An early test of candidate strength will be votes at the credentials and rules committees the week before the convention. The very earliest test will be the selection at next spring’s state conventions of which delegates serve on these committees. Campaigns organized state-by-state to elect delegates loyal to them for these committees will fare best in Cleveland.
The credentials committee will hear challenges—over issues such as flawed state-convention procedures or a delegate’s true party registration—to delegate slates and individual delegates, a potentially decisive role in an unsettled convention.
The rules committee must pass the procedures under which the convention runs, including Rule 40, which determines the number of states needed to place a candidate’s name in nomination. The subject of much inaccurate speculation, Rule 40 must be passed anew by each convention. Historically set at five states, the number needed was raised to eight in 2012 to stop a second candidate being nominated.
Although the 2016 number can be set anywhere, a presumptive nominee will want the number sufficiently high to prevent a challenger throwing off the convention program. If no candidate has a delegate majority, look for intense maneuvering over the number of states needed. A recommendation from the Republican National Committee will be voted on (or amended) by the convention rules committee before being ultimately decided by the full convention.
When reports of a closed-door meeting surfaced in early December, RNC ChairmanReince Priebus ridiculed the chances of a deadlocked convention but insisted that they “prepare for everything.” Indeed, no planning would border on malpractice. The 2016 convention begins five weeks earlier than the previous three. It takes considerable time to plan sessions, slot roll-call votes, find speakers if there’s no clear nominee, and be sure that the arena and hotel rooms are available if the convention goes more than four days.