Small as the Virgin Islands Republican Party may be, it is playing a major role in a proposal that could upend party politics and lock in the nomination of President Donald Trump as the GOP candidate for 2020.
Jevon O.A. Williams, the V.I. Republican national committeeman, and April Newland, vice chairwoman of the V.I. party, confirmed Thursday that Williams emailed other members of the Republican National Committee, urging them to declare Trump the party’s “presumptive nominee” for 2020.
As Newland described the proposal, it could eliminate the need for a Republican primary and a full-blown national convention, and thus “save a lot of time, money, effort and a lot of battling.”
She said the idea has been discussed with party representatives of other territories and various states. If there is enough support, it can be considered a formal proposal and the RNC can put it to a vote of the full membership. Newland said she was unsure of the exact number of supporters it would need to be considered, but implied it could be as few as two states together with all the territories.
Williams declined to discuss the reaction to his email or to comment beyond confirming that he sent it, as reported in a New York Times story Thursday.
According to the Times story, Williams urged his colleagues to pass a resolution at an upcoming winter meeting endorsing Trump and declaring him “the presumptive nominee in 2020” and making it more difficult for a challenger to have his or her name placed in nomination at the 2020 National Convention.
The story suggested the email was part of a reaction by Trump stalwarts who are digging in their heels after U.S. Republican senator and former governor Mitt Romney criticized Trump in an essay published Jan. 1 in the Washington Post.
Romney commended Trump for many of his actions and policies but questioned his character and leadership, saying he “has not risen to the mantle of the office.”
Romney lost his own bid for the presidency in 2012 and is regarded by some as a possible challenger for the 2020 nomination.
“A lot of Republicans are just worn out” from all the discord in the party, Newland said. They may be ready for what she called a “new” idea, conceding it is also a “radical idea.”
This is not the first time the Virgin Islands has flexed its political muscle. Although residents can’t vote for president, their party officials can vote in conventions, and the 2016 Republican primary was so close that every vote counted.
“The territories were pivotal in the last convention because they (presidential candidates) needed those votes,” Newland said.
The Virgin Islands GOP went through a great deal of upheaval in the last few years, much of it centered on Trump, and for a while was divided into two camps.
Williams declined to comment on the state of the V.I. party today, referring questions to John Canegata, the state chairman. Canegata did not return a message.
Newland said the argument is basically settled.
“Those people (who opposed Canegata and pro-Trump voices) are not in office anymore,” she said. “They were voted out.”
The Republican party in the Virgin Islands has historically lagged far behind the Democratic party in membership. Statistics from the Board of Elections show the total number of registered voters in the territory – including Democrats, Republicans, no-party, and members of the Independent Citizens Movement was 46,076 in 2016. Of those, just 1,715 were Republicans.