WASHINGTON (AP) — Forty-two rules govern the Republican Party and how it picks a presidential candidate. Yet with the nomination potentially being decided at July’s party convention, one reality prevails: Delegates can change their procedures to help or hurt any candidate.
Front-runner Donald Trump has 743 of the 1,237 delegates needed to leave the Republican gathering as the nominee. That’s less than 200 better than his closest competitor, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.
Yet many top Republicans view Trump as a certain loser in the November general election who could cost them congressional seats, and some have similar concerns about the conservative Cruz.
A look at the rules governing the contest, and how they could be rewritten to affect the nomination:
AS IT STANDS
The Republican rules describe how delegates are divided among the 56 states and territories, who gets into the convention hall, who can be nominated, how votes are cast and how disputes are resolved.
These bylaws are temporary. This year’s convention will be governed by whichever rules the delegates approve by majority vote when their four-day gathering begins July 18.
The Republican National Committee is already working on rules to present to the convention. But the convention delegates — initially a 112-member rules committee, then all 2,472 of them — will have final say.
Usually, each convention renews the rules with minor changes. They generally reflect the interests of the presumptive presidential nominee.
NO CLEAR NOMINEE?
This year, there may not be a presumptive nominee as the convention begins.
It’s possible that this gathering will be the Republicans’ first since 1976 that will be competitive, with no candidate coming in with a majority of delegates. Candidates’ campaigns would compete for support for rules advantageous to them.
Trump and Cruz could have enough delegates combined to form an alliance for rules that would make it all but impossible for a third rival to emerge. On the other hand, Republicans looking to block the two could seek support for rules making it easier for someone like House Speaker Paul Ryan, who has expressed disinterest, to become the nominee.
“The golden rule of conventions is he who has the votes makes the rules,” said Republican operative John Yob, author of “Chaos: The Outsider’s Guide to a Contested Republican National Convention, 2016.”
The current AP delegate count stands at Trump 743, Cruz 545, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich 143. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who suspended his campaign, has 171 delegates.
While most delegates must initially vote for the nominee they’re elected to represent, they don’t have to back that contender’s preferred rules package. The candidates personally select only about a quarter of the delegates, leaving many who might secretly prefer a different contender. Campaigns are aggressively recruiting supporters to become delegates.
“Without knowing who the delegates are and who they’re sympathetic to, trying to assess what the convention is likely to do is next to impossible,” said Josh Putnam, a University of Georgia lecturer and delegate process expert.
TO BE NOMINATED
Currently, candidates are nominated by submitting petitions showing support by most delegates from eight states and territories. That rule could be weakened to allow more competition.
For now, Trump and Cruz appear likely to be the only candidates capable of collecting majority support from eight states.
If no one gets a majority of delegates on the first ballot, things could quickly sour for Trump. While various state laws and rules “bind” around 9 in 10 delegates to vote for their candidate in the first round, about 7 in 10 are allowed to support whoever they want on the second ballot, with even more freed up later.
OTHER POTENTIAL CHANGES
There could be efforts to:
—Let former contenders like Rubio assign their delegates to a remaining candidate, a practice that now varies by state.
—Allow delegates bound to specified candidates to sign nominating petitions for others.
—Permit new presidential nominations if no one wins on the first ballot. Currently, voting continues until a winner emerges.
Television viewers could end up watching battles on the convention floor over contested delegates, rules and the party platform before they even get to nominations. Or they could see bored delegates killing time as deals are cut backstage, instead of speeches and choreographed displays of unity aimed at motivating voters.
“The single worst thing that can happen for Republicans is they reach Thursday and don’t have a nominee,” said Randy Evans, a Republican National Committee member and convention delegate from Georgia.
That might mean delegates leaving and the convention having to halt and reconvene later. That would be a damaging and time-consuming process.
Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
This content is published through a licensing agreement with Acquire Media using its NewsEdge technology.