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  1. Florida Politics

PolitiFact: Could delegates change the rules for the Republican National Convention?

Donald Trump could sue if a “conscience clause” is adopted.
Donald Trump could sue if a “conscience clause” is adopted.
Published Jun. 20, 2016

Donald Trump has made a string of comments lately that have given Republicans heartburn.

His racially charged attack on a federal judge of Mexican descent, rambling speech on the Orlando shooting and conspiratorial suggestions of President Barack Obama's terrorist sympathies all have his fellow party members talking about organizing against him at this summer's Republican National Convention.

But given his clear win in the primaries, such a move would violate election law, Trump said on NBC's Meet the Press when asked if convention delegates could stop him.

"No. 1, they can't do it legally. No. 2, I worked for one year, and we won all those delegates," Trump said. "So I win 37 states and somebody else won none, and they're going to be the nominee? I don't think so."

Trump has a point that it would be against the current rules, but those rules won't necessarily govern this year's convention. If the delegates change the rules in July and thwart his nomination, it may seem anti-democratic. But it's within their authority to do so. Trump's statement rates Mostly False.

At the heart of the matter are the 112 members of the rules committee. The committee has the power to change rules, such as passing a "conscience clause" that would release all the delegates to support whomever they want, rather than the candidate who won their state's primary or caucus.

The rules committee could allow delegates to pick any nominee they like, said Joshua Putnam, a government professor at the University of Georgia.

Putnam noted that Trump could certainly sue if the conscience clause is adopted. After all, Trump did secure the majority of delegates, and some state laws do commit their delegates.

But Putnam and others say it's unlikely the courts will decide in Trump's favor, given how they've ruled in the past.

Ed O'Keefe of the anti-Trump Club for Growth and David Rivkin Jr., a Republican constitutional litigator, wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed that state laws binding delegates are not enforceable, because they violate the First Amendment.

"The government has no business telling parties how to select their candidates or leaders: That would be a serious infringement of the rights to free association and speech," they wrote.

O'Keefe and Rivkin pointed to two Supreme Court cases — Cousins vs. Wigoda (1975) and Democratic Party vs. Wisconsin ex rel. LaFollette (1980) — that held states don't have the authority to override a party's nominating process.

"Any time the issue of intraparty politics come up, the court sides with the party," said Putnam.

Anti-Trump ads to air

Meanwhile, Democrats are seizing on Trump's various comments to launch attack ads against him. Meet the Press host Chuck Todd played a portion of a new ad from the super PAC Priorities USA as an example of what Trump will face in the general election.

The ad claims Trump is "too dangerous for America" and shows video of him saying, "I'm really good at war. I love war in a certain way. … Including with nukes, yes, including with nukes."

It's clear that the "nukes" video is separate from the preceding comment, but the implication is that Trump is a warmonger who isn't afraid to use nuclear weapons.

Trump did say the phrases, but he doesn't seem to be quite so enthusiastic about the United States using nuclear weapons. In fact, Trump's quip about "nukes" referred to his belief that Japan might be better off if it had nuclear weapons. The ad's claim rates Half True.

Trump made the comments about loving war during a November speech in Iowa , where he discussed the Iraq war before briefly sidetracking into his feelings on war generally. "I'm really good at war. I love war in a certain way. But only when we win," Trump said.

Trump made his comments about "nukes" in an April 3 interview with Fox News Sunday's Chris Wallace. Speaking of Japan, Trump said, "Maybe they would in fact be better off if they defend themselves from North Korea."

Wallace asked: "With nukes?"

Trump: "Maybe they would be better off — including with nukes, yes, including with nukes.

Overall, Trump has offered conflicting views on nuclear weapons throughout the campaign. He has said he "wouldn't rule out" using tactical nuclear weapons against ISIS, but added in the same interview, "Definitely nuclear weapons are a last resort." He also wouldn't rule out using nuclear weapons in Europe if a conflict ever were to arise. "You don't want to, say, take everything off the table," he said.

On the other hand, he told the New York Times in March, "It's a very scary nuclear world. Biggest problem, to me, in the world, is nuclear, and proliferation."

Edited for print. Read the full fact-checks at PolitiFact.com.

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