No contest, but convention could still be contentious

US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump greeting supporters during a rally in Eugene, Oregon on May 6, 2016.
US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump greeting supporters during a rally in Eugene, Oregon on May 6, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK • There will be no contested convention this year. But that doesn't mean it won't get contentious.

Mr Donald Trump will most likely emerge from the Republican National Convention in Cleveland as the party's presidential nominee, but what could unfold there come July 18 still raises some question marks.

Potential hazards he could face during the four days include hostile delegates suspicious of his conservatism and keen to thwart his candidacy. Many are well-versed in the parliamentary process that establishes the convention's rules and programme, so any of them looking to make trouble certainly could try.

Here are some wild cards that could roil the event in Cleveland:


Delegates are under no obligation to vote for Mr Trump's vice-presidential candidate. That vote is held separately and, if enough delegates object for any reason, they could vote the nomination down. Some conservatives have demanded Mr Trump name his running mate well before the convention. Many delegates suspect he is not a sincere conservative, and they want him to choose someone they trust.


Tensions between factions could surface through the process of assembling the party's platform, the document that spells out its policy positions. In a contentious convention, conservatives could look to insert new language to take a hard line on issues Mr Trump has not made central to his campaign.

This could come in the form of a plank on transgender rights and the use of bathrooms, now a touchy issue with social conservatives. Mr Trump has said he thinks it is unnecessary to pass laws to restrict bathroom use by people who identify with a gender different from their sex at birth. Social conservatives who oppose him could argue such laws are needed to protect children.

And Mr Trump could try to make things uncomfortable. He could, say, insist on including language that disavows trade deals he loathes - something sure to rankle free-trade Republicans but stir passions among his supporters.


Senator Ted Cruz of Texas has a large and loyal following eager to hear from him on the party's biggest stage. He gets to deliver a speech, but Mr Trump gets to decide if that happens in prime time or in lonely daytime viewing hours.

If Mr Cruz releases his delegates to vote for Mr Trump - something he has pointedly not done - Mr Trump could agree to give him a marquee billing at the convention.

Mr Cruz could hold on to his nearly 600 delegates. And most of them would probably have to vote for him at the convention under the party's binding rules - an embarrassing affront to Mr Trump.


Mr Trump's challenge in running a convention with hostile delegates is like nothing seen in recent election cycles. The nearest it got to rowdy was in 2012, when a small number of Ron Paul delegates revolted.

Mr Cruz probably wants more than just a speech, as he hinted by urging his delegates to push the platform in a more conservative direction. His cooperation, and the Trump campaign's willingness to negotiate, will set the tone.


Rules and procedures at the convention can be modified or discarded to suit the delegates. Anything dramatic seems unlikely - such as a move by those hostile to Mr Trump to change the rules to deny him the nomination - but it is possible.

Mr Trump could be stopped with just a single-word change requiring the nominee to receive a supermajority of votes rather than the majority now needed. He himself floated changing majority to plurality when it was not clear he would win the 1,237 delegates he needed.

Delegate Curly Haugland of North Dakota said in an interview he would propose a new rule to allow any candidate with one delegate to be entered into nomination.

Right now, only Mr Trump and Mr Cruz will be formally entered as the rules require candidates to win at least eight states. More names in nomination would mean fewer votes for Mr Trump, and the remote possibility that he could be denied the majority he needs to prevent a second ballot. After that, as unlikely as it seems now, all bets would be off.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 16, 2016, with the headline 'No contest, but convention could still be contentious'. Print Edition | Subscribe