House Speaker Paul Ryan on Monday said if Donald Trump were to ask him to step down as chairman of the RNC convention, he would. Ryan’s comments, in which he told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that if Trump is the GOP nominee, “I’ll do whatever he wants with respect to the convention,” came after former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin said over the weekend that Ryan could be ousted over his “disrespect” for Trump as the GOP’s presumptive presidential nominee.
Trump earlier on Monday distanced himself from Palin’s comments, calling her Palin a “free agent.” Still, the former Alaska governor raises a legitimate question as to whether Ryan could be asked to forfeit the convention over his reluctance to back Trump. Here’s what you need to know:
Can Paul Ryan even be blocked from chairing the RNC convention?
While the top-ranking Republican in the House typically chairs the party’s convention, it is not automatic. The standing rules for the convention – which are a guide but can be changed anyway – do not actually stipulate who chairs the convention.
Instead, the rules provide a committee process for naming the chair. A committee on the “Permanent Organization of the convention” formally submits the name of the chair to the convention. The committee is made up of delegates from around the country.
Most years, that process is just a technicality – the RNC staff writes the draft report for the committee, then it names the top House Republican as chair. But if there were a major dispute, someone else could be selected.
How would a different chair be named?
A different chair could be named if enough delegates on the committee, or at the convention, unite around naming a different chair. The options are:
(1) A majority of delegates on the Permanent Organization committee could name an alternative.
This requires fighting with the RNC staff, who usually guide the committee. If a committee majority named an alternative to Speaker Ryan, that name would be submitted to the entire convention for approval.
(2) Or if the committee named Speaker Ryan as convention chair, and a majority of delegates on the convention floor could reject him and name an alternative, from the floor.
This would require a messy floor fight on one of the first items of business at the convention.
Does it really matter who chairs the convention?
It can. The convention is run under the House rules (not Roberts Rules of Order), which gives the Chair more power.
The Chair has discretion to make key procedural calls. For example, at recent conventions, both parties used the Convention Chair to reject voice votes on controversial issues that could have led to floor fights (sidelining Ron Paul votes for the GOP, rebuffing attempts to change the DNC platform on Jerusalem as Israel’s capitol).
Any nominee who wants to be protected from disputes over rules, delegates and the platform wants to have the most loyal chair possible.
So if there is a dispute over the chair, will it be resolved at the convention?
Even if this remains a point of contention between Trump and Ryan, it is in both of their interest to resolve this before the convention.
As the presumptive nominee, Trump understandably wants a clear supporter leading the convention for his nomination – and no signs of disunity during the convention.
As Speaker, Ryan does not want a convention fight that risks a high-profile rejection by the party – especially for a role that he said he wasn’t even aware he had until assuming the job of Speaker.
So the rules and process likely provide a baseline for leverage in this dispute – there is a clear path for Trump to oust Paul Ryan – but it’s more likely to be resolved behind closed doors than at the convention.