Maryland is a state where centrists have long dominated Republican politics, but it will be represented by some of the most die-hard Donald Trump supporters in the nation when the Republican Party meets this month to formally choose a presidential nominee.Traitors in their midst?
The unusual system used by state Republicans to select their 38 presidential delegates to the party's national convention has essentially locked out Trump naysayers, several observers said. That makes Maryland's delegation more resistant to the barrage of proposed rule changes intended to undermine the presumptive nominee on the convention floor in Cleveland.
"We're all hard-core Trump people; we're solid," said Jim Crawford, a Trump delegate from Charles County and one of two Republicans from Maryland who will serve on the convention rules committee, which meets next week. "I was elected by people who pulled the lever with my name only because Trump's name was beside it."
The depth of commitment to Trump espoused by many Maryland delegates stands in contrast to the views expressed by the state's GOP leaders, including Gov. Larry Hogan, who said last month that he will not vote for him.
The loyalty means Maryland's delegates are unlikely to support rule changes proposed by some conservative groups to, for instance, allow delegates to vote their conscience rather than being bound to support the candidate who won their state's primary election.
Trump received 54 percent of Maryland's GOP vote in the April 26 primary. The second-place finisher, Ohio Gov. John R. Kasich, got 23 percent. Under current rules, Maryland delegates are bound to support Trump on the first two rounds of balloting.
Crawford's explanation for his commitment to Trump underscores the importance of obscure party rules that have tangible consequences. Maryland is one of nine states in which voters directly elect GOP delegates to the convention: Delegates appear on the primary ballot with the presidential candidate's name adjacent to their own.
And Maryland is among an even smaller share of those states in which the winner of the primary receives all of the state's delegates.
Josh Putnam, a professor of government at the University of Georgia and an expert on the presidential primary process, said Rhode Island is the only other state that selects delegates in the same way. The system, Putnam said, has the potential to produce a delegation of loyalists.
"These [delegates] are more likely to be aligned with the Trump campaign, and even if they were freed they would be more likely to support Trump than go in a different direction," he said.
The vast majority of states select delegates at state GOP conventions, meaning that party leaders have far more control over who goes to the national convention.
Throughout much of the primary season, establishment Republicans wary of Trump hoped the bombastic New York real estate mogul would not garner the 1,237 delegates needed to clinch the nomination — a situation that could have forced a contested convention.
But Trump cleared that threshold in late May, forcing the "never Trump" organizers to fall back.
Their latest effort, supported by groups with names such as Free the Delegates and Courageous Conservatives, involves a proposed convention rule change that would allow delegates to support whomever they want.
The groups, which did not respond to a request for comment, need 57 votes on the 112-member rules committee to force the change.
Even supporters have acknowledged that that will be a significant challenge.
Louis Pope is not only an at-large delegate to the convention and the state's current national committeeman, he is a 12-year veteran of the RNC standing rules committee and its current vice chairman. His 56-member committee proposes rules for the Republican Party, including for the convention.
Those proposals ― essentially recommendations ― are then considered by the larger, 112-member panel.
The Howard County man said the vast majority of Republicans are unlikely to embrace the kinds of rule changes that anti-Trump forces are contemplating. His committee recommended making no changes to the rules when it met earlier this year.
"We felt, since the primary started, we shouldn't change the rules," Pope said. "You can't change the rules once the game starts."
Pope said there could be passionate debate about the issue in the larger convention rules committee when it meets next week, but predicted that most delegates would conclude that Trump won the nomination fair and square.
"While some want to make a big deal about changes, I don't see it happening," he said.
Republicans will hold their convention July 18-21. Democrats, who are meeting in Philadelphia the following week, have their own wounds to heal, given the unexpectedly protracted primary fight between presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.
But Clinton is not expected to face the kind of animosity from within her party that Trump has generated in some quarters of his.
Nicolee Ambrose, the other Maryland delegate who will serve on the convention rules committee, said she wants to study the details of the "conscience rule" proposal before making a final decision, but said the candidate who wins the required number of delegates should win the nomination.
"I strongly believe that we are bound to the concept of rule of law," said Ambrose, the state's RNC national committeewoman. "I have a strong and healthy respect for anyone who can compete with 17 people and get through the process and win the required number of delegates."