With Donald Trump continuing to build his delegate lead in the GOP presidential race, the planning is already underway on a number of fronts for a potentially contentious delegate battle to decide the nominee at the party's convention in July. But behind the drama of who will be carrying the GOP banner in the general electorate lays the equally important issue of what the party stands for.
The platform is the ideological blueprint for the party and some conservatives are already hard at work to ensure that it remains consistent with past iterations -- despite the somewhat different positions Trump holds on some key traditional issues.
Ed Martin, a Trump supporter, said he and his organization, the socially conservative Eagle Forum, are working to prevent a fight over the platform. He and the founder of his group, Phyllis Schlafly, a longtime conservative activist and four-time member of the platform committee, are not only organizing to ensure like-minded conservatives dominate the committee, but also that Trump is in line.
The Republican Party “can’t (afford to) have a fight over the fundamentals of the Republican party,” said Martin, who is a Missouri delegate who hopes to be elected to the platform committee, in a recent interview.
“If we’re fighting over the platform then the chances of the entire convention being chaotic go up exponentially,” he added.
Of the more than 2,000 delegates elected at state and county conventions across the country, the platform committee consists of 112 of those delegates, two from each state and territory. If a fight takes place over the specifics of what the party believes on social, economic and foreign policy, among delegates and the candidate(s), that fight could spill into the nominating process.
In Louisiana, one of the first states to select its delegates, the two delegates on the platform committee or supporters of Sen. Ted Cruz. Martin said that won't be problematic for the party plank because Sandra McDade is a Louisiana state director of the Eagle Forum and Tony Perkins is leader of the equally socially conservative Family Research Council.
As for Trump, however, some of his positions are at odds with the document crafted every four years before the convention opens. Here are a few of those differences:
Immigration: The 2012 party platform does not mention deporting all 11 million undocumented immigrants, which Trump supports.
Trade: The GOP plank says trade “is crucial for our economy,” and it advocates Free Trade Agreements. Trump has been railing against free trade, making it a central plank to his campaign.
Abortion: While Trump says he’s anti-abortion now, he wasn’t always. And Republicans’ efforts to defund Planned Parenthood fall in line with the party platform, which says, “We oppose using public revenues to promote or perform abortion or fund organizations which perform or advocate it.” Trump said Planned Parenthood does “wonderful things.”
Schlafly is confident that Trump won’t cause problems for the platform committee.
“I asked him to stand by the Republican platform because we have the best conservative platform we’ve ever had. And he endorses it,” she said before introducing him at a recent rally in St. Louis. “He stands by it.”
The risk, however, is that Trump won't stand by his word. He told the New York Times editorial board that "everything's negotiable." And if he doesn't support the platform, the chaos could spill onto the convention floor, and that could derail his candidacy.
"That's a significant reason for the delegates to hold up a nominee," North Dakota committeeman and Republican delegate Curly Haugland said.
The GOP platform is always closely watched, especially in regard to social issues. In 2012, for example, the machinations of the abortion section were of interest. In the end, the platform included a constitutional amendment banning abortion and it didn’t include any exceptions for rape or incest.
Kirsten Kukowski, communications director for the Republican National Committee’s planning committee for the convention.
“There’s always a healthy debate,” Kukowski said of the platform committee.
“The presumptive nominee will likely have an operation where they can voice their position on the issues and that is taken into account as that process happens,” Kukowski said.
Alec Poitevint, the chairman of the Tampa convention in 2012 who has been involved with four conventions, said that if the candidate is organized, he be sure to have allies on platform committee.
“Whichever candidate has the best organizational operation, you can get control of that committee,” he said.