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Trump rift: How the RNC has gone to war—with itself

The rift between Donald Trump supporters and foes is hitting a feverish pitch on the public stage, but behind closed doors of the Republican National Committee, a bitter fight among the delegates and the leadership has been raging. One insider warns that the conflict could boil over onto the floor of the convention if the "RNC establishment elite" tries any "dirty tricks."

Diana Orrock, a Nevada national committeewoman and RNC member, delegate and Trump supporter, told CNBC on Monday the party is already fractured because the party leadership is pushing to stop Trump.

"The RNC [members] are trying to force nominees down the throat of delegates that the establishment elite like. Look what they have done in the past — Dole, McCain, Romney. Come on, it doesn't work," she said. "The national convention should not be a top down process. It's supposed to be about who the delegates want. Not what (RNC Chairman) Reince Priebus wants."

A.J. Spiker, past chairman of the Republican Party of Iowa and a former senior advisor to Sen. Rand Paul's presidential campaign, said the Republican consultant class is against Trump because he has not taken any special interest money, which would secure their influence over the president.

"He is not beholden to them," Spiker said. "These are people you wouldn't even want looking after your children.They are deadbeats. The Republican consultants want someone in the office they can have influence on. With Trump they would have no power. They would rather lose the election and keep the power of the Republican Party rather than win the election where they have no power."

The RNC declined to comment to CNBC.

The division within the RNC gained attention on Jan. 14, when Orrock posted on the "Following Liberty at the RNC Winter Meeting in Charleston" Facebook page. Her post lit up a passionate discussion among follow delegates:

You should have heard the diatribes from two RNC members this morning at our members-only breakfast. They didn't name him, but strongly admonished the members to not support Trump. I couldn't believe what I was hearing. So, here we have Trump, the consistent FRONT RUNNER, who could hand the GOP a landslide win with RNC backing, but all they want to do is take him out. Welcome to the organization that wants to destroy its own party and go against the will of the people and its voting base.

Orrock told CNBC she was "horrified" that morning. "They said he was the kind of Republican this party should not be supporting, and shame on any of us for supporting him," she said. "What surprised me the most was Chairman Priebus. He didn't say anything to put those kinds of comments in their place. Priebus' silence spoke louder — it said he supported their comments."

As protesters shadow campaign appearances by Trump, the billionaire has shifted a planned Monday-night rally in south Florida to Ohio, where polls show Governor John Kasich may be pulling ahead days before the states primary election.
Andrew Harrer | Bloomberg | Getty Images

To those commenting on her RNC meeting status, Orrock pledged her support for Trump at the convention. She told CNBC her goal is to be nominated to the all-important convention rules committee. "Donald Trump is connecting with the grassroots and is awakening them. I have never seen this happen in my lifetime. I need to be on that committee to ensure no dirty tricks are done at the convention," she said.

The rules committee is made up of 112 men and women from the 50 states and five U.S. territories who are nominated during the primary season. The rules to elect these powerful delegates vary from state to state.

Five states allow the presidential candidates to choose their delegates themselves: California, Ohio, New Hampshire, Connecticut and Hawaii.

Three other states — Idaho, Louisiana and Tennessee — are hybrids: Delegates are partially handpicked by the candidates and through a ballot vote at a primary or caucus.

One of the delegate contests in the U.S. territories that's being closely watched is the Virgin Islands. While V.I. residents can't vote in presidential elections, party rules say its nine registered Republican delegates can vote at the convention, said Gary Emineth, former chairman of the Republican Committee of North Dakota and an unbound delegate.

The Virgin Islands' delegation could play a pivotal role if neither Trump nor Sen. Ted Cruz get enough delegates before the convention. Cruz has at least six delegates running in the islands' caucus ballot while Trump has three and John Kasich has none. That means Cruz could sweep the six delegates while the most Trump could hope for is three, Emineth said.

Even though voters select delegates to represent a particular candidate, the delegates can vote for whomever they want, according to Curly Haugland, an unbound delegate from North Dakota and a member of the RNC standing rules committee. Wooing these delegates at the convention is know as "the ground game."

Emineth, who has seen the ground game in action at past conventions, says the makeup of the convention delegates is extremely important to the outcome of a contested convention.

"I am not sure the Trump camp understands the importance of the ground game. Why? They have been losing in the caucus states, which is where Cruz has won more often, and that's where a good ground game is needed to win," he said. "The national convention is a microcosm of the caucus, which points to the Trump camp not investing in the correct staffing for a contested convention."

That's why Orrock wants to be elected to the committee. "The party is already fractured and what is in store for us at this convention will be dirty," she said. "So many people have woken up now to what they are trying to do. Being on this committee can help me have a voice for my candidate and make sure the dirty tricks don't happen."

Haugland and Emineth warned that any dirty tricks would most likely happen on the rules committee.

As an example, Emineth said, the Romney campaign in 2012 had a delegate placed on the rules committee. He was able to get a rule change that made it mandatory for any candidate to have the support of a majority of delegates from at least eight states rather than a plurality of five states.

"This was put in place to assure Ron Paul could not get his name placed in nomination and create discord at the convention," Emineth said. "The Trump and Cruz campaigns must be organized to be sure they get their people on the convention rules committee; otherwise the antis will use this vehicle to create an opportunity to insert a new rule to their advantage."

Haugland, a member of the past convention rules committee, is looking to get renominated on the rules committee to replace the 2012 rule change with a new amendment that he believes would restore fairness and allow all candidates with at least one delegate to be placed on the first ballot.

"He who knows the rules, rules. It's about being fair," Haugland said.

Luke Sharrett | Bloomberg | Getty Images

While some delegates snicker that a candidate with only one delegate could be allowed on the presidential ballot, Trump supporters like Orrock aren't worried. "I don't have a problem of the lesser candidates in the mix. I don't think they will have a chance against Donald Trump. I think the bound delegates on the second vote will switch to support Donald Trump," she said.

"There is a great divide in the Republican party. What we have are those who are being told to go in line with the establishment elite and those of us who believe in standing on principle." -Diana Orrock, RNC member, delegate and Trump supporter

Some delegates like Spiker are not optimistic.

"I am not seeing from day one that Trump has a strategy to move through the convention process. He is banking hard on momentum from being a winner. By him not having the soldiers on the ground he can't compete in a convention," Spiker said. "Cruz on the other hand, does have soldiers but his problem is his people don't have the money to spend to go to a convention. I think Kasich is looking better than the press gives him credit for. Trump is at a disadvantage. If you look at the people that go to national convention, they are the party insiders, party chairs, people involved in a campaign and that's not Trump's orbit."

With the majority of the delegates not even elected yet, combined with the GOP convention moved up a month early to July, candidates will have compressed time to woo delegates and connect with those already supporting them. "These candidates will not know the names of the delegates until 30 days before the convention, so unless you have a great ground game right now, you're behind," Emineth said. "You need to have an insider who knows every prospective delegate now."

Orrock warned the Republican party is at a critical juncture. "There is a great divide in the Republican party. What we have are those who are being told to go in line with the establishment elite and those of us who believe in standing on principle," she said. "It's the establishment elite that need to get out, not people like myself."