HOLLYWOOD, Fla. — The leading group opposing Donald Trump’s presidential bid traveled to the Republican National Committee’s (RNC) spring meeting on Friday in search of allies among the future convention delegates.
Many of the RNC members are bound to vote for their states’ preference on the first ballot at July’s Republican National Convention, which in many cases is Trump. But if the businessman fails to get 1,237 votes on that first ballot, the vast majority of the delegates will be freed, creating a free-for-all on the second ballot.
“There’s no way for the party to just hand this to him if he’s short of the 1,237,” said Katie Packer, the leader of the anti-Trump Our Principles PAC.
“Until he gets 1,237, we don’t stop.”
Packer’s group has been meeting with RNC members at the luxurious Diplomat Hotel & Spa in South Florida armed with a memo laying out Trump’s vulnerabilities, as well as sample mailers and voter guides.
One mailer includes a picture of a woman in a low-cut shirt, a dog and a pig, noting that Trump has publicly referred to women using the terms “bimbo,” “dog” and “fat pig.”
Some members walked around the convention hall with the materials tucked under their arms, a picture of Trump’s face peeking out.
Trump is the far-and-away delegate leader in the GOP presidential race and the only candidate with a certain mathematical chance at clinching the nomination before the convention in Cleveland.
But in a memo for RNC members shared with reporters, Packer’s group noted that Trump will have to win about 60 percent of the remaining delegates to reach a majority, a higher rate that what he’s averaged in the primary contests so far.
Ted Cruz is the most direct beneficiary of the anti-Trump efforts. He holds the second-most bound delegates and has been scrambling to win the loyalties of others. Both he and third-place John Kasich attended the RNC meeting, but Trump sent his top aides.
While many experts believe Cruz has a tough path to the nomination, Packer said that the movement against Trump is about more than just success in the general election.
“My goal is stopping Trump because not only do we lose in the general election, but I think we lose our soul as a party. I think we lose elections for a generation,” she said.
She said Cruz is “mostly in line with the majority of Republicans on the issues.”
“We might lose, but we lose as Republicans and we lose as conservatives, and we can rebuild from there, and we probably don’t lose everything down the ballot.“
The anti-Trump push has become a focal point in the GOP race, but it has produced mixed results.
Holland Redfield, RNC member for the Virgin Islands, said he agrees with those who say Trump would be dangerous not just to the Republican Party but to the nation as a whole.
“Whoever wins this election, Democrat or Republican, better be able to pick up the pieces of a very angry, divided and fearful nation,” he told The Hill.
“And I don’t think Donald Trump is the individual to do that because a lot of this division has been created by his rhetoric. He’s sucked out that anger, and he’s sucked the oxygen out of the room.
But Henry Barbour, an influential Mississippi committeeman who has publicly doubted whether he could vote for Trump, has already softened his stance.
“If Donald Trump is our nominee, I think a lot of people who today say, ‘I’ll never vote for Trump,’ will get over that in September and October when they think about what Hillary Clinton would mean to our country and the Supreme Court,” he said.
“I’ve been one — I’ve never said never, but I’ve said I’m not sure I can vote for this guy. I’ve now gotten to the point where I’m going to support our nominee. I may change my mind, but I think I’m typical. The guy irks me at times, but I get that he’s doing his populist gig and trying to win.”
Packer met with reporters during RNC Chairman Reince Priebus’s address to the party’s general session. It was at that meeting that Priebus declared that no one would simply hand the nomination to the delegate leader, despite Trump’s insistence that he should win regardless of whether he reaches 1,237 on the first ballot.
But Priebus also preached party unity, a major theme of the gathering, amid the contentious primary race.
“It is essential to victory in November that we all support our candidate. … Politics is a team sport, and we can’t win unless we rally around whoever becomes our nominee,” he said.
“No one is forcing them to wear our jersey. We expect our candidates to support our party and the eventual nominee.”
While Our Principles PAC is actively working to undermine Trump, Packer is quick to argue that there’s no daylight between the group and the chairman on the point of party unity.
Even if Trump wins the nomination, she said, the group would not do anything to “actively hurt the party.”
“This is not a Never Trump movement, this is a Stop Trump movement. I happen to be in the Never Trump category, but [Our Principles Pac] has never put out any documents saying ‘never Trump,’ that’s not our movement,” she said.
“What [Priebus] is saying is we have to unify behind the nominee; we expect the nominee to not be Trump, so we are totally in [agreement] with Reince on that.”