Grassroots conservatives are urgently mobilising to find ways to disrupt the Republican convention in July, such as gathering at an alternative venue, in an attempt to deny Donald Trump the presidential nomination.
Still in its infancy, the movement has sprung from a conviction that it will still be possible to “unbind” delegates attending the Cleveland convention, allowing them to vote according to their consciences rather than according to which of the candidates prevailed in their state primaries.
One group, called The Save our Party Leadership Committee, told The Independent that it wouldll call on delegates harbouring doubts about Mr Trump and his conservative credentials to refuse to enter the Quicken Loans Arena, the formal venue of the convention, assemble elsewhere and only agree to show up once all delegates have been freed to vote for whomever they choose.
These rumblings from the conservative base come at the same time as attempts have been made at a higher level in the party in recent days to draft a high-profile alternative candidate to challenge Mr Trump with a third-party bid for the presidency.
Spearheaded by the 2012 nominee Mitt Romney, the third-party push does not seem to be going anywhere. Among those who have been approached – and who have already demurred – are John Kasich, Governor of Ohio and Mr Trump’s last rival in the Republican field until he dropped out, and Mark Cuban, a business tycoon and, like Mr Trump, a reality TV host.
Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, last weekend denounced Mr Romney’s behind-the-scenes efforts as a “suicide mission" that would break the party. In the end, the efforts are probably doomed because the deadlines to get a third-party candidate on the ballots in all the states are either too close or, in the case of Texas, have already passed.
Mr Priebus angered many in the party by rushing to endorse Mr Trump within minutes of his victory in the Indiana primary two weeks ago, when Senator Ted Cruz of Texas dropped but Mr Kasich was technically still running.
“This is a grassroots movement, this is unprecedented,” Ian Bayne, a radio talk show host in Bloomington, Illinois, and now spokesman for the Save our Party Leadership group told The Independent, saying sequestering even as few as 200 delegates “in a Ramada Hotel around the corner” from the Convention proper might be enough to stop Mr Trump winning the nomination on the first round.
“What we are saying is: nothing in the rules is against this,” he explained. “And if we aren’t there (in the Quicken Loans Arena), if those delegates aren’t there, then they can’t vote. We can wait them out until the other delegates are unbound.”
The goal of Mr Bayne, who will not be a delegate himself, is first to stop Mr Trump getting the nomination and then to have the convention choose Senator Cruz in his place. “Is the purpose to stop Trump? Yes, it is,” he said clearly.
What he envisions may or may not need some radical tinkering with the rules before the convention gets under way. Erick Erickson, a popular conservative blogger, who has argued that nominating Mr Trump in Cleveland would amount to “a ritual mass suicide” for the party, says there is no need to change anything. “Multiple lawyers I know have looked at the rules and say that the delegates can unbind themselves,” Mr Erickson told the Washington Post.
But Mr Riebus is pushing back, insisting in an interview with NBC that the opposite is true. “There’s no way around it,” he said. “If a delegate is bound to a candidate, even if that delegate decides later, ‘I don’t care, I’m not voting for that person,’ the secretary at the convention will read the roll as if that delegate voted for the person that they’re bound to, period.”
If senior figures such as Mr Romney are afraid that Mr Trump may both lose in November and destroy the party in the process, the grassroots efforts such as those by Mr Bayne are more about a sense among committed conservatives that Mr Trump simply isn’t one of them. He has been flip-flopping on issues like taxing the rich and raising the minimum wage and is barely mentioning social issues they are care about. They have no such doubts about Mr Cruz.
It encourages them, meanwhile, that many from the establishment wing of the party – including former Presidents George HW Bush and George W Bush – have indicated an unwillingness even to attend the Cleveland convention, which might make it easier for them to run the show themselves. That would mean essentially hijacking the convention – a nightmare scenario for Mr Priebus.
“A lot of party of leadership aren’t coming and, because they are not going to the convention, it is going to create a power vacuum," Mr Bayne said.