Top Republicans will try to force more transparency at the party’s national convention in July, aiming to scrap their 1,500-page rule book in favor of simpler procedures that they hope will head off arcane maneuvers designed to deny Donald Trump the presidential nomination.
The changes wouldn’t guarantee Mr. Trump the nod but would make it easier for all sides to see what sorts of changes anti-Trump factions are attempting.
Some members of the Republican National Committee want to ditch the massive rule book, which is based on the parliamentary handbook of the U.S. House, and instead use Robert’s Rules of Order to govern floor action at the convention. Robert’s is the standard manual used by entities such as civic associations, county boards and state legislatures.
Those pushing the change are not Trump partisans, but they want to make it hard to forge in secrecy what voters might see as backroom deals to “steal” the presidential nomination from Mr. Trump, the front-runner.
“To make this convention more transparent, I will advocate, at the RNC Standing Rules committee meeting in April, adoption of Robert’s Rules of Order to replace the 1,500-page U.S. House rules to govern the convention,” Oregon RNC member Solomon Yue told The Washington Times on Wednesday.
Kansas RNC member Helen Van Etten, a member of the RNC’s Standing Rules Committee, said she will vote for the change to Robert’s Rules, which “our party’s grass roots have been using to conduct business at the county party, state party and national party levels for many years. Unlike the 1,500-page U.S. House rules, there are in Robert’s no surprises that will prevent the kind of chaos media are predicting.”
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RNC Chairman Reince Priebus has said the party must insist on transparency as it moves ahead with its nominating process, but he has not taken a position on the change in parliamentary rules.
Even if the 168 RNC members adopt Robert’s Rules at their April meeting, the thousands of delegates at the convention will still have the final say.
Moving to Robert’s Rules also could save the RNC a potential headache.
Under the current parliamentary system, if the convention is deadlocked over a nominee on Thursday, it wouldn’t be able to suspend the rules to work out a solution. The U.S. House rules allow suspension only on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday of a week, Mr. Yue said. Robert’s Rules has no such constrictions.
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Contentious floor questions are expected over free trade, protectionism, immigration and a host of other issues, said RNC Rules Committee special counsel James Bopp Jr.
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“There will be efforts by moderates and liberals on the floor to change the platform,” he said.
“No one knows U.S. House rules, and so that creates suspicion and uncertainty among the delegates — and the chaos we want to avoid,” Mr. Bopp said. “People don’t know what they can and can’t do and are afraid others who do know will hoodwink them.”
Most of the fear of hoodwinking relates to Rule 40b, adopted at the 2012 Republican National Convention, which says candidates must come in with a majority of delegates from at least eight states before they can be nominated and put to a vote.
With about half of the contests in the books so far, only Mr. Trump has won enough states to qualify. Sen. Ted Cruz is just shy, with seven states. Gov. John Kasich, the third candidate still actively competing, has won only his home state of Ohio.
The reason 40b wasn’t changed in January, when the RNC last met, was because representatives from all of the major campaigns believed their candidates would meet the strict threshold, said Randy Pullen, an RNC member from Arizona.
Peter Feaman, an RNC committeeman from Florida and a member of the party’s rules committee, said members are warming to the idea of Mr. Trump as standard-bearer.
“If he is going to be the will of the people, then the RNC is going to be all in,” Mr. Feaman said.
He said there has been no discussion about changing the rules to allow someone from outside the race to be nominated as a last-minute candidate on the convention floor.
Conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh has speculated that such a plot was in the works.
“Rush Limbaugh is flat-out wrong,” said Mr. Feaman. “There is just no path to do that based on the rules.”
He said that even if Mr. Trump arrives at the July convention in Cleveland just shy of 1,237 delegates, he would still be “the odds-on favorite to be the nominee.”
RNC committee members across the country echoed that sentiment. They said an attempt by Republican insiders to manipulate the process would spark a revolt.
“I’m not going to stand for that,” said Carolyn McLarty, a national committeewoman from Oklahoma. “The duly elected delegates to the convention are the ones that are going to nominate our candidate, not anyone behind the scenes.”
Mrs. McLarty said she preferred Mr. Cruz as the nominee but “softened a bit” in her opposition to Mr. Trump and now considers him acceptable.
Mr. Trump said this week that there would be “riots” if party elders try to hand-pick a nominee.
The Republican establishment, led by 2012 nominee Mitt Romney, has schemed to block Mr. Trump from winning the 1,237 delegates needed to secure the nomination.
The convention rules allow a series of ballots if none of the candidates has the requisite 1,237 delegates, and the eventual nominee would not necessarily be the candidate with the most delegates heading into the convention. But that is where Rule 40b would come into play, limiting the alternative names that could be considered.
• S.A. Miller contributed to this report.