WASHINGTON — Anti-Trump “agitators” attempting to stage a GOP convention coup are trying to convince delegates they are not bound by their states’ primary results in a last-ditch scramble, despite the more than 13 million pri-mary votes already cast for the billionaire.
The movement — with hashtags #NeverTrump and #FreeTheDelegates — is vowing to launch a media campaign and unveil alternative candidates this week as Republicans begin to show up for next week’s convention in Cleveland.
“It’s War!” some in the group tweeted yesterday.
“These delegates were never legally bound to begin with,” said Jack Burkman, a Washington lobbyist and political consultant who is part of the push to deny Donald Trump enough votes on the convention’s first ballot to secure the nomination.
Burkman told the Herald he held a fundraiser at his home over the weekend, raising more than $500,000 to help boost the efforts of the Free the Delegates movement to convince them that, under party rules, they are free to vote their consciences.
“Donald Trump has already insulted nearly every group in this country — blacks, Hispanics, Jews, women,” Burkman said. “The only group left is white males, and he will probably insult them sometime soon.”
But the Trump campaign said the party rivals were hit with a “crippling blow” yesterday when a federal judge ruled “delegates cannot be stolen at the national convention” and must vote for Trump in line with primary results.
“This case puts (the) unbound theory to rest, and is a fatal blow to the Anti-Trump agitators,” said Trump campaign attorney and former FEC Chairman Don McGahn in a statement.
Trump heads into Monday’s convention with 1,542 delegates — well beyond the 1,237 needed to be the party’s nominee for president on the first ballot.
Burkman said he won’t back down and is planning a major ad buy in the Cleveland media market beginning Thursday or Friday aimed not only at delegates, but also party leaders and members of the media.
In a different reading of yesterday’s federal court ruling, the anti-Trump movement hailed the judge’s decision to strike down Virginia’s law that would have required the Republican delegates to vote for Trump on the first ballot or face penalties.
That law was challenged in a class action lawsuit led by GOP delegate Carroll Boston Correll, who claimed the law violated delegates’ First Amendment “freedom to vote their conscience.”
It also came on the heels of Kendal Unruh, founder of the Free the Delegates movement, telling the Wall Street Journal in an interview that she has secured enough private commitments from the Rules Committee to support a rule change that will allow delegates to vote their consciences on the first ballot.
Curly Haugland, a longtime Republican National Committeeman for North Dakota who has written a book on convention rules, believes a rule change is unnecessary — delegates can already vote as they wish, he said.
“That has always been a fundamental principle the Republican Party, that we have the First Amendment to protect our liberty,” said Haugland, who is not part of the Never Trump movement and declined to say who he is voting for.
According to Haugland, the committee rules for decades allowed delegates to vote as they wish until 1976, when the rules were changed. But those changes were rescinded in 1980, reverting to the previous rules that still exist today.
Burkman, a former Trump supporter and fundraiser, said he soured on the candidate after he said he was “bullied” by the Trump organization. He said Trump’s campaign spurred him to join the Never Trump movement.
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