WASHINGTON—Some major conservative leaders have secured over $200 million to present Donald Trump with the choice of running on a conservative agenda or losing November’s election.
Many thought the NeverTrump movement would dissolve following Trump’s win in Indiana, after which his only remaining rivals, Ted Cruz and John Kasich, dropped out of the presidential race. Instead, while many anti-Trump leaders have resigned themselves to the billionaire’s nomination, others are pursuing an aggressive campaign which some of them think could deny both Trump and Hillary Clinton the White House.
Ken Blackwell—a senior adviser to the Our Principles PAC who served thirty years in various elected and presidentially appointed offices at both the federal and state level, as well as chaired a national presidential campaign—has had discussions with the persons organizing and funding this effort. While Blackwell has said he has not bought into this effort, he has not endorsed Trump, either.
“I agree with these folks that Trump is no conservative, and he’s more interested in redefining the Republican Party than in unifying it,” Blackwell explained. “I believe he is self-centered enough, and wants a win this election enough, that these folks can get his attention and perhaps find common ground. If not, he’ll have a problem this November.”
“The goal is to get the Republican Party unified as a party offering constitutionally limited government and free markets to America.” The problem, according to Blackwell, is, “Trump is not running as a conservative. And he cannot win without the conservative base.”
While some NeverTrump people are 100-percent opposed to Trump and vow not to change their position, others think Trump may be willing to make a deal with the conservative GOP base regarding the Supreme Court, party platform, and other top priorities.
The “Twelfth Amendment” Option
The U.S. president is elected by the 538 members of the Electoral College, not a popular vote of the American people. Under Article II, Section 3 of the Constitution, if no candidate for president earns a majority of the Electoral College (270 votes), then the U.S. House of Representatives elects the president. When doing so, each state gets only one vote, so the House members of each state internally vote to decide which way that state will vote, and whoever gets most of the 50 votes becomes the president.
That was how Thomas Jefferson became president in 1800. No candidate gained a majority, and the U.S. House eventually elected Jefferson on the thirty-sixth ballot, after weeks of debate.
The Twelfth Amendment to the Constitution added one more condition: If the election goes to the House, the House may only consider the top three candidates from the Electoral College that resulted from the normal election process. The House cannot bring in any “white knight” who was not already running on Election Day.
Because a majority of state congressional delegations are Republican, a presidential election going to the current Congress essentially guarantees a Republican president.
With these constitutional provisions in mind and the reality that Republicans will control the House at least until January 3, 2017, NeverTrump activists are considering selecting five key states, then running a candidate in each of those states—and those states only—who could win that state with a plurality of the statewide vote, beating both Trump and Hillary. So long as neither Trump nor Hillary wins a landslide of the remaining states, these single-state candidates could result in no candidate receiving 270 Electoral College votes, sending the entire matter to the House. Then the House could elect the non-Trump Republican as the forty-fifth president of the United States.
While the list is still being finalized, sources tell Breitbart News that the states being looked at include Ohio, Colorado, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Arizona, and Texas. The organizers are looking primarily to “favorite sons” in those states who they expect could carry the state against both the Republican and Democratic nominees.
While this may at first glance sound farfetched, $200 million (possibly as high as $250 million), is a staggering sum that could fully fund such an effort.
Prevent Trump from Reinventing the Republican Party
According to these sources, such a strategy would prevent Trump from redefining the Republican Party in a way that destroys the conservative movement, which is what many NeverTrump advocates fear.
The Republican Party was founded as an anti-slavery party. When Abraham Lincoln became president in 1860, he ran primarily on preserving the Union. Then halfway through his term, with his Emancipation Proclamation he freed slaves in the South as a wartime measure (presidents lacked the power to end slavery generally), then after his 1864 reelection spearheaded the abolition of slavery through passing the Constitution’s Thirteenth Amendment.
But the Republican Party has reinvented itself three times since 1865. (The Democratic Party has also reinvented itself several times.)
In 1896, the Socialist Labor Party was gaining significant political strength, mainly sapping votes from the Democrats. So the Democratic Party nominated populist William Jennings Bryan, who moved the party to the left. Gov. William McKinley of Ohio sensed an opening, and the Republican nominee positioned the GOP as a mainstream pro-business party. The result was an electoral massacre of the Democrats, as Republicans solidified control of the U.S. House, U.S. Senate, and many state governments.
But in 1932, President Franklin Roosevelt made the Democratic Party the party of the New Deal. Republicans fought the New Deal for five presidential elections, until in 1952 the GOP nominated Dwight Eisenhower, an unapologetic moderate. He remade the Republican Party into one that embraced the New Deal, and this bipartisan support guaranteed that FDR’s signature programs would become a permanent feature of American life.
Eisenhower was also comfortable with judges who were not conservative, appointing the most liberal chief justice in American history, Earl Warren, as well as one of the three most liberal associate justices in the nation’s history, William Brennan. He later reportedly said that his worst two mistakes as president were both sitting on the Supreme Court, but the fact remains that while perhaps Ike did not want to go as far to the left as he did with his judicial appointments, he clearly was not intending to nominate justices on the right.
Finally, in 1980, Ronald Reagan made the GOP what it is today (at least officially)—a conservative party. He assembled a three-part coalition of economic conservatives, national-security conservatives, and social conservatives. This alliance of supporters of free markets, strong national defense, and religious liberty and traditional family values formed an electoral coalition that gave Reagan two presidential wins—the second (1984) being one of the most overwhelming landslides in history—and began an era where Republicans controlled the White House more often than not, and starting in 1994 controlled Congress most of the time as well.
The concern of most of the leaders of today’s struggle with Trump—many of whom are veterans of the Reagan era—is that Trump would reinvent the party a fourth time. Their concern is that he would jettison conservatism in favor of a populism that also embraces an imperial presidency, permanently changing America’s form of government and effectively exiling conservatism as a governing philosophy.
Getting Trump to Make a Deal
Blackwell began by saying that those pursuing this strategy are doing so because they want to restore conservative government. He began:
An economic conservative does not think the government can seize private property for the purpose of building a business that will generate more tax revenue, or that it’s the role of government to pay for a healthcare program guaranteeing that everyone has coverage. A social conservative does not think that the pro-life plank of the Republican Party Platform should be rewritten, or that a state cannot pass a law saying that a man can call himself a woman then go into the same public bathroom where a little girl is using the toilet. And a national-security conservative does not believe that other nations should be able to get nuclear weapons, or that our military should target the wives and children of terrorists.
Trump’s reversal this week on the federal minimum wage—dropping his primary-season opposition to a hike, and now instead supporting a hike—seemed to provide ammunition to both sides. One conservative leader who spoke to Breitbart News on the condition of anonymity because he’s part of a group that have not finalized their own anti-Trump plan and have not gone public with any details, said that this flip-flop shows that the “real” Trump is emerging, one who completely rejects conservative government and would employ heavy-handed tactics to advance his own agenda.
Blackwell reacted to this anonymous leader’s argument by saying that this flip-flop would instead be taken by the “Twelfth Amendment” crowd as evidence that Trump is willing to make deals on anything, so they would push for a conservative deal. “These guys think that because Trump is not articulating a governing philosophy based on any set of deeply held principles, that he will be willing to cut a deal by adhering to certain conservative priorities in order to keep a third-party candidacy from gaining traction.”
Ultimate Goal: Keeping the Republican Party Conservative
Blackwell said that Trump and the GOP face the dilemma of the Bread-and-Butterfly, from Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass. This was a creature made up of buttered bread and whose head is a lump of sugar, but whose only food is hot tea. So it dissolves its own body whenever it eats.
In this context, Republicans are faced with the dilemma of winning the White House with a nominee whose agenda is different from that of the party base, or losing the White House to Hillary Clinton with her far-left agenda.
The “Twelfth Amendment” gang think they have a solution: If Trump faces the prospect of someone running to his right who could peel off several states, he could position himself in the marketplace of ideas as a candidate running on an agenda that is conservative enough to keep a critical mass of those voters onboard.
“Trump needs to be mindful of the fact that the House majority—like the Senate’s and our numbers in statehouses—were not created by an ‘establishment.’ These are historic majorities chosen by the American people—not just one party, but the entire American people—over three election cycles,” Blackwell said. “By contrast, Trump has received only 42 percent of Republican votes, so only a minority of a minority. He needs to be humble enough to realize that the American people have bestowed a constitutional mandate on the House to act if Trump doesn’t reach a majority in the Electoral College, and that to date he has not received such a mandate. He needs to grow his support if he wants the presidency.”
Radio talk show host Mark Levin made a related point this. According to Levin, GOP primary turnout was immensely higher this year from previous cycles, but some of those voters turned out to vote against Trump, not for him.
Nor are Trump’s only problems with conservatives, Blackwell noted. He has not received the endorsement of national establishment leaders like former President George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, nor Speaker of the House Paul Ryan. Others, like 2012 nominee Mitt Romney, former Gov. Jeb Bush, and Sen. Lindsay Graham, have said they won’t even vote for Trump.
“Most strategists would say it’s impossible to win the White House without getting either the moderate establishment or the entire base to rally around you, if not both,” he said. “There are some people who seem irreversibly committed to not voting for Trump, so he needs to garner every available vote he can if he would have any chance of winning.”
Will Trump Make a Deal with Conservatives?
Blackwell pointed to one indication that Trump might consider such an approach. The single most potent issue where Trump has signaled some willingness to accommodate conservatives is the Supreme Court. In recent days the presumptive Republican nominee has said he would post the names of up to 15 individuals he would consider for the current Supreme Court vacancy, pledging only to pick a name from that list.
For some Republican voters, the Supreme Court is enough of an issue by itself to vote for or against a particular presidential candidate.
Other personnel picks would be choosing a conservative running mate, cabinet, and White House staff. Conservative picks in those positions would likewise do much to allay the concerns of some conservatives.
It is unclear whether Trump would agree to adopt specific policies and appoint specific individuals to win over conservative support. What is clear is that at least some conservative leaders have quickly organized a great deal of resources to present him with a choice of doing so, or possibly facing yet another challenger for the White House in the fall.
Ken Klukowski is legal editor for Breitbart News. Follow him on Twitter @kenklukowski.