GOP Convention Floor Fight Brewing as Delegates Mull Going Rogue

Delegates could protest if they think their votes aren't counted correctly.

ByABC News
July 13, 2016, 5:38 PM

CLEVELAND -- There may not be a contested convention, but the Republican National Convention may have a floor fight on its hands, even if efforts to change the rules fail, according to a group pressing for delegates to "vote their conscience" during next week's nationally televised roll call.

Delegates Unbound, a group insisting that delegates may already vote for the candidate of their choice as their party's presidential nominee, has set up shop in downtown Cleveland, just blocks from where those delegates will cast their votes on the floor of the Quicken Loans Arena next week.

In an interview in the group's nerve center, a room scattered with empty coffee cups and doughnut boxes, Dane Waters, the head of the group, told ABC News that even if last-ditch attempts to change the rules fail, the roll call vote on the floor of the GOP convention won't be "some quiet little rodeo."

"These individuals are extremely passionate about the right to vote their conscience," he said. "So I can't imagine that people are going to sit around and not do anything."

Members of Delegates Unbound have been working out of its office for 20 days, trying to educate delegates that if they don't want to vote for Trump, they don't have to. The Republican National Committee disagrees, saying the delegates are bound under the current rules.

Waters pointed to Rule 37(b), which allows delegates to object if they believe their vote was not announced correctly by their state delegation's leader.

"If a delegate feels that the state delegation chair has not properly represented their vote, then that individual has the right to object and demand that their vote be corrected," he said.

"Most people are not going to sit around and say, 'OK, that's OK,'" he said.

Despite this claim, the GOP convention's current rules state that the secretary must record the vote in line with the delegation's binding, regardless of the tally announced by the state's delegation chair.

A group that is partnering with Delegates Unbound is trying to force a vote on the convention floor on a new rule that would unbind the delegates. The group must win over 28 members of the powerful, 112-member convention rules committee to support the cause.

At a meeting today, the GOP's top lawyer dismissed efforts to persuade delegates at the convention to vote their conscience, saying that emails from anti-Trump forces are "not true."

"All of y'all have undoubtedly received emails that begin with the sentence 'No delegate is bound.' That's not true," said general counsel John Ryder during a five-minute address to Republican National Committee members this afternoon.

The address was a shorter version of remarks Ryder delivered at the Republican National Convention's rules panel Tuesday, a sign that top Republicans are making serious efforts to quash potential uprisings before they erupt on the floor during the nationally televised roll call. Ryder joked to the audience, "There's an old hymn that some of you may be familiar with, 'Blessed be the ties that bind.'"

"That may be the theme song of this convention," he said.

"The [convention] rules permit and require the binding of delegates. Those rules are in effect in this convention, and as long as those rules remain the rules, the delegates remain bound," he added.

Despite these warnings, Waters said a victory for his group's effort would be not merely the incredibly difficult task of getting Donald Trump off the GOP ticket. Waters said, "This is much bigger than just Donald Trump," and he sees three possible wins for stop-Trump forces.

The first would be that "delegates do vote their conscience and not try to be manipulated or guided or pushed by the [Republican National Committee] and the Trump campaign," Waters said.

A second win would be if "delegates stand up and make it clear that not everyone is in lockstep with Donald Trump," Waters said, and that's where the thinks the floor could get rowdy.

The third would be the most difficult, if not impossible, but one the never-Trump camp has sought for months.

"No. 3 is that the delegates freely choose if they are allowed to freely choose. Then, in my opinion, Donald Trump will not be the nominee," Waters said.

ABC News' Noah Fitzgerel contributed to this report.

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