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Could convention rule changes cost Trump the nomination?

If the forces opposed to Donald Trump have any hope of derailing the presumptive nominee, it would be through changes in the convention rules—rules that would free delegates from the requirement to vote on the first ballot for the candidate that got them to Cleveland—or rules that would require the nominee to win a 60 percent “supermajority” of delegate votes. Jeff Greenfield reports.

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  • 2012 DEMOCRATIC CONVENTION:

    "Mr. Chairman, the Garden State, proudly casts all its votes for the next President of the United States, Mitt Romney!"

  • JEFF GREENFIELD:

    These are the convention moments that take center stage—choosing a nominee, the speech to the nation, the circus-like celebrations.

  • SENATOR CORY BOOKER:

    "You'd like us to first vote to reconsider the amendment, then you'd like us to retract the amendment…"

  • JEFF GREENFIELD:

    And this is the stuff of which glazed eyes are made—the committee meetings that shape the party's platform, approve convention rules, and fight over credentials for the delegates.

  • JEFF GREENFIELD:

    But the fact is that what happens in those meetings often plays a critical role in what happens in arenas like this one—which has seen four conventions in recent years— and can also decide the future direction of a party.

  • JEFF GREENFIELD:

    Take the question of "rules." If the forces opposed to Donald Trump have any hope of derailing the presumptive nominee, it would be through changes in the convention rules—rules that would free delegates from the requirement to vote on the first ballot for the candidate that got them to Cleveland—or rules that would require the nominee to win a 60 percent "supermajority" of delegate votes.

  • JEFF GREENFIELD:

    And keep this in mind: if the Republicans had the same rules as the Democrats—with no "winner take all" primaries and with large numbers of "superdelegates"— unelected party insiders free to vote as they chose—Trump right now would be hundreds of delegates shy of the nomination.

  • JEFF GREENFIELD:

    Rules played a crucial role in the LAST contested Republican Convention — forty years ago. Former California Governor Ronald Reagan, challenging an incumbent President, Gerald Ford, for the nomination, was behind in delegates. So in a "Hail Mary" move, Reagan broke precedent and announced his would-be running mate—Pennsylvania Senator Richard Schweiker—in order to attract moderates into his coalition. Reagan then proposed a rule that would require all candidates to name their running mates. He hoped that any Ford pick would alienate enough delegates to deny the President a first ballot victory.

  • JEFF GREENFIELD:

    The rule—known to political junkies as 16C, narrowly failed. Ford won the nomination by the smallest of margins, but lost in November to Jimmy Carter.

  • JEFF GREENFIELD:

    Four years later, it was the Democrats' turn to end a fight with a rule. To keep Senator Ted Kennedy from pulling delegates away from President Carter, the convention passed the "bind and yank" rule: any delegate breaking his or her promise to the candidate pledged in the primaries could be pulled off the convention floor. When it passed, Kennedy's insurgency died.

  • JEFF GREENFIELD:

    In earlier times, the nomination sometimes came down to a fight over credentials—who would actually get to vote at the convention. At the 1952 Republican Convention, three states sent competing blocs of delegate—one group pledged to General Dwight Eisenhower, the other to Senator Robert Taft of Ohio. The convention machinery was wired for Taft, but the delegates gave the nod to Ike's forces—and that's what won him the nomination.

  • JEFF GREENFIELD:

    Twenty years later, in 1972, it was the Democrats turn to reject a credentials challenge to the winner-take-all California delegation of the frontrunner, Senator George McGovern, after an impassioned plea by California State Assembly Member Willie Brown:

  • WILLIE BROWN:

    "Give me back my delegation!"

  • JEFF GREENFIELD:

    Without those votes, McGovern would have fallen short on the first ballot and probably would have lost the nomination.

  • JEFF GREENFIELD:

    As for party platforms, you can measure how far apart the parties are today on social issues this way:

  • JEFF GREENFIELD:

    The last Republican platform said "the unborn child has a fundamental right to life which cannot be infringed." That language allows for no exceptions for an abortion.

  • JEFF GREENFIELD:

    This year's proposed Democratic platform says that every woman should have access to quality reproductive health care, including safe and legal abortion. That language allows for no restrictions at all.

  • JEFF GREENFIELD:

    So when the parties meet in Cleveland and Philadelphia, keep a close eye on what their platforms say, how the delegates are seated, what rules they will play by. Those could turn out to be decisive factors in who winds up in the White House next January and in the years beyond.

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