The Republican conventions of years past have been a kind of political summer vacation for its delegates. For many party regulars, becoming a delegate is an opportunity to hobnob with your state’s political power brokers, be bussed from one catered meal to the next, stay in nice hotels and cheer on the nominee at the convention from the best seats in the house during primetime.
But, this year, the Republican Party’s delegates could have to work overtime, and many are in over their heads as they prepare for what could be the biggest Republican melee in decades, a potentially contested convention.
“I don’t know what to totally expect,” said Mary Beth Dougherty, who is a spokeswoman for a state lawmaker and is running to be an uncommitted delegate from Pennsylvania. “I am anticipating very high profile coverage all week long. Down time is not happening.”
Delegates who have been attending the convention for decades, recognize the 2016 Republican Convention is going to be an entirely new ballgame.
“We are in all new unchartered grounds,” said Holland Redfield, a delegate from the U.S. Virgin Islands who has attended the convention as a delegate multiple times beginning in the 1980s.
All around the country, delegates are having to immerse themselves in complicated party rules that the Republican National Committee’s own top brass are just relearning.
“I probably spend 40 to 50 hours a week on this project. I do a lot of reading and a lot of research,” said Curly Haugland, a delegate and national committeeman from North Dakota.
Learning the rules of engagement is its own battle entirely. Unlike years past, when a convention was nothing more than a coronation, the delegates this year will need to be able to use the rules to empower themselves, outmaneuver the competition and get their preferred candidates elected.
“I would not say I am overwhelmed, but I find it is going to be very, very interesting,” said Christopher Vogler, a business consultant from Philadelphia who is running to be an uncommitted delegate.
Vogler said one of the biggest complications for him is that the convention rules are only selected the week before the convention, giving him and others little time.
“We could all go there planning for one reality, but at the convention when they release the rules, it could turn everything upside down,” Vogler said.
The reality is that the delegates heading to Cleveland are not all party insiders with an agenda to stop Trump and a handy step-by-step guide. Instead, they are a rag tag group of more than 2,000 party regulars – each with his or her own set of motivations and allegiances trying to keep up with rigorous and complicated convention proceedings.
Learning the rules of the game was just one of the many challenges delegates will face. Unlike in years past, when delegate wrangling was infrequent and merely done as insurance policy to keep pledged delegates in line, this cycle, campaigns are aggressively reaching out, calling and building relationships with delegates they need to win the nomination.
Many of the delegates TPM spoke with said they had been surprised they had already been contacted by at least one of the remaining Republican campaigns. Some said they had been regularly contacted and others had scheduled in person meetings with campaigns anxious to learn how they could collect delegates ahead of Cleveland.
Horse trading for delegate support on the convention floor is also going to be a new reality for many delegates in 2016. As the Washington Post noted over the weekend, this class of delegates will likely be wooed with an unprecedented amount of perks and goodies.
The legal rules surrounding what delegates can and cannot accept are fuzzy and yet one more obstacle for political outsiders who will have to tread carefully to avoid crossing any legal lines. The Post reports that “delegates cannot take money from corporations, labor unions, federal contractors or foreign nationals. But an individual donor is permitted to give a delegate unlimited sums to support his or her efforts to get selected to go to the convention.”
The New York Times recalled in 1976, the era of the last contested convention, President Ford wined and dined delegates at the White House and flew them on Air Force One. This time around, it is unclear how the Cruz or Trump campaigns would attempt to influence delegates.
“The chatter is out there. I am curious to see if some of that stuff will come to pass. I don’t want to see delegates for sale to the highest bidder. That is kind of ridiculous,” Haugland said.