There is some dispute over whether the Free the Delegates push has enough support on the Convention Committee on Rules to force a minority report to unbind the delegates onto the floor before the full Republican National Convention next week in Cleveland. At this point, on the cusp of the preliminary meetings of the Rules Committee, it looks close.
But what is a minority report and how would it operate as the convention gavels in next week?
At its most simple, a minority report is exactly what it sounds like. It is an outlet for a minority faction on a convention committee -- whether rules or platform, etc. -- to provide an alternative to the (majority) report passed by the committee. Both reports are then considered by the full membership of the convention.
Rule 34 of the Rules of the Republican Party lays out the mechanics. Those opposed to the rules package passed by the committee must have the support of at least a quarter of the committee. On the 112 member Rules Committee, that is 28 delegates. Now that a committee majority seems out of the question for the forces attempting unseat Donald Trump, that 28 delegate threshold has become the goal. And the Free the Delegates faction is approaching if not at or over that mark depending on who one asks.
However, the rather short rule in combination with the sequence of the convention proceedings obscures the fluidity of the rules package between now (the Rules Committee meetings) and Monday when the convention commences. And that affects the likelihood of a minority report making it out of committee and onto the floor.
While the rules of the convention (and of the party) will be considered in the Rules Committee for the next two days and will vote on a package, that package of rules recommendations will not be finalized until one last committee meeting Monday before the convention kicks off. That means that there is time for further tweaking of the rules and/or continued lobbying of delegates in the interim period. This was the same period four years ago in Tampa in which the proposal to give candidates the ability to accept or reject delegates bound to them was stripped out of the package.
That the rules can change or proposed changes can be made to draw additional support for the committee (majority) report means that the rules -- that majority report -- is something of a moving target. As a result, those behind a minority report push may not always have a handle on what they are providing an alternative to or even what their alternative should be.
Moreover, time works against a minority report in several additional ways. Those initial votes in committee on particular amendments give both sides -- majority and minority or Trump/RNC and Free the Delegates -- an idea of who is with them and who is against them. These two days of preliminary meetings, then, serve as a forum to identify those folks; to identify who needs to be whipped to support one side or the other.
This is similar to what happened earlier this week coming out of the Platform Committee. There was a push there to offer a minority report/resolution to the platform. An actual report was circulated and signed. In some cases it was unsigned. But all that did was identify who the majority need to lobby to solidify the majority and deny the minority report.
If a Rules minority report emerges early -- and really, even if it does not -- then all that does is provide the Trump/RNC contingent with time and the knowledge of who they need to convince. And because the rules package will not have seen its final committee vote, there is time to offer proposed changes to bring more folks onboard. Again, stripping out the approval/rejection provision in that interim period solidified the majority and firmed up it support heading into (what was still a somewhat contentious) floor vote in 2012.
Finally, timing is important in one other respect. If keeping a minority together in the face of the above was not difficult enough, those attempting to submit a minority report have to turn it in to either the Rules Committee chair, vice chair, secretary or the secretary of the convention within an hour following the final Monday vote. That seems easy enough. But that is four individuals in a crowded convention hall and a minority faction has to locate one of them with the clock ticking. And depending on how long that last Rules meeting lasts, that may run into the beginning session of the convention proper when the floor vote will happen. The consideration of the committee reports is the first order of business for the convention.
None of this is to suggest that the Free the Delegates faction in the committee or within the entire convention cannot succeed. However, they will have more obstacles facing them than will their opposition.
The Electoral College Map (7/13/16)
The Electoral College Map (7/12/16)
The Electoral College Map (7/11/16)