to just two candidates.

With that said, I continue to believe it is much more likely that there will be a presumptive nominee, even if one candidate ends up just short of the 1,237 delegates.

Q: If Donald Trump is the nominee, what are the chances of a third-party challenge?

A: Very minimal. As a lawyer, especially one that commissioned a project that collected all the rules, requirements and deadlines for candidates to get on the ballot, I can tell you that the chances of a ground-up start of an independent or new third-party challenge are virtually zero. Too many deadlines are imminent and if a candidate started tomorrow, it would be virtually impossible to meet the deadlines that exist.

The only real possibility would be if a candidate with substantial donor support hijacked an existing third party and used it as the vehicle for getting on the ballot. Otherwise, no candidate could get on enough ballots to have a realistic chance of winning the required 270 electoral votes.

Q: Do you think Mr. Trump will get to the 1,237?

A: On the website, anyone can war-game the possibilities. I have run 10 different scenarios. Of those 10, there are two possible scenarios where he could get to the 1,237 number prior to the convention.

Basically, once the race dwindles to two real candidates, Mr. Trump could win in many proportional states 100 percent of the delegates with only 51 percent of the vote. The more likely scenarios put him between 75 and 100 delegates short. If that happens, I expect he would still win on the first ballot since there are enough unbound delegates from candidates who have dropped out, or simply unbound under state party rules, to close the gap.

As the gap grows beyond 100, the challenge gets exponentially more difficult given how deep the conviction against him is among some institutional powerbrokers to his nomination. And, of course, there is always the chance of a change in political winds where he is not close. I don’t see that based on what’s happened so far, but in this political cycle, anything is possible.

Q: Will the party change the rules to try to prevent a Trump nomination?

A: No. As a member of the Rules Committee, I can say there is no appetite to rig the convention. On the other hand, there are a number of rules proposals that the RNC Rules Committee will take up at the RNC spring meeting in April. They range from unbinding delegates to changing the number of states required for nomination to permitting pledging of delegates.

By then, we will have better picture of where things are, but I do not expect any significant rules changes. We may have to consider some modifications to address the logistics of an open convention if that remains a realistic possibility, but we will just have to wait and see on that.

Q: What is the worst case scenario for the Republicans?

A: Really, the worst case is if no candidate is close to the 1,237 and organized groups decide to filibuster the process. We only have a convention hall and hotel rooms for a week. If it runs longer than that, then real logistical issues start to develop, including the real risk of losing a quorum as folks leave, hotel rooms run out, and the convention hall has to be used for other purposes.

Ending the week without a nominee would be a real challenge, but it is also an extremely remote possibility. Yet, in fairness, we try to prepare for every possibility – both real and remote. It does highlight the wisdom of moving the convention from August to July, to give us more time to put things back together after the convention if necessary.

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About the Author

Jim Galloway
Jim Galloway
Jim Galloway is a three-decade veteran of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution who writes the Political Insider blog and column.