RNC rules: Insiders speak out on contested convention

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In Age of Trump, Contested Convention May Make Comeback

If no presidential candidate wins a majority of delegates and Republicans face a contested convention this summer, a small group of party insiders will have huge sway over who wins — and how to resolve a rift that could fracture the Republican Party.

After all the campaigning, debates and primaries, the GOP's presidential nomination could hinge on what these insiders decide.

The RNC Rules Committee decides party regulations and writes the first draft of convention rules, which are finalized by a convention rules committee and submitted to a floor vote.

Those rules are crucial. They decide which candidates are on the ballot: They could pass a rule allowing only Donald Trump to run in Cleveland, or a rule enabling new candidates to challenge him. They can decide how delegates vote — and when delegates can switch teams to support rival candidates. These are the kind of restrictions that could make the difference between a coronation or chaos in Cleveland.

Related: Protesters get Trump rally postponed:

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RNC rules: Insiders speak out on contested convention
CHICAGO, IL - MARCH 11: Demonstrators celebrate after it was announced that a rally with Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump at the University of Illinois at Chicago would be postponed on March 11, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. Organizers postponed the rally citing safety reasons after hundreds of demonstrators were ticketed for the event. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - MARCH 11: Demonstrators celebrate after it was announced that a rally with Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump at the University of Illinois at Chicago would be postponed on March 11, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. Organizers postponed the rally citing safety reasons after hundreds of demonstrators were ticketed for the event. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - MARCH 11: A ripped campaign poster sits on the floor after it was announced that a rally with Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump at the University of Illinois at Chicago would be postponed on March 11, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. Organizers postponed the rally citing safety reasons after hundreds of demonstrators were ticketed for the event. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - MARCH 11: Demonstrators celebrate after it was announced that a rally with Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump at the University of Illinois at Chicago would be postponed on March 11, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. Organizers postponed the rally citing safety reasons after hundreds of demonstrators were ticketed for the event. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - MARCH 11: An activist is removed by police after it was announced that a rally with Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump at the University of Illinois at Chicago would be postponed on March 11, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. Organizers postponed the rally citing safety reasons after hundreds of demonstrators were ticketed for the event. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - MARCH 11: A campaign worker guards the podium after it was announced that a rally with Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump at the University of Illinois at Chicago would be postponed on March 11, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. Organizers postponed the rally citing safety reasons after hundreds of demonstrators were ticketed for the event. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - MARCH 11: Police clear the stadium after it was announced that a rally with Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump at the University of Illinois at Chicago would be postponed on March 11, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. Organizers postponed the rally citing safety reasons after hundreds of demonstrators were ticketed for the event. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - MARCH 11: Demonstrators celebrate after it was announced that a rally with Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump at the University of Illinois at Chicago would be postponed on March 11, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. Organizers postponed the rally citing safety reasons after hundreds of demonstrators were ticketed for the event. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
A demonstrator is removed by Chicago police during a rally for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump at the UIC Pavilion in Chicago on Friday, March 11, 2016. (Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune/TNS via Getty Images)
A protestor holds a ripped Donald Trump sign up before the start of a rally for the Republican presidential candidate at the UIC Pavilion in Chicago on Friday, March 11, 2016. (Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune/TNS via Getty Images)
Protestors wearing shirts reading 'Muslims United Against Trump' are escorted out the UIC Pavilion in Chicago prior to the start of a rally for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump at the UIC Pavilion in Chicago on Friday, March 11, 2016. (Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune/TNS via Getty Images)
Supporters of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, left, face off with protesters after a rally on the campus of the University of Illinois-Chicago was cancelled due to security concerns Friday, March 11, 2016, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Protesters against Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump shout at Trump supporters after it was announced that the candidate's rally was canceled due to security concerns, on the campus of the University of Illinois-Chicago, Friday, March 11, 2016, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Protesters against Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump chant 'Bernie, Bernie, and We Stopped Trump,' after a rally on the campus of the University of Illinois-Chicago, was canceled Friday, March 11, 2016, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Protestors march in Chicago on Friday, March 11, 2016, before a rally with Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump at the University of Illinois-Chicago. (AP Photo/Matt Marton)
Protestors march in Chicago on Friday, March 11, 2016, before a rally with Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump at the University of Illinois-Chicago. (AP Photo/Matt Marton)
Protestor Sanko Hampton marches in Chicago on Friday, March 11, 2016, before a rally with Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump at the University of Illinois-Chicago. (AP Photo/Matt Marton)
Protestor Sanko Hampton displays an American flag in Chicago on Friday, March 11, 2016, before a rally with Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump at the University of Illinois-Chicago. (AP Photo/Matt Marton)
Protesters of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, right, chant after a rally on the campus of the University of Illinois-Chicago, was canceled due to security concerns Friday, March 11, 2016, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
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According to new interviews with more than a third of the 56 members of the RNC Rules Committee, these party insiders have strong views about how to run a convention.

Most say a contested convention is legitimate when no candidate has a delegate majority, but they disagree about whether there is an concerted effort to use this year's convention to stop Trump. Some say delegates have every right to overrule the preferences of Republican primary voters. Many Rules Committee members say they are comfortable with the prospect of several rounds of balloting to pick a winner this summer — and most rejected one big idea establishment Republicans have put forward for the convention.

While politicos have speculated about a new candidate swooping in to win a contested convention, such as House Speaker Paul Ryan, insiders on the RNC Rules Committee say that idea would be dead on arrival in Cleveland this July.

'World War III'

"Ridiculous — not happening," said one Rules Committee member, asked about the prospect of candidates getting on the ballot who did not run this year.

"There's no way in hell that any of these candidates — who have worked this hard and spent this much money — are going to say, 'OK, now, for the good of the party, I'll sit down and let's bring back Mitt Romney,'" said the insider. "That's a fantasy world — there's zero chance of that happening."

Another committee member said creating a path for a new candidate would lead to a party meltdown.

"Change the rules drastically you will have a problem," said the insider, who requested anonymity to discuss controversial convention scenarios. "You want to have World War III and destroy the party?"

Related: What Is a Brokered Convention? GOP Rules Favor Trump

Indeed, most of the 19 Rules Committee members reached by MSNBC opposed any rule enabling new candidates to run at the convention. Only three backed a rule allowing new candidates to run.

One of them is Steve Frias, a committee member from Rhode Island, who argues there is nothing wrong with a large number of convention delegates agreeing to offer a new candidate.

"If a majority wants to put forward a candidate, I don't see what the problem is," he told MSNBC.

Democracy Is 'Not the Way We Do It'

Some Rules Committee members worry about an effort to shape the rules in order to stop Trump.

Diana Orrock, who backs Trump, believes the RNC should intervene to stop any effort to make a contested convention more likely under the rules.

"The fact that Reince Preibus, as chair, has not come out and denounced these high-level Republican operatives who are blatantly trying to sabotage Donald Trump's campaign speaks volumes," she said. Any effort to block "the consistent GOP front-runner" at the convention, she argued, would be "shameful."

Others say it all depends on the size of Trump's lead.

"If you are fairly close and next person is 300, 400, 500 delegates down — I think you are playing with fire," said Steve Scheffler, a Rules Committee member.

"If the person is short, but not a lot short — and I don't know what the magic figure is — I think it's pretty dangerous to gang up," he said, "and say he's not the nominee."

More on Ted Cruz, who is currently second behind Trump in delegates:

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Ted Cruz on the campaign trail
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RNC rules: Insiders speak out on contested convention
STAFFORD-MARCH 1: Ted Cruz holds his victory rally at the Redneck Country Club in Stafford, Texas. On the left is his wife, Heidi and their two daughters and on the right is the Lt. Governor of Texas, Dan Patrick. (Photo by Lucian Perkins /for The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Senator Ted Cruz, a Republican from Texas and 2016 presidential candidate, stands on stage during a Super Tuesday night event in Houston, Texas, U.S., on Tuesday, March 1, 2016. Cruz said Monday in Dallas that Super Tuesday will make the Republican primary a 'two-man race,' predicting that he and Donald Trump will finish far ahead of rivals Marco Rubio, John Kasich and Ben Carson in terms of delegates. Photographer: Matthew Busch/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Senator Ted Cruz, a Republican from Texas and 2016 presidential candidate, greets attendees with his wife Heidi Cruz and children during a campaign event in San Antonio, Texas, U.S., on Monday, Feb. 29, 2016. Cruz said Monday in Dallas that Super Tuesday will make the Republican primary a 'two-man race,' predicting that he and Donald Trump will finish far ahead of rivals Marco Rubio, John Kasich and Ben Carson in terms of delegates. Photographer: Matthew Busch/Bloomberg via Getty Images *** Local Captions *** Ted Cruz; Heidi Cruz
US Republican presidential hopeful Sen. Ted Cruz speaks at a presidential campaign rally in Dallas, Texas on February 29, 2016 one day before the 'Super Tuesday' primaries. Americans in a dozen states head to the polls for a slew of primaries and caucuses March 1 on what is considered the most important day of the presidential nominations calendar. / AFP / Laura Buckman (Photo credit should read LAURA BUCKMAN/AFP/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - FEBRUARY 27: Presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, arrives for a campaign rally near the Georgia State Capitol Building in Atlanta, Ga., February 27, 2016. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
HOUSTON, TX - FEBRUARY 24: Republican presidential candidate U.S. Sen Ted Cruz (R-TX) greets people during a campaign rally at the Mach Industrial Group on February 24, 2016 in Houston, Texas. The process to select the next Democratic and Republican Presidential candidates continues. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
AMES, IA - JANUARY 30: Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) arrives at a campaign event at the Gateway Hotel on January 30, 2016 in Ames, Iowa. The Democratic and Republican Iowa Caucuses, the first step in nominating a presidential candidate from each party, will take place on February 1. (Photo by Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images)
DES MOINES, IA - JANUARY 31: Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) speaks to Iowa voters at the Iowa State Fairgrounds January 31, 2016 in Des Moines, Iowa. The U.S. presidential election kicks off tomorrow with the state's caucuses. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
HAMLIN, IA - JANUARY 30: Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) speaks at a campaign event at Darrell's Place on January 30, 2016 in Hamlin, Iowa. The Democratic and Republican Iowa Caucuses, the first step in nominating a presidential candidate from each party, will take place on February 1. (Photo by Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images)
HAMLIN, IA - JANUARY 30: Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) (C) greets an audience member as he is introduced at a campaign event at Darrell's Place on January 30, 2016 in Hamlin, Iowa. The Democratic and Republican Iowa Caucuses, the first step in nominating a presidential candidate from each party, will take place on February 1. (Photo by Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images)
Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas speaks during a campaign stop at the Freedom Country Store, Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2016, in Freedom, N.H. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, departs a campaign stop, Monday, Jan. 18, 2016, in Washington, N.H. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
Shown is Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, shadow as he speaks during a campaign stop Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2016, in Hollis, N.H. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
Delaney Anne tries to make a selfie with Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, during a campaign stop, Monday, Jan. 18, 2016, in Tilton, N.H. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
Republican Presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, campaigns at Penny's Diner in Missouri Valley, Iowa, Monday, Jan. 4, 2016. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
LAS VEGAS, NV - DECEMBER 17: Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) speaks during a campaign rally at the Siena Community Center on December 17, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Two days after participating in the fifth GOP presidential debate, Cruz began a swing through eight Super Tuesday states in five days. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks during a town hall meeting at Furman University on Monday, Dec. 7, 2015, in Greenville, S.C. (AP Photo/Rainier Ehrhardt)
Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks Saturday, Dec. 5, 2015, during the Rising Tide Summit at the US Cellular Center in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. (AP Photo/Scott Morgan)
Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas speaks to supporters on the Statehouse steps in Concord, N.H., Thursday, Nov. 12, 2015, after filing papers to be on the nation's earliest presidential primary ballot. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)
WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 03: Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) leads a moment of silence for victims of the San Bernardino shooting prior to his address to the Republican Jewish Coalition at Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center December 3, 2015 in Washington, DC. Candidates spoke and took questions from Jewish leaders and activists. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, shops for jewelry from ChildVoice International with his daughters Catherine, left, and Caroline during a campaign stop at the Deerfield Fair Friday, Oct. 2, 2015, in Deerfield, N.H. ChildVoice International is a non-profit organization seeking to restore the voices of children silenced by war.(AP Photo/Jim Cole)
Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump, right, speaks with fellow Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, during a rally opposing the Iran nuclear deal outside the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2015. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
Senator Ted Cruz, a Republican from Texas and 2016 presidential candidate, speaks during a Tea Party Patriots rally against the Iran nuclear deal on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2015. A revolt among U.S. House Republicans delayed action on the Iran nuclear deal today as some members insisted they aren't bound by a Sept. 17 deadline in their efforts to kill the agreement. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Republican presidential candidate Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, center, right, posses for a photo with Timothy Lewis after a campaign event at the Stockyards in Forth Worth, Texas, Thursday, Sept. 3, 2015. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
Photographed through attendees, Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks at the Americans for Prosperity Road to Reform event Friday, Aug. 14, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
DES MOINES, IA - AUGUST 21: Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) speaks to supporters at his Religious Liberty Rally on August 21, 2015 in Des Moines, Iowa. Earlier in the day Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) visited and spoke to guests at the Iowa State Fair. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Senator Ted Cruz, a Republican from Texas and 2016 presidential candidate, speaks at the Iowa State Fair Soapbox in Des Moines, Iowa, U.S., on Friday, Aug. 21, 2015. A day after Jimmy Carter appeared on national television to talk about the cancer that's ravaging his body, Cruz criticized the former president's administration in a speech in Iowa. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Senator Ted Cruz, a Republican from Texas and 2016 presidential candidate, eats a pork chop at the Iowa Pork Producers tent during the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines, Iowa, U.S., on Friday, Aug. 21, 2015. A day after Jimmy Carter appeared on national television to talk about the cancer that's ravaging his body, Cruz criticized the former president's administration in a speech in Iowa. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Senator Ted Cruz, a Republican from Texas and 2016 presidential candidate, speaks at the Rally for Religious Liberty in Des Moines, Iowa, U.S., on Friday, Aug. 21, 2015. A day after Jimmy Carter appeared on national television to talk about the cancer that's ravaging his body, Republican presidential candidate Cruz criticized the former president's administration in a speech in Iowa. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images
UNITED STATES - AUGUST 8: Presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) spends a few moments with his daughter Catherine before the start of the Cruz bus tour rally in a field behind Sprayberry's BBQ in Newnan, Ga., on Saturday, Aug. 8, 2015. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Texas Senator Ted Cruz participates in the Republican presidential primary debate on August 6, 2015 at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. AFP PHOTO / MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JULY 29: Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, awaits for the elevator doors to close as he arrives in the basement of the Capitol, July 29, 2015. (Photo By Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 28: Republican presidential candidate, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) speaks during a Anti-abortion rally opposing federal funding for Planned Parenthood in front of the U.S. Capitol July 28, 2015 in Washington, DC. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) announced a Senate deal to vote on legislation to defund Planned Parenthood before the Senate goes into recess in August. (Photo by Olivier Douliery/Getty Images)
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks to reporters following a rare Sunday Senate session on Capitol Hill in Washington, Sunday, July 26, 2015. Senior Senate Republicans lined up Sunday to rebuke Cruz for attacking Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, an extraordinary display of intraparty division played out live on the Senate floor. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
WASHINGTON, USA - JULY 23: Republican Presidential Candidate Senator Ted Cruz speaks out against the nuclear deal with Iran during a demonstration that was interrupted by counter protestors in Lafayette Park across the the street from the White House in Washington, DC on July 23, 2015. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Senator Ted Cruz, a Republican from Texas and 2016 U.S. presidential candidate, speaks during The Family Leadership Summit in Ames, Iowa, U.S., on Saturday, July 18, 2015. The sponsor, The FAMiLY LEADER, is a 'pro-family, pro-marriage, pro-life organization which champions the principle that God is the ultimate leader of the family.' Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images
AMES, IA - JULY 18: Republican presidential hopeful Senator Ted Cruz of Texas fields questions at The Family Leadership Summit at Stephens Auditorium on July 18, 2015 in Ames, Iowa. According to the organizers the purpose of The Family Leadership Summit is to inspire, motivate, and educate conservatives. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Senator Ted Cruz, a Republican from Texas and 2016 presidential candidate, stands outside while waiting to speak during the Faith and Freedom Coalition's 'Road to Majority' legislative luncheon in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, June 18, 2015. The annual Faith & Freedom Coalition Policy Conference gives top-tier presidential contenders as well as long shots a chance to compete for the large evangelical Christian base in the crowded Republican primary contest. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 04: Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) participates in a Judiciary Subcommittee hearing on the Affordable Care Act on Capitol Hill June 4, 2015 in Washington, DC. The hearing is billed as 'Rewriting The Law, Examining the Process That Led to the ObamaCare Subsidy Rule'. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Senator Ted Cruz, a Republican from Texas and 2016 presidential candidate, speaks during a press conference at the Hampton Inn and Suites in Seneca, South Carolina, U.S., on Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2016. Cruz says Donald Trump sent his lawyers cease and desist letters over a Cruz campaign ad that portrays Trump as pro-choice saying that if the Cruz campaign doesn't pull ad, they'll see immediate legal action to prevent the continued broadcast of this ad, according to Cruz. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images
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Other RNC members dispute the idea, however, that a contested convention reflects any orchestrated effort to stop Trump. These Republicans stress that the rules dictate it takes 1,237 delegates to clinch the nomination — so either someone wins those delegates, or there is no official nominee.

"I've heard people say, 'If one candidate — whether it's Trump or Cruz — goes in with a plurality, your duty is to vote for the one with a plurality,'" said one committee member, incredulously.

"The hell it is! You've got to win a majority — if you don't have a majority, let's chat," said this insider, conjuring negotiations with the campaigns.

Another committee member, Zori Fonalledas, said the convention also gives delegates a chance to change their mind.

"Maybe the delegates that voted for Trump can now change their mind — a lot has happened," she said, "it's really delegates will elect the candidate."

Related: Paul Ryan Calls Trump's 'Riots' Comment 'Unacceptable'

Curly Haugland, a North Dakota committee member, echoed that view, arguing the whole point of the convention is for delegates to pick the nominee. "Do the primaries choose a nominee or do the convention delegates?" he asked. "It can't be both."

"Democracy is pretty popular," he added, "but it's simply not the way we do it." Haugland has long advocated for the party to play a bigger role than public primaries in selecting the nominee.

Henry Barbour, a Rules Committee member from Mississippi, stressed there is nothing exceptional, let alone unfair, about following the party's procedure for a primary that ends without a candidate clinching the nomination.

"The rules are plain: You have to get a majority of the delegates," he said, noting that if no candidate wins them before the convention, "we have a process in place and the delegates vote."

"Trump doesn't get a pass just because he has 100 more delegates than anyone else — if he can't convince a majority of delegates to vote for him, he's not going to be the nominee," said Barbour, who endorsed Marco Rubio.

"That's the process, the process is fair, it's been around for decades," he added, "and we shouldn't change it for the head of Trump University."

The nuance in this narrative boils down to whether convention voting is seen as a special ploy to "stop Trump" — or the inevitable, dictated result of a primary season where no candidate clinched a delegate majority.

Several members of the Rules Committee say it is not accurate to suggest this year's approach is any different in response to Trump's candidacy.

"Here is where I disagree with Mark Levin and Sean Hannity," says RNC member Peter Feaman. "I am on the Rules Committee, and there has never been a move to disenfranchise any candidate in any way," he told MSNBC. "We have never had any discussions about rules to halt Donald Trump."

New Rules

At every convention, the rules are set and finalized by the two rules committees, and rules used in past conventions are typically amended.

Whether this year's convention allows votes for vote leaders like Trump and Cruz, or also John Kasich and others, depends on the rules set for the convention.

Sean Spicer, the RNC Communications Director, says the party leadership has no position on who should be on the ballot in a contested convention.

"The RNC's position is the delegates and members of the Rules Committee will decide what the rules of the convention will be," he told MSNBC.

Still, some Rules Committee members worry that in the current climate, even legitimate rule proposals could be seen as unfair "changes" when offered before this convention. Donald Trump has been stoking that concern, darkly predicting "you'd have riots" if he somehow loses the nomination at the convention.

"You can't change the rules three-quarters of the way into game — that's not fair," says another Rules Committee member. This insider, who backs Cruz, argued that only he and Trump should be on the convention ballot, since that is the basic choice facing the party.

Another member of the committee, Dr. Ada Fisher, disagrees. "I think that anybody who gets one delegate should be on the ballot and counted — that's democracy," she told MSNBC.

Randy Evans, a Georgia Rules Committee member, is skeptical about establishing any rules that would be seen as last-minute changes. "I'm not a big fan of changing the rules mid-stream," he said.

Evans argues if Trump, or any candidate, has a commanding delegate lead "heading into the convention," that person should be the nominee. Solomon Yue, an Oregon committee member, says the approach to rulemaking at the convention should demonstrate "fairness" and respect for the "rule of law."

Romney Precedent

Apart from the current candidates, some RNC members have a bitter aftertaste from an obscure skirmish over rules at the 2012 convention. Romney backers raised the bar for how candidates could qualify on the convention ballot, in order to avoid any symbolic floor votes for Ron Paul.

"I really didn't like what happened in 2012," says committee member Peter Feaman. "The Romney folks silenced it with the rule change — we didn't need to do this, and it alienated the Ron Paul supporters — and for what? It was like taking a fly off someone's forehead with an ax," he said.

When those rules were brought to a voice vote on the floor, the delegates cries of "no" sounded about as loud as the "yes" votes, according to a review of the footage.

Speaker Boehner deemed the voice vote a yes, though, and the rules were adopted. As some delegates would later complain, the official teleprompter even scripted Boehner saying the "ayes have it" before the vote occurred (the moment was caught on tape).

The new Speaker, Paul Ryan, will chair this year's convention, a role he mentioned Thursday while noting there's a "perception" that an "open convention" is likely.

Feaman, a rules committee member from Florida, argued it is especially important for the convention to advance a fair and transparent process this year, when there could be intense wrangling by the campaigns. Asked if any presidential campaigns have already contacted him about the rules process, Feaman paused for a long time, and then declined to comment.

Dianna Orrock, the Nevada committee member backing Trump, predicts that rule raising the bar for getting on a convention ballot — Rule 40 — will now be a point of contention if there is a contested convention.

"That rules change is coming back to bite them now," she said, "I have no doubt that in this summer's Rules Committee meeting, that's going to be one of the rules changes they're going to try to change."

If Rule 40 were applied, Trump is the only candidate who would currently qualify for a convention ballot right now — candidates need to have a majority of delegates in eight states.

Current and former RNC officials stress, however, that Rule 40 was drafted only for the 2012 convention — when the nominee was known — while this year, a fair rule for getting on the ballot would be written differently.

While the rules are made for each convention, some Rules Committee members say changing the ballot threshold now could look like a bid to shape who wins. For a rule listed as "temporary" in the RNC Rulebook, Rule 40 might cast a long shadow.

Morton Blackwell, a rules committee member from Virginia who has served on every Convention Rules Committee since 1972, led an effort to change Rule 40 before this year's primaries began, which he recounted in a recent post on RedState, a conservative blog.

By failing to adjust the rules before the primaries began, he warned, the RNC has now opened itself up to a situation where "every proposed rule change will be evaluated by the effect it would have on the respective candidates" — not its logic or fairness.

It is now unlikely, he argued, that the party can advance a process where rules are established "dispassionately based on what is fair and best for our party."

Another Rules Committee member, speaking anonymously, alluded to that emerging political reality. This insider imagined the pressure on the final rules package that will emerge from the Convention Rules Committee, comprised of delegates from every state.

"Nobody knows for certain what the rules are going to be coming out of that Rules Committee," the RNC member said, "that will be ground zero for all of these candidates."

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