A Republican National Convention primer: What you need to know

The modern-day U.S. national party convention has been a coronation of sorts, with very little surprise as to who will be the presidential candidate. But there's been a twist at this years's Republican convention, as an active contingent tries to thwart the nomination of Donald Trump.

Four-day political gathering convention begins July 18 in Cleveland

The convention brings together delegates from across the country to vote on the party platform, hammer out party rules, and officially chose the party's presidential candidate. But it's also the one time the party comes together as an organization to unify before heading into the general November election campaign. (Alex Brandon/Associated Press)

The modern-day U.S. national party convention has been a coronation of sorts, with very little surprise as to who will be the presidential candidate following the roll call vote of delegates.

But there's been a rare dramatic twist to the proceedings for this year's Republican National Convention, which starts Monday in Cleveland, as an active contingent of the party has been trying to thwart the nomination of the presumptive nominee, Donald Trump.

Yet stopping Trump seems more and more unlikely, especially after the anti-Trump forces lost some key votes at a meeting of the Republican convention's rules committee, amendments that would have given them a fighting, yet still slim, chance.

For political observers, the movement to dump Trump has provided a tease of unpredictability for an event that is a largely scripted affair over four days.

The convention brings together delegates from across the country to vote on the party platform, hammer out party rules and officially choose the party's presidential candidate. But it's also the one time the party comes together as an organization to unify before heading into the general November election campaign

A contingent of the Republican Party has been trying to thwart the nomination of the presumptive nominee, Donald Trump. (Darron Cummings/Associated Press)

The convention "has been a way for the party to unify itself and present the image it wants to the American public," said Barry Burden, a political science professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and director of the Elections Research Center.

The speeches

That image, he said, consists of prime time speeches that have become the hallmark of the convention and have been honed and devised in ways to be appealing to both the people in the hall and the general public,

Dozens of speakers, including senior politicians, with a mix of celebrities, will take to the podium throughout the convention. But the big names will be slotted for prime time, when the television networks will air their speeches to a wide audience.

Balloons are bagged before being suspended overhead, as preparations continue for the Republican National Convention. Dozens of speakers, including senior politicians, with a mix of celebrities, will take to the podium throughout the days of the convention. (Alex Brandon/Associated Press)

For the Republican convention, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, current Speaker Paul Ryan, Texas Senator Ted Cruz and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie will all likely get good prime time spots.

The candidate's spouse traditionally speaks, and Melania Trump has been confirmed as a speaker. And Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, recently chosen as Trump's vice-presidential candidate, will also make prime time.

The current president often takes the stage of the party convention, although George W. Bush, with historically low approval ratings, was a no-show at the 2012 Republican convention and instead delivered a taped address.

Former presidents as well are given a plum spot, such as Bill Clinton in 2012. So are top celebrities — who can forget actor Clint Eastwood's famous — or infamous — chair speech at the Republican 2012 convention.

There's often a keynote address from an up-and-comer in the party, someone who has been deemed a potential presidential candidate in the next election or two elections down the road — think then-Senator Barack Obama at the 2004 Democratic convention.

"So there's a lot of testing going on of trying out candidates," said Burden.

Melania Trump, Donald Trump's wife, is one of the scheduled speakers at the convention. (Mary Altaffer/Associated Press)

Speeches may get the media attention, but delegates are also conducting party business during the convention. The Republican convention will officially begin late Monday afternoon, and four reports from four different committees — the platform, rules, credentials and permanent organization committees — will be brought to the convention floor to be voted on and ratified by the 2,472 delegates.

The platform

The party platform outlines the principles of the party. Though it's not a binding document on the candidate, it's taken quite seriously by some of the delegates and the wording is often the result of weeks of work parsing over phrases.

The presumed nominee usually takes control of that process and tries to shape the platform to reflect the message he or she wants to offer in the general election. But Burden says Trump has taken a hands-off approach, and with the exception of insisting on language about a wall built along the Mexican border, he has given the delegates free rein to shape the document.

Roll call and the rules

The roll call is the official vote to choose the nominee. The convention chair will go through each state delegation, alphabetically.

Each delegation chair, following a preamble praising his or her particular state, will announce the number of delegates being pledged to the particular candidate — delegates the candidate won during the primary and caucus process.

The delegates are tallied and if a candidate receives the magic number — 1,237 in Trump's case — that person becomes the nominee. 

Over the past couple of days, the rules committee has been considering amendments, not only to the rules that govern the process of the convention itself, but the nomination process and those that govern the organization of the party in general.

Normally, this process would hold little interest for the media or the general public. This year, the rules committee has taken on greater significance, with attempts by the anti-Trump movement to amend the rules or add clauses that would unbind the delegates. That would mean delegates would be free to vote for whomever they choose, not be tied to the primary and caucus results and be able to choose any candidate they like.

The hope of the anti-Trumpers is that if the delegates were free to choose, Trump may not receive the number of delegates he needs to officially win the nomination and that would force another vote, where another candidate could emerge to challenge him.

So far, however, the rules committee has thwarted those attempts, voted down those amendments and made it all the more likely that Trump will be the nominee.


Mark Gollom

Senior Reporter

Mark Gollom is a Toronto-based reporter with CBC News. He covers Canadian and U.S. politics and current affairs.


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