RNC moves to keep 2016 platform intact through 2024, controversies and all

The party’s 2016 platform will remain in effect through 2024.

June 12, 2020, 6:50 PM

Nearly four years ago, the Republican Party, on their way to nominating Donald Trump, adopted a strict, conservative platform around issues of gender and sexual orientation in Cleveland, Ohio, against the efforts by some of the party’s more moderate faction to soften the language.

Now, the Republican National Committee moved this week to simply allow that 2016 platform to stand for the next four years, instead of working to approve a new one - a decision that is roiling some Republicans who argue that the old platform is outdated and not reflective of the current views of the president or the party.

"The Republican Party is changing," said Charles T. Moran, managing director of the Log Cabin Republicans, a national conservative organization that supports gay and lesbian rights. "I know we say that every year when we talk about the platform. But again, the demonstrable evidence that we have now is so much more than we've ever had in the past."

Even the president, after the RNC voted this week, further muddled the considerations over the party's platform by insisting he prefers a new one.

"The Republican Party has not yet voted on a Platform. No rush. I prefer a new and updated Platform, short form, if possible," he tweeted on Friday,

In 2016, led by religious conservatives exerting significant influence over the party’s social planks, Republicans, after some wrangling, ultimately approved a rigid definition of marriage and family as between a man and a woman, and incensed some members of the party over homosexuality and conversion therapy.

The move more broadly signaled the party’s rightward shift towards the evangelical wing, but certain aspects of the 66-page document, mainly the party’s more socially conservative positions, fell even to the right of Trump.

Despite the more controversial positions inscribed in the party’s platform, two months before the party is set to hold Trump’s 2020 nominating convention split between two cities due to the limitations of the coronavirus and the incumbent president’s desire for a full coronation ceremony, the party’s 2016 platform will remain in effect through 2024.

PHOTO: Republican nominee Donald Trump celebrates after the Republican Convention, July 21, 2016 at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio.
Republican nominee Donald Trump celebrates after the Republican Convention, July 21, 2016 at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio.
Brooks Kraft/Getty Images

Late Wednesday night, the RNC’s executive committee unanimously approved procedures outlining the plans for a significantly pared down convention in Charlotte, N.C., in which only the official business of the convention will take place. The president’s acceptance speech will be held in Jacksonville, Fla., the RNC announced on Thursday.

Part of the procedures state that only the credentials committee will meet in Charlotte, and that the two other committees, including the platform committee, will not convene, meaning that the 2016 platform, with "no changes," will serve as the party’s platform through the next four years.

The impetus behind the RNC’s decision to allow for the 2016 platform to remain in effect, rather than attempt to pass a new one, was to thwart the possibility of a small body of delegates gathering in Charlotte passing an entirely new platform on behalf of all of the delegates, a Republican familiar with the decision said.

The rest of the party’s delegates won’t be meeting in Charlotte, as the Republican said, because of the North Carolina governor’s current orders to combat the coronavirus.

"So in the absence of the platform committee convening to pass a new platform, the 2016 one remains in effect," the Republican said.

Carrying over the platform from 2016, back when President Barack Obama was still in office, leaves dozens of criticisms of the "current administration" and the "current president" - another consequence of keeping the language from four years ago.

"That same provision of law is now being used by bureaucrats — and by the current President of the United States — to impose a social and cultural revolution upon the American people by wrongly redefining sex discrimination to include sexual orientation or other categories," the 2016 platform states of Title IX, the federal law barring sex discrimination on college campuses.

In 2016, the party’s platform committee drafted and ratified a document that drew a hard-line on LGBTQ rights, defining marriage as a union "between one man and one woman," rebuffing the Supreme Court’s landmark decision on same-sex marriage by adding "we do not accept the Supreme Court’s redefinition of marriage and we urge its reversal," and putting religious freedom above condemning anti-gay discrimination.

"We oppose government discrimination against businesses or entities which decline to sell items or services to individuals for activities that go against their religious views about such activities," adding that businesses and agencies "should not be forced to choose between following their faith and practicing their profession."

The platform also included, "We support the right of parents to determine the proper medical treatment and therapy for their minor children," which at the time, unsettled the Log Cabin Republicans.

PHOTO: Rainbow-colored lights shine on the White House to celebrate today's US Supreme Court ruling in favor of same-sex marriage June 26, 2015 in Washington, DC.
Rainbow-colored lights shine on the White House to celebrate today's US Supreme Court ruling in favor of same-sex marriage June 26, 2015 in Washington, DC.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

In a letter to members after the draft platform appeared, the former president of the group, Gregory T. Angelo, wrote that the tenet is "an endorsement of the debunked psychological practice of 'pray the gay away.'"

"There’s no way to sugar-coat this: I’m mad as hell," he wrote.

But the platform, a formal blueprint of the party’s policies, priorities, and vision, is largely written for the party’s loyalists and is functionally non-binding.

Some Republicans, who strongly disagree with elements of the 2016 platform, don't view the move by the executive committee to leave the platform in place until 2024 as final.

"I still think there's some room for negotiation about what that's going to look like," Moran told ABC News.

Moran said he does believe that by late August, when the Republican convention is set to take place, there won't be just a "wholesale rollover" of the 2016 platform, which he called a "stink bomb." Instead, he said, there will either be an "additional document" from the administration or the national party, or the platform will be nixed altogether. "I mean, we don't have to have a platform," he said.

"The president clearly does not support the 2016 platform. There's a lot in it that is just, I mean it's worse than the 2012 platform, and it's not just on LGBT issues," he asserted. "There's stuff in there about Ukraine that Paul Manafort had shoved in there...I think you saw that there has been a consistent effort from this administration to reform that."

The RNC did not respond to ABC News' requests for a response about whether the executive committee vote was final, or if the door is still open for further updates to the platform including a potential addendum, as Moran mentioned.

At the same time, the committee touted the president's achievements for the LGBTQ community, putting distance between Trump and the platform's guiding principles. On Thursday, the RNC released a memo, timed with Pride month, outlining the president's "unprecedented steps" for the LGBTQ community, from appointing the first openly gay person to a cabinet-level position to keeping Obama-era protections for LGBTQ workers in federal agencies.

Rick Wilson, a GOP strategist and co-founder of the Lincoln Project, an anti-Trump super PAC, told ABC News that he thinks the platform will change at Trump's impulse.

"So whatever he does on impulse at the last second is what's going to happen at the committee," Wilson said. "The platform should have been recast well before 2016 into something more sensible."

Wilson asserted that although the platform is the official stance of the party and the presidency, it usually translates little into policy decisions.

"Platform never means anything. It never means anything, because it doesn't really ever translate to legislative action. It is to make interest groups and constituencies inside the parties feel good about themselves," he said. "There are some things in the platform that are very backwards. And gay marriage is one of them. Marijuana is one of them."

Beyond the socially conservative stances within the document, one of the most controversial aspects came from the Trump campaign.

In 2016, Paul Manafort, then the chair of the Trump campaign, tucked a controversial change into the Republican platform during the July convention, regarding the U.S. providing arms to Ukraine.

PHOTO: Donald Trump is seen on stage with Paul Manafort on the final day of the Republican National Convention at Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland, Ohio, July 21, 2016.
Donald Trump is seen on stage with Paul Manafort on the final day of the Republican National Convention at Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland, Ohio, July 21, 2016.
Mark Reinstein/Getty Images

The platform revision occurred as the Republican National Convention got underway in Cleveland. On July 18, party insiders took the unusual step of watering down its formal position on whether the U.S. should help protect Ukraine from Russian incursions – a move viewed as a surprising concession to the Russian government at a time of tension in Ukraine.

The platform change took place during the Republican convention organized by Manafort, who had previously worked for a pro-Russian Ukrainian political party.

The president shrugged off the notion that he was involved in tweaking the platform in an interview with ABC News’s George Stephanopoulos during the summer of 2016.

"I wasn't involved in that. Honestly, I was not involved," Trump said at the time.

Trump was asked by former special counsel Robert Mueller, during his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, about the platform change, according to sources familiar with the president’s responses, and he responded to the written questions from Mueller’s team that he was not aware of the platform change to the best of his recollection.

In late May of this year, Axios reported that the president’s son-in-law and senior advisor, Jared Kushner, was leading an effort by the Trump campaign to win over voters by seeking to overhaul the GOP’s platform, including some of the language that appears to be about conversion therapy that was drafted in 2016.

The Trump campaign did not respond to requests for comment about the platform.

The decision by the executive committee comes after stalled discussions between the president and North Carolina's Democratic governor over restrictions to safely host a large-scale event in the midst of the coronavirus.

Republican officials, who requested Gov. Roy Cooper approve the party's outline for a safe, yet "full scale" convention, which involved 19,000 delegates, alternate delegates, staff, volunteers, elected officials and guests inside the Spectrum Center, were met with a rebuff. The rift between the RNC and Democratic leaders in North Carolina ultimately led to the GOP moving the celebration to Florida.

Only about 336 delegates, are expected to appear in Charlotte, a fraction of the thousands of delegates and alternates at a typical convention, according to the new procedures approved Wednesday night, and for those delegates not present, they can designate one of the delegates present as a proxy to cast their vote for the nominations.

ABC News' Will Steakin and John Santucci contributed reporting.