RNC member floats proposal to thwart Trump primary challenge

By Kathryn Watson

/ CBS News

GOP moves to protect Trump in 2020 primaries

A member of the Republican National Committee, fearing primary challengers to President Trump in the wake of incoming GOP Sen. Mitt Romney's scathing op-ed, is urging fellow committee members to change the rules to thwart intra-party threats to Mr. Trump in 2020.

In an email obtained by CBS News, Jevon O.A. Williams, the national committeeman for the Virgin Islands, urged fellow elected RNC members Tuesday night to push for an "unprecedented" rule change in the wake of the Romney op-ed's "calculated political treachery." Williams wants to close "loopholes" in the nomination in a way that would make it tougher for even token challengers to Mr. Trump to enter the fray. The Washington Examiner first reported the letter.

Specifically, Williams urged fellow RNC members to change Rule 40, a rule adopted in the 2012 election Romney himself ran in that required a candidate for the nomination to garner support from a majority of delegates in at least eight states to be placed on the nominating ballot at the Republican National Committee Convention. Williams also called for a resolution to declare Mr. Trump the presumptive nominee in 2020, calling for both of those moves to take place at an RNC winter meeting later this month.

"While President Trump would win re-nomination it wouldn't come quick and it wouldn't be inexpensive. Any contested re-nomination campaign—even a forlorn hope—would only help Democrats," Williams wrote. "Accordingly, I am asking for your support to take the unprecedented step of amending the rules to close loopholes in the re-nomination campaign, including Rule 40."

The email was sent to RNC members two hours after Romney, who has yet to be sworn into office, published an arresting op-ed in the Washington Post titled, "The president shapes the public character of the nation. Trump's character falls short." Romney argued that Mr. Trump has failed to live up to the mantle of his office in the last two years, and America's standing on the international stage is worse off because of it. The op-ed offered a glimpse of how Romney, who has criticized Mr. Trump in the past, might maneuver being a Republican senator under a polarizing president.

The op-ed prompted visceral responses from Mr. Trump's staunchest defenders — including Ronna McDaniel, the chairwoman of the RNC who is Romney's niece and dropped her maiden name — Romney — reportedly to appease Mr. Trump. McDaniel, without naming her uncle, blasted the "incoming Republican freshman senator" for his criticism of the president.

POTUS is attacked and obstructed by the MSM media and Democrats 24/7. For an incoming Republican freshman senator to attack @realdonaldtrump as their first act feeds into what the Democrats and media want and is disappointing and unproductive. https://t.co/ArhI7Bi7bo

— Ronna McDaniel (@GOPChairwoman) January 2, 2019

Williams' proposal to thwart challenges to the incumbent president comes as some states also look to fend off challenges to him. CBS News' Caitlin Huey Burns has reported some of Mr. Trump's supporters in early states, including South Carolina and New Hampshire, are looking into allowing the Republican party to simply endorse him without holding primary contests.

The Iowa caucuses are scheduled to take place in early February 2020.

Here is the full text of the email sent to RNC members, as obtained by CBS News. Williams did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Dear fellow RNC member,

Merry Christmas (yes, it's still Christmas), happy New Year, and warm
greetings from where many of you probably want to be right now:
America's Caribbean.

Imagine my surprise when I read the junior senator-elect from Utah's
unprecedented rebuke of President Donald J. Trump in an op-ed on the
pages of The Washington Post that ran before he was even sworn into
office. I couldn't believe this was coming from our party's 2012
nominee, who, despite differences in politics, still professes to be a
Republican. With Republicans like him who needs Democrats.

Seriously. I swear that Republicans can be their own worst enemy.
Democrats don't have to worry about the three-ring circus and civil
war that is engulfing their party's 2020 nomination campaign because
so-called Republicans are forcing us to spend valuable time, money,
and resources in re-nominating our president.

Make no mistake. This was calculated political treachery. The op-ed,
again before he even assumed office, was published the night of New
Year's Day. This was done to define the week's narrative in the
mainstream media and chattering class. It also only serves to
undermine our party and its president by playing into the hands of
House Democrat Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democrat Leader Chuck
Schumer as they seek to divide Republicans and distract attention away
from their refusal to protect our borders.

As an immigrant, a combat veteran, a black American, a millennial, and
as a member of the RNC, I wholeheartedly support and endorse President
Trump for re-nomination. That isn't to say I don't have my
disappointments. I do. Like many of you, I have been frustrated by the
inability to get Republicans nominated to U.S. attorney, U.S. marshal,
and District Court judgeships. But the record is clear and President
Trump's policies at home and abroad are getting results by putting the
national interest first and foremost.

My friends, you know what's going to happen.

Messrs. Romney, Flake, and Kasich will continue chasing their fantasy
of being president, even if that means destroying our party and
denying President Trump re-election.

Look, the political history is clear. No Republican president opposed
for re-nomination has ever won re-election.

Unfortunately, loopholes in the rules governing the 2020 re-nomination
campaign are enabling these so-called Republicans to flirt with the
possibility of contested primaries and caucuses.

While President Trump would win re-nomination it wouldn't come quick
and it wouldn't be inexpensive. Any contested re-nomination
campaign—even a forlorn hope—would only help Democrats.

Accordingly, I am asking for your support to take the unprecedented
step of amending the rules to close loopholes in the re-nomination
campaign, including Rule 40. These rules, as I read them and has been
reported in the press, didn't take into account an incumbent president
running for re-election. Beyond a rules amendment, I also ask for your
support of a resolution declaring the RNC's unanimous and unequivocal
endorsement of President Trump for re-nomination. This resolution
would also declare him the presumptive nominee in 2020. I intend for
both of these items to be acted upon at the winter meeting later this
month, including, if necessary, by suspending the rules to take up
this business.

The so-called Republicans seeking to defeat President Trump have used
our silence to advance their cause.

It's time to make our voice heard: Our party, be it the RNC or the
grassroots in the 56 states, territories and District of Columbia, is
united behind President Trump.

Yours always,

Jevon O.A. Williams

National Committeeman, Virgin Islands

First published on January 2, 2019

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Kathryn Watson

Kathryn Watson is a politics reporter for CBS News Digital.

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