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By John Ubaldi
Contributor, In Homeland Security
Having secured the Republican nomination for President in June four weeks ahead of his Democratic challenger Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump has had a rocky and often chaotic campaign. Trump’s undisciplined and off-the-rails campaign has many Republicans nervous about his chances in November, and there are more than a few murmurs about possibly replacing him on the GOP ticket.
Republicans Nervous about Trump’s Campaign Strategy
Trump’s unruly behavior has stunned many Republican political experts. After Trump secured the nomination, he attacked U.S. federal Judge Gonzalo Curiel over his Mexican heritage. Trump expressed his belief of Curiel’s perceived bias while Curiel adjudicated a class-action lawsuit regarding Trump University and Trump himself.
The Republican leadership was also dismayed last month when Trump attacked the Gold Star parents of Captain Humayun Khan, a Muslim-American killed in Iraq. Trump leveled venom at the Khan family over remarks they made at the Democratic National Convention in regard to Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric.
Trump further perplexed Republicans by lashing out at members of his own party. Earlier this month, Trump launched a verbal tirade against Republican Speaker of the House Republican Paul Ryan, who rebuked Trump for his attack on the Khan family. Top Republicans were confused about why Trump would attack Ryan and lose the opportunity to confront Clinton over policy differences.
Trump has not only attacked Paul Ryan but also Republican Senator Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona. Last summer, Trump claimed that McCain was not a war hero because McCain was a prisoner of war during Vietnam.
Republican National Security Strategists Do Not Support Trump
If the attacks on Curiel, the Khans and fellow Republicans weren’t bad enough, Trump has demonstrated his lack of global knowledge to his party and they show no confidence in his fitness to be the next president. Last Monday, over 50 senior Republican national security strategists signed a letter that Trump “lacks the character, values and experience” to be president and “would put at risk our country’s national security and well-being.”
The letter stated that a Trump presidency would weaken the U.S. globally and questioned his lack of knowledge and understanding of the U.S. Constitution. The letter notes that Trump has “demonstrated repeatedly that he has little understanding” of the nation’s “vital national interests, its complex diplomatic challenges, its indispensable alliances and the democratic values” on which American policy should be based. And it laments, “Mr. Trump has shown no interest in educating himself.”
This letter could benefit Trump because his supporters disdain the establishment. However, it leaves many people queasy about Trump’s campaign strategy.
Republican Party’s Huge Dilemma
Trump’s unfocused campaign places the Republican Party in a dilemma. Do they move forward with him or find a suitable replacement? The Real Clear Politics average of polls shows Clinton winning in all but one key battleground state.
If Trump continues to run his campaign in an undisciplined manner in the coming weeks and falls further behind Hillary Clinton in the polls, will the Republican Party replace Trump as their nominee? If Trump remains the nominee and loses in November, the Republicans could lose the Senate and the House of Representative to the Democratic Party.
The unfortunate part is that deciding what to do about Trump is not easy or clear. Any action taken by the Republican Party would be unprecedented in our nation’s history.
Republican Party Rules for Replacing a Candidate
Rules set up by the Republican National Committee in filling vacancies in nominations state in Rule 9: “The Republican National Committee is hereby authorized and empowered to fill any and all vacancies which may occur by reason of death, declination, or otherwise of the Republican candidate for President of the United States or the Republican candidate for Vice President of the United States, as nominated by the national convention, or the Republican National Committee may reconvene the national convention for the purpose of filling any such vacancies.”
How would the Republicans proceed if Trump withdraws or is forced out by the Republican Party? In a Daily Beast article by Jay Michaelson, Nathaniel Persily, a Stanford law professor and a preeminent scholar of election law, describes three distinct strategies that the Republican Party could use to force Trump out of the election.
The first scenario involves the Republican Party’s own rules. The Republican Party could act on Rule 9 and call for a new convention. This action is hardly likely due to high costs and difficult logistics; the easier way would be to cast votes remotely. Persily reinforces this idea, saying, “You can either redo the convention or, more likely, the RNC itself would just re-nominate a candidate.”
If the Republic Party gets rid of Trump, the party moves into uncharted territory. Since the RNC’s Rule 9 uses the term “otherwise” to explain how they could get rid of a candidate, what does that mean in practical terms?
Does this rule allow the RNC to come up with any plausible reason to dump Trump? Could Republicans say that Trump is mentally unfit for the presidency, as President Obama stated at a White House news conference?
Trump would no doubt fight the idea that he was mentally unfit to the end. This idea would go against his ego and lead to a huge legal battle.
Persily notes that RNC potentially has the power to eliminate Trump even without his consent. The RNC could then use a majority vote to fill the vacancy.
Would the RNC choose Mike Pence as a replacement? Pence was voted to be the nominee as Vice President at the Republican convention. While Pence’s nomination was for a separate office, he could be removed by the same process.
However, calling Pence an unfit candidate would be improbable. Who would the RNC choose after Pence? Maybe Speaker of the House Paul Ryan?
With the vagueness of the word “otherwise” in the Republican Party’s own rules, it’s possible to replace Trump whether or not Trump drops out of the race.
State ballot rules would impact the second scenario of what to do about Trump. Right now, Trump’s name is on the ballots in all 50 states and each state has different laws and deadlines.
For example, North Carolina requires candidate names to be certified by August 5 and Arkansas and Oklahoma require names to be certified by August 10. Similarly, Delaware asks for certification the week after the national convention takes place. So even if the RNC votes to replace Trump, it is too late to remove Trump’s name from the ballot in those states.
Presidential elections vary from other elections; voters don’t elect presidential candidates directly. Voters in each state choose electors, who then vote for the president via the Electoral College.
Then there is a third and final set of rules, where the situation could become very ugly.
Let’s say Trump quits before the election. The RNC meets and quickly places Paul Ryan on the ballot. Voting for Trump would be voting for Ryan. The question is whether state electors are pledged to the individual candidate or to the party that nominated him or her.
Persily explains this process: “Would Donald Trump’s electors be able to vote for someone else in the Electoral College? Most states say yes—you vote for whoever the party has nominated.”
In some states, electors must vote for their candidate. But the vast majority of the states stipulate that it doesn’t matter who the candidate is; the electors have to vote for the candidates of the political party they represent.
The Time to Replace Trump Is Running Out
The Republican Party doesn’t have much time to decide. The longer they wait, the messier the process becomes. In theory, the Republic Party could wait to choose a Trump replacement until the day of the election. But that delay is fraught with danger and would be chaotic, to say the least.
This whole presidential election has been one messy and chaotic process. The chaos seems likely to continue until a candidate wins the election.