The specter of Donald Trump’s presidential nomination being ripped from under him in a nastily contested Republican National Convention next month is alive — again.
Anti-Trump forces appeared to have been defeated after he ousted his remaining opponents from the race in early May and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan and Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus all signaled that Mr. Trump had sewn things up.
But weeks of bad press stemming from Mr. Trump’s criticism of a federal judge and uneven handling in the aftermath of the Orlando, Florida, terrorist shooting have kick-started efforts to deny Mr. Trump the nomination on the convention floor.
The dump-Trump forces may have received another opening last week when Mr. Priebus tapped Utah RNC member Enid Greene Mickelsen and Massachusetts RNC member Ron Kaufman as Republican National Convention Rules Committee chairwoman and co-chairman, respectively.
Ms. Mickelsen and Mr. Kaufman are political consorts of Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, who has announced he would not support Mr. Trump and has worked to recruit a challenger.
Ms. Mickelsen, Mr. Kaufman or both could explicitly or implicitly encourage delegates committed to vote for Mr. Trump to “vote their conscience” instead. If enough of them vote for anyone else, they could deny the billionaire businessman the 1,237 votes requisite for first-ballot victory. It would be difficult for Mr. Trump to recover from such a loss on subsequent ballots.
Some anti-Trumpers are hoping to go even further — to get the convention to pass new rules freeing “bound” delegates from their commitments to vote for Mr. Trump on the first ballot. They held an organizing call Sunday to talk strategy and said there are plenty of alternatives to Mr. Trump if delegates aren’t bound to him.
“I want to remind people — this is very, very important going into the convention — there are no rules right now,” Steve Lonegan, the New Jersey state chairman for Sen. Ted Cruz’s Republican presidential campaign, told CNN on Monday.
Republican Party officials brushed aside the effort, saying the rules are settled.
“All of the discussion about the RNC Rules Committee acting to undermine the presumptive nominee is silly,” RNC spokesman Sean Spicer said last week. “There is no organized effort, strategy or leader of this so-called movement. It is nothing more than a media creation and a series of tweets.”
But questions have been swirling since Mr. Priebus named two Romney allies to the rules committee.
In 2012, Ms. Mickelsen supported Romney campaign legal counsel Ben Ginsberg’s move to allow Mr. Romney to remove duly elected delegates to the national convention and replace them with Romney supporters. The Mickelsen-Ginsberg goal was to keep a Romney nomination rival, Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, from speaking at the convention.
After Mr. Ginsberg and Ms. Mickelsen got their way, conservative delegates revolted against the rules change and petitioned for a “minority report” to be presented to the full convention. Ms. Michelsen led the move to kill the minority report.
Mr. Priebus did discuss the rules committee appointments with Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and got approval before making them public.
Why did Mr. Manafort approve?
One theory on the Trump side is that Mr. Priebus and Mr. Manafort agreed that it would help unite the party.
Another is that Mr. Manafort and Mr. Priebus think Ms. Mickelsen and Mr. Kaufman have benign intentions regarding Mr. Trump.
The #NeverTrump movement has not put forth a plausible alternative to the presumptive nominee.
With 13,844,863, Mr. Trump won more votes in the nomination contest nationwide than any other Republican in the history of presidential primaries. Second place went to Mr. Cruz, who won about half of that with 7,786,279 votes.
Trump supporters find it hard to believe the #NeverTrump crowd would want to unite renegade and uncommitted delegates behind the second-highest vote-getter given that Mr. Cruz showed little prospect for winning a general election and is despised by most fellow Republicans in the Senate.
Yet many Republican Party establishment politicians and consultants fear their power and income would evaporate if Mr. Trump wins the White House and shuns them or if he loses not only the presidency but also the party’s Senate control and some House seats. Mr. Trump poses a lose-lose situation for them.
Offensive, politically incorrect, boastful and a showoff of his great wealth, Mr. Trump did everything wrong, according to political consultants, on his way to winning a majority of committed delegates.
Mr. Manafort and his team are telling Mr. Trump he needs to change, be polite, reserved and presidential to win in November — in other words, be like the rivals he beat. Others say his only hope of beating Democrat Hillary Clinton is to remain the man who won the nomination.
So some Republicans at the highest level are asking one another privately who is behind the Mickelsen-Kaufman appointments — honest broker Paul Manafort or #NeverTrump collaborators.