There’s still a way to take Trump off the ballot—but it’s too late to matter

Can the GOP get rid of him for good?
Can the GOP get rid of him for good?
Image: Reuters/Jim Young
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Finally, we’ve found it—that line of decorum, morality, and democratic values that Donald Trump had to cross to earn repudiation of the Republican Party leadership. After Trump’s caught-on-tape discourse on pawing women’s genitals, GOP leaders are distancing themselves from Trump. Former Utah governor Jon Huntsman is even calling for Trump to pull out of the presidential race.

But there’s a bolder step Republican Party elders might take if they want to save their august institution from deeper disgrace.

As political blogger James Heaney explains, ”Rule 9: Filling Vacancies in Nominations” in the rules governing the party stipulates that the Republican National Committee can vote to fill the vacancy that ”occurs by reason of death, declination, or otherwise.”

“Death” and “declination” are pretty clear, but “otherwise” isn’t, and it’s possible that it could cover repugnant behavior. Still, to declare that Trump vacated the nomination due to “otherwise” will require the RNC to exercise a lot of unilateral power—and as we’ve explored in past articles, its habit of doing that hasn’t sat well with many GOP activists.

Instead, argues Heaney, the RNC should look to Rule 12, which allows it to amend a slew of other rules up until Sep. 2018, by three-fourths supermajority vote.

“Any member may propose an amendment to Rule 9 and submit it in writing to the Standing Committee on Rules,” writes Heaney. “It would contain a simple morals clause, like that contained in many employee contracts.” He recommends adding an amendment that allows the RNC to vacate a nomination by three-fourths vote if the nominee “commits an act of moral turpitude which is shocking to the nation’s sense of decency.”

The RNC really should have done this a while ago; it takes time to clear the bureaucracy. After such an amendment to Rule 9 were submitted, the change has to pass the Standing Committee on Rules by a majority vote. The RNC itself then must approve it by a three-fourths super-majority. Thirty days later, the clause goes into force. And then the RNC can vote by a three-fourths supermajority to oust Trump on the basis of his “moral turpitude”—and select a new candidate.

Heaney proposed that back in August, after Trump had repeatedly insulted the Khan family, whose soldier son had been killed in action. Back then, the 40 days it would take would mean they could have gotten another candidate up and running by early October. As Mike Pence’s strong debate performance suggested, finding a candidate well-known enough to have a shot against Hillary Clinton wouldn’t have been totally bonkers.

Of course Trump could decide to drop out, but even in that case, it’s complicated. And now there’s no way for the RNC to kick Trump off the ballot before the election, which is 30 days away. However, a new candidate could be on the ticket by the time the Electoral College meets to formally elect the president on December 19. In other words, vacating Trump’s nomination would mean scrapping all hope of having a Republican president. But it could be a meager chance to restore the party’s honor in its official documents and the history books.