The Republican National Committee was holding its final scheduled meeting this week before the party’s national convention in July, though officials were under pressure to steer clear of major convention rules changes -- which could ignite more rancor among GOP leaders and the party's presidential candidates.
The front-running Donald Trump has been the most vocal, saying party leaders have “rigged” the process in large part by allowing delegates, not voters, in such states as Colorado and Wyoming to select a candidate.
Trump, who has the most delegates but could fall short of the 1,237 needed to secure the nomination, has also complained about the convention ballot rules.
“I think it’s time for that rhetoric to stop,” Jeff Essmann, Montana’s Republican Party chairman and a delegate to the upcoming convention, told Fox News on Wednesday, the start of the four-day RNC meeting this week in Hollywood, Fla.
RNC Chairman Reince Priebus has said he wants no significant rules changes from the group and its 168 members, all of whom are delegates, at the annual spring meeting.
Priebus instead wants the convention’s rules committee to take up any changes, in an apparent attempt to extinguish the talk about establishment Republicans trying to manipulate the system.
“The consensus was that the RNC rules committee is going to specifically steer clear of any proposed convention rules changes because we don’t want the RNC perceived as somehow wanting to manipulate the process one way or another,” Peter Feaman, an RNC committee member and member of the Republican Party’s rules committee, recently told The Washington Times.
Yet one proposed change could have worked to Trump's advantage.
A firestorm earlier had erupted between the RNC and the rules committee over potentially changing which rule book would be used at the convention -- from the one used in the House of Representatives to Roberts Rules of Order, governing most town hall and other small governmental meetings.
Some on the committee wanted to pursue the change, reportedly hoping it would make it harder for GOP leaders to nominate an outside candidate.
But the RNC reportedly won’t consider switching to "Roberts Rules," in part because the change also would make it more difficult for Ohio Gov. John Kasich, in last place but an establisment favorite, to win.
“It became apparent to me during the discussions with Reince and others at the RNC that there might be an underlying political result that adherence to the House Rules achieved,” Rules Committee Chairman Bruce Ash wrote in an email, reported first by the Associated Press.
According to rules set before the 2012 race, delegates “bound” to the candidates can switch allegiance if nobody gets enough votes on the first ballot.
“Nobody can take away an election like they do in the Republican Party,” Trump railed again Tuesday night, after his decisive win the in the New York primary, in which we won at least 89 of the 125 available delegates. “It’s a crooked system and it’s rigged.”
Trump leads in the delegate count with 845, followed by Texas GOP Sen. Ted Cruz with 559 and Ohio GOP Gov. John Kasich with 148.
Cruz has virtually no chance of reaching the 1,237 mark to secure the party’s nomination before the convention, following Trump’s New York victory and ahead of his expected wins in the coming weeks in several Eastern states.
The only possibility for Kasich, who has won only his home state of Ohio, to win the nomination is a multiple-round balloting at the convention, now 90 days away in Cleveland.
Trump will not attend the RNC meeting. Cruz and Kasich were expected to attend.