HOLLYWOOD, Florida-- Republican Party leaders turned aside an effort Thursday to change the rules at their national convention to make it harder for the GOP to choose a fresh presidential candidate, a prelude to what may be sharper battles ahead.
The showdown, which pitted the top echelons of the Republican National Committee against a renegade party committeeman from Oregon, came at a time when many in the GOP believe that top presidential contenders Donald Trump and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz are likely losers in this November's general election. Some have been hoping a new candidate will emerge at the party's gathering in Cleveland, a scenario that has drawn the wrath of Trump and Cruz backers and many of the party's grassroots conservatives.
Though the party's 56-member rules committee rejected the proposal by voice vote, Thursday's showdown was likely a mere skirmish compared to the battles that may occur in Cleveland over the bylaws the party will to choose its standard-bearer in this fall's elections.
On Friday, RNC chair Reince Priebus addressed the meeting and reiterated the requirements for the nomination.
"The rules say you have to have 1,237 delegates to be the nominee. We aren't going to hand the nomination to anyone with a plurality, no matter how close they are to 1,237," Priebus said. "You need a majority. 'Almost' only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades."
If, however, "no candidate reaches a majority of bound delegates during the primary process, we will go to an open, or contested, convention," he said.
The RNC and its rules committee can recommend changes in the processes the 2,472 convention delegates will use to crown a nominee. But only the delegates themselves can approve which rules they will use - a decision they won't make till they gather in July.
Solomon Yue, the RNC committeeman from Oregon, said the House of Representatives rules that the party has long used at its presidential conventions give the presiding officer too much power. Yue proposed instead using Roberts Rules of Order, which he said would enable a majority of the delegates to block an effort by the presiding officer to open the proceedings to fresh nominations.
Yue said that 2016 has been "a politically supercharged year" and warned that efforts by party leaders to dictate events in Cleveland "would blow up the convention and cause us to lose in November the White House fight."
Party leaders worked to defeat the plan, saying that by making any rules changes, they would be accused of trying to unfairly help a presidential hopeful. Trump has repeatedly clashed with RNC Chairman Reince Priebus, saying his party's rules for collecting delegates are "rigged."
"Our making a change of this magnitude at this point is the worst possible thing that we could do to inspire the confidence of the delegates in our home states that we are not putting our finger on the scale for any candidate," said Enid Mickelsen, an RNC committeewoman from Utah.
According to CBS News' Major Garrett, there is also an "undercurrent of anxiety" when it comes to the party's July convention.
"Death threats are not common, but they have occurred," Garrett reported on CBSN Friday, referring to violent messages some delegates have received from Trump supporters after publicly declaring their support for Ted Cruz. "There is a general sense of uneasiness, uncertainty."