Delegates to the Republican National Convention perform a few important functions:
- Vote on the rules under which the convention will operate, and under which the party will operate until the next convention.
- Vote on the national party platform.
- Vote to elect the party’s nominee in the race for President of the United States.
In most convention years the first of those duties is the most contentious and the other two are more or less pre-determined. In 2016 it seems likely that all three could be tough fights determined by the delegates on the floor, which has increased interest in being a Delegate.
Being a Delegate or Alternate is Expensive
Being a Delegate or Alternate requires a commitment of several days to a week at the convention. In 2016 that means Cleveland.
There is no fee for Delegates for attending the convention, but there are significant other costs. Delegates and Alternates pay all their own expenses for travel to and from the convention. They also pay hotel and food costs. For security and coordination reasons it’s almost mandatory that all delegation members stay in the same hotel – and those aren’t inexpensive.
Anyone considering being a Delegate or Alternate should be prepared for costs of $1,500-$3,000 for the week. Carpooling to/from the convention and sharing a room would put you on the low end of that range, assuming you can find another Delegate or Alternate from the same state interested in sharing.
From Texas there are two paths to becoming a Delegate to the Republican National Convention:
Option 1 – Be Appointed by the National Nominations Committee
The 200-300 or so Delegates present at the Texas GOP state convention in each of the Congressional Districts elect one representative to be on the National Nominations Committee. Those 34 elected representatives and the Chair, appointed by the Chairman of the Republican Party of Texas, review applications from anyone who wants to be considered for appointment to be an At-Large Delegate or Alternate to the Republican National Convention.
After many hours of reviewing applications, listening to interviews, and voting, the National Nominations Committee produce a recommended slate of 44 At-Large Delegates (and a matching number of Alternates). There are also 3 mandatory delegates (the Texas GOP Chairman, National Committeeman and National Committeewoman, who are all elected by the delegates at the convention).
The list of At-Large Delegates and Alternates is then presented to the state convention delegates for a vote. I am unaware of any time in recent history when the list was not approved as submitted.
The only requirement to be an At-Large Delegate or Alternate is that you be a Texas resident and registered voter and have voted in the most recent Texas Republican party primary. Given the small number of spots available, though, most open At-Large positions are awarded to elected state officials and/or heads of conservative interest/action groups.
In 2016 on the first ballot the votes of the majority of the At-Large Delegates will be committed to Ted Cruz, with the remaining going to Donald Trump. On the second ballot they’ll be able to switch those votes between those two if they’d like. On the third and subsequent ballots they’ll be able to vote for anyone they’d like.
Option 2 – Be Elected by the Delegates in your Congressional District
In addition to electing a representative on the National Nominations Committee, the 200-300 or so Delegates present at the Texas GOP state convention in each of the Congressional Districts elect three Delegates (and three Alternates) to represent the District at the National Convention.
In 2016 the state rules and voting results mean that in most of the Congressional Districts two of the three Delegates will be committed to Ted Cruz, with the remaining going to Donald Trump. In a few Congressional Districts there will be a single Delegate committed to Marco Rubio. On the second ballot the Rubio Delegates will become unbound and may vote for anyone they wish. On the third and subsequent ballots all of the Delegates will be unbound.
Anyone interested in running may be nominated from the floor of the Congressional District caucus. After nominations are closed, elections begin for each of the National Delegate slots and each candidate is offered some time to address the caucus and make a case for why they should be selected over the other candidates for the spot. The secret ballot results are counted and the winner is named. Then the process is repeated for the remaining Delegate and Alternate spots.
Some people elected as National Delegate are so well known and loved across their Congressional District that they simply appear at the caucus, state their interest, someone nominates them, and they win the vote.
The opposite extreme is the full-blown campaign. In this case the candidate has called every member of their Congressional District caucus to ask for their vote, has mailed multi-color brochures on their qualifications to each member, had multiple nomination speeches presented on their behalf, distributed flyers at the caucus, etc.
In the past, interest groups have coordinated efforts, making sure their preferred candidates never compete against each other. This coordination has even taken the form of synchronized text messages with voting suggestions during the caucus election process.
The Bottom Line
The likelihood of any one person becoming a Delegate to the Republican National Convention is very small. From the 10,000 Texas GOP State Convention Delegates and Alternates, 155 will be elected.
The odds of success vary substantially according to who else is in the same Congressional District.
Still, it’s an open process, and like the rest of the Texas GOP organization, it’s built from the ground up. If you’re committed and can make the case for why you should be one of the very few, go for it!