Republicans Changing Delegate Rules to Prevent Discord at Convention

President Trump’s political advisers have concluded a monthslong effort to tighten the rules for choosing delegates to the Republican National Convention, all but ensuring there are no dissenting speeches at the gathering of party officials in Charlotte next year.

On Tuesday, state Republican parties submitted to the national committee their delegate allocation plans, the methods by which they will choose and bind delegates who attend the convention as their representatives.

In 37 states and territories, there have been changes to the rules that will all but stamp out the possibility of any raucous divide on the convention floor. Those kinds of schisms have plagued party conventions in years when a Republican incumbent went on to lose his re-election bid, Republican officials said. Mr. Trump himself confronted an effort to strip him of delegates in 2016.

The new delegate guidelines are the culmination of a 10-month effort by Trump advisers to tighten the president’s grip on the Republican Party ahead of the general election. It means that even if the three candidates challenging Mr. Trump in the Republican primary gain vote shares, they almost certainly won’t translate into speeches or jeers from supporters of these candidates when the convention is taking place.

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The plans also serve as a reminder that even as Mr. Trump faces the prospect of an impeachment vote, his campaign is making every effort to assure a smooth path to the nomination and a convention that resembles something of a coronation for the president.

“Looking at history, we kind of came to the realization that this stuff matters for the general election,” said Justin Clark, senior counsel to the campaign.

Since the beginning of the year, Mr. Trump’s advisers have placed a premium on avoiding intraparty conflicts that have plagued previous Republican incumbents and challengers alike.

That included Mr. Trump, who faced his own challenge in 2016 after his improbable rise to become the de facto nominee. There was an effort to strip delegates from Mr. Trump and give them to Senator Ted Cruz, a Republican from Texas and the last man standing against Mr. Trump in the primaries.

That challenge failed, but it added to a frisson of drama on the convention floor. And it left a lingering impression on the president and his advisers about what to do differently to avoid a repeat in 2020.

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Bill Stepien, a senior political adviser to the president, Mr. Clark and other campaign officials have spent most of this year working with state Republican officials either to change rules or to push for party chairs who are favorable to Mr. Trump.

Republican parties in states like Massachusetts — a blue state that is nonetheless delegate-rich at party conventions because of its large population — have changed their rules so that any candidate who wins more than 50 percent of the vote in the primary captures all the delegates.

New York, the president’s home state and another with a large population, has a new Republican Party chairman, Nick Langworthy, who is viewed favorably by the national committee and the White House. There, too, the rules now allow for a winner-take-all delegate award if a candidate clears 50 percent of the vote.

Republicans are trying to avoid the conflicts that arose at conventions such as the one in 1992, when Patrick J. Buchanan challenged the incumbent Republican president, George Bush, for the nomination. Mr. Buchanan didn’t gather significant support in most of the primaries. But he rolled into the party’s convention at the Astrodome in Houston with enough support to draw cheers during a thunderous speech about the “culture war” being waged for the soul of the nation.

In 1976, President Gerald Ford faced a nominating challenge from Ronald Reagan. The incumbent found himself wooing delegates to lock them up at the convention, using enticements like offering rides aboard Air Force One.

For both Mr. Bush and Mr. Ford, the primary challenges helped expose weaknesses that were exploited in the general election. Despite Mr. Trump’s high popularity in polls of Republican voters, his campaign is seeking to avoid any signs of discord. That includes a situation like the one Mitt Romney faced in 2012, when he was forced to contend with changes sought by delegates supporting Ron Paul.

There are other measures the Trump team has taken. Four states have canceled their primaries, including South Carolina, in moves that will further prevent his challengers — the former congressmen Joe Walsh and Mark Sanford, and the former Massachusetts governor William Weld — from gaining traction.

But it is the delegate rules and changes to parties at the state level that the campaign has spent most of its energies on this year.

“This campaign has used this as an offensive opportunity for the president,” Mr. Stepien said. He described 2016 as “a wake-up call for a lot of people in terms of how the delegate process works.’’

“Good campaigns analyze what they could have done better,” he said.

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Source: NYT

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