Politico: Conservatives draw battle plans for convention fight
By Alex Isenstadt
Conservatives, increasingly distressed that their agenda is in peril, are preparing an aggressive push at the party convention to preserve their control over the GOP’s official platform.
With some of the GOP’s biggest donors financing a multimillion-dollar campaign to soften the party’s stringent posture on social issues, and with Donald Trump deviating from conservative orthodoxy on a range of policy areas, a group of Republican operatives and officials on Wednesday will announce a project devoted to safeguarding the platform. The group, spearheaded by Arizona Republican National Committeeman Bruce Ash and prominent GOP attorney Jim Bopp, will focus on ensuring that like-minded conservatives secure slots on the 112-member Platform Committee. And when the committee meets at the convention, the group will work to ensure that conservatives work in concert toward the same goal.
In an interview, Bopp, who will also have a seat on the Platform Committee, insisted the group wasn’t designed to work against Trump but rather to assist him and guide him toward adopting the ideas and principles that have defined the Republican Party for decades. The purpose, he says in a letter to the 168 members of the Republican National Committee, “is to develop a platform which will provide a basis for our party to unite in order to win the White House fight.”
“The Republican Party is based on conservative principles and the election will be won on conservative policy,” he adds.
Yet at a time of rising discord on the right and growing questions about the future of the Republican Party, conservatives say there’s greater uncertainty about this year’s platform than at any time in recent memory — and are girding for battle.
“You don’t hear Donald Trump talk about traditional values or conservative principles, and they’re the heart and soul of the Republican Party. I want to preserve them,” said Iowa Rep. Steve King.
“Certainly, this platform could be very important,” he added. “Depending on how it turns out, you could have a major fight.”
Conservatives are confronting a multi-front threat. One is from Trump, who’s broken with conservative orthodoxy on everything from trade to foreign policy. Over the weekend, Trump appeared to reverse his past opposition to raising taxes on the wealthy — a pronouncement that set the Republican policy-making world ablaze. Many on the right say they simply do not know where Trump stands. In 2012, Mitt Romney packed the committee with like-minded allies, giving the platform a degree of unpredictability, but there have been few indications about what vision Trump has for this year’s committee.
There’s also consternation about a group of mainstream GOP donors, including New York City billionaire Paul Singer, who are bankrolling American Unity Fund, an organization devoted to moderating the GOP’s official position on same-sex marriage. The outfit has spent months courting delegates on the platform committee, hoping to convince them that greater flexibility on the issue will help the party expand. Last month, American Unity Fund officials traveled to Hollywood, Florida, to attend the RNC’s annual spring meeting.
The pro-gay marriage group is facing long odds. Convention delegates are typically conservative, and in past years they’ve come out sharply against same-sex marriage. In 2012, the convention expressed its support for a constitutional amendment defining marriage as a union of one man and one woman. It rejected what it called “the court-ordered redefinition of marriage” as “an assault on the foundations of our society.”
But conservatives are sounding the alarm. Over the weekend, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, a Louisiana delegate who will have a seat on the Platform Committee, sent an email to supporters in which he derided Singer as a “sexual revolutionary” bent on “hijacking” and “radicalizing” the platform. The message was sent under the subject line, “New stealth attack threatens natural marriage.”
In a separate letter, Perkins called the platform “a true test” for Trump, noting that his “positions have been known to change.” Should Trump try to push the platform to the left, he added, conservative voters would stay home — “and every Republican down the ballot in congressional and local elections will suffer.”
“Of course, the party platform is important every election cycle — but 2016’s will be a bellwether for Donald Trump and the GOP,” Perkins wrote. “If he chooses to use his energy and limited political capital trying to move the party away from its longstanding conservative principles, he will have deepened the already dangerous divides.”
Perkins isn’t the only one worried about Trump. On Monday night, Sen. Ted Cruz and former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, one of his top aides, hosted a conference call in which they urged Cruz delegates to show up at the convention and not surrender their seats on the Platform Committee.
Party leaders, for their part, are urging Trump to use the platform as a tool to appease skeptical conservatives. Appearing on the Mike Gallagher radio show on Monday, RNC Chairman Reince Priebus called on the real estate mogul to commit to not changing the platform. It’s a step, Priebus added, Trump is willing to explore.
Behind the scenes, the campaign has been taking steps to cool the tensions. Last week, it tapped John Mashburn, a former top aide to Jesse Helms and Trent Lott and a key figure in the anti-abortion movement, to serve as a policy adviser. The hire drew praise from conservative leaders, including Penny Nance, the president of Concerned Women for America and a past Trump critic, who described Mashburn as “someone we can work with.”
Yet others are on guard. As the New York businessman struggles to unify the GOP, many movement conservatives remain viscerally opposed to him — and any Trump-led effort to rewrite the party’s platform.
“There are some people who say ‘It’s Trump’s party now,’” said King. “No, it’s the people’s party.”
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