Free The Delegates

A group of activists believes the Republican Party still has time to protect its long-term viability by swapping out presumptive nominee Donald Trump for a more levelheaded candidate at the Cleveland convention next week.

Here’s the argument in a nutshell: delegates may vote their conscience and are not bound to vote for anyone other than the man or woman they believe would best lead the country. For most Republicans during the primary, Trump was not that person.

Trump didn’t win a majority of the popular vote; he clinched the needed delegates through a system that favors a candidate winning a plurality of voters rather than a majority. Some 60 percent of GOP primary voters selected someone besides Trump as their nominee before he reached the threshold for victory.

In a few days, the GOP is poised to nominate Trump despite his severe unfavorable ratings with women, racial minorities and other groups, as well as his propensity to make offensive or off-color remarks. Dane Waters, a founder of Delegates Unbound, is one of the activists encouraging delegates to vote for a Trump alternative. Waters is a D.C.-based communications strategist who was a political appointee in President George H. W. Bush’s administration. He’s worked on five presidential campaigns and numerous others domestically and abroad.

Waters is working closely with Kendall Unruh, who founded a group called Free The Delegates. Unruh is calling for a “conscience clause” to let delegates vote their conscience rather than forcibly tying them to a particular candidate. They say they need the backing of just 25 percent of 112 members of the Convention Rules Committee to compel a full vote on the question among all delegates.

At the same time, however, Waters said his group seeks to move away from conversation about the Rules Committee because he doesn’t believe that formal action needs to be taken to unbind the delegates. Their hope is to entice least 306 of the 1,542 delegates theoretically bound to Trump to abstain from voting on the first general convention ballot. This would ensure that Trump does not attain the 1,237-delegate votes needed for the nomination. 

“The delegates are already unbound,” Waters told Opportunity Lives. “I’m doing this because I believe that Donald Trump has set a tone in this country that is completely unacceptable … This isn’t somebody I would want my kids to listen to. He isn’t somebody who can guide the youth this in this country.”

Waters said for now his team is keeping private the full count of delegates who say they would vote for an alternative to Trump, though he said they range in age from young Millennials to 75-year-old Gordon Humphrey, a former U.S. senator from New Hampshire.

“I think he says some ugly things, he obviously has some ugly thoughts about race and ethnic issues, about women, and gender; he’s impetuous, he’s a bully, and he’s just not qualified to be President,” Humphrey told NPR. “I’m not going to support him. I have a responsibility to the nation, and to the people, and to my family to choose someone who is well-fitted for the role.”

Waters said Delegates Unbound is made up of former supporters of Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Jeb Bush and even disaffected Trump supporters. Delegates Unbound has begun to take shape through a new office and a new press outreach coordinator, Andrew Lee, a former Capitol Hill staffer and vice chairman of membership for the D.C. Young Republicans.

Waters said a top question is who would fill the void left by a vote to replace Trump. No top Republican has stepped forward to play a viable alternative to Trump.

“I want anybody other than Donald Trump,” Waters said. “We’re not pushing any specific person. The bottom line is that nobody is going to step forward unless we build it. Our message has been very clear ‘Hey build it, and they will come.’ … unless we build this, unless we give them the infrastructure, unless we give them that security it will make it difficult for them to step up.”

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Press Release from Delegates Unbound Press Office

Carrie Sheffield is a senior contributor for Opportunity Lives. You can follow her on Twitter @carriesheffield and on Facebook.