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Citing 'conscience,' GOP's anti-Trump holdouts try pre-nomination pushback

As Donald Trump narrows Hillary Clinton's lead in national polls, a group of Republican delegates wants to amend the party's rules, freeing delegates to vote their conscience.  

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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump addresses the crowd during a rally at the Milwaukee Theatre in Milwaukee in April.

Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

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As voters and Republican leaders express aversion to Donald Trump, a group of Republican delegates have devised a last-minute plan to deny him the presidential nomination 

Group leader Kendal Unruh, a Denver-area schoolteacher and activist who sits on the party’s rules committee, wants to pass a “conscience clause” amendment to party electoral rules, freeing delegates to cast a different vote at the July convention than the one they’d pledged during primary season, reported the Washington Post on Friday.

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Mr. Unruh, like most of the dozen or so other anti-Trump delegates who make up the group, backed Texas Sen. Ted Cruz during the primaries. To change the rules, they need 56 of the 112 delegates who make up the rules committee to get on board, CNN reports.

Finding an alternative may pose the most significant hurdle in rallying support. Unruh told the Post that “nobody has any idea who is going to step in and be the nominee,” calling the plan an “'Anybody but Trump' movement.”

Some top Republicans have voiced dissent to Trump’s proposed ban on foreign-born Muslims and verbal attacks on district judge Gonzalo Curiel, and in some cases hinted that they could later withdraw their support entirely. One such figure is House Speaker Paul Ryan, who has taken a laissez-faire approach to anti-Trump feelings among the party’s ranks. In an interview on NBC’s Meet the Press to be aired on Sunday, the Wisconsin representative said he would not be “leading some chasm in the middle of our party,” but that members of the House Republican conference shouldn’t support Trump if it’s “contrary to their conscience.”

An ABC News/Washington Post poll conducted last week may have given the anti-Trump cause a lift. Seventy percent of registered voters expressed an unfavorable view of Trump, compared to 55 percent for Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee. And many of these voters were especially emphatic: 56 percent said their views of the presumptive Republican nominee were “strongly unfavorable.” 

Still, even as antipathy toward Trump rises, he has gained ground on Mrs. Clinton in national polls. A new Reuters survey carried out in the wake of the Orlando attacks found that he had climbed to within 11 points of her. It found that 45.5 percent of voters opted for Clinton, versus 34.8 percent for Trump and 19.7 percent for neither.

From the primary and caucuses, Trump has accrued more than 1,400 delegates – well over the 1,237 required to seal the GOP nomination. In the past, the party has bound delegates to the vote they cast in their state’s primary. But the rules committee, Bloomberg notes, draws up the playbook for the convention just before it takes place, then submits it to the full convention for approval.

In other words, this year's rules aren't yet set.

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The RNC’s chief strategist, Sean Spicer, issued a statement denying the existence of an “organized effort” to undermine the presumptive nominee, a possibility that Trump has called “illegal” and a “rebuke to the millions of people who feel strongly about what I am saying.”