CLEVELAND – Chaos reigned at the Republican National Convention for a brief moment late Monday afternoon when a cadre of grassroots conservatives, led by Sen. Mike Lee, mounted a final effort to thwart Donald Trump’s nomination. They failed, and the GOP is now the undisputed party of Trump.
The specific issue at hand was whether to hold a roll call vote on the convention rules, including the requirement that delegates must vote for the candidate who won their state’s primary. Unbinding the delegates would allow them to vote their conscience, giving anti-Trump party members a chance to nominate someone else. A smaller group of conservative delegates last week tried to insert a “conscience clause” in the convention rules, but failed. A floor vote on the adopted rules was their last-ditch effort.
To force a vote, a majority of delegates from at least seven states had to formally request it. According to Lee, at least nine states did just that. But instead of a roll call vote, the chairwoman of the rules committee, Enid Mickelsen, called for a voice vote. Broadcast live on CNN, the voice vote was a farce. The “Ayes” and the “Noes” were more or less indistinguishable. Yet the chairman of voting procedures, Rep. Steve Womack of Arkansas, declared that the ayes had it. Then he abandoned the podium.
At this, chaos erupted. The entire Colorado delegation walked out of the convention, along with a portion of the Iowa delegation. Former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli ripped off his credentials and threw them on the convention floor in disgust. An uproar broke out in the hall as conservative delegates began chanting “roll call vote” and Trump delegates countered with their own chant of “We want Trump.”
“There is no precedent for this in parliamentary procedure. There is no precedent for this in the rules of the Republican National Convention,” Lee told Politico. “We are now in uncharted territory. Somebody owes us an explanation. I have never seen the chair abandoned like that. They vacated the stage entirely.”
Another voice vote was soon called. Again it was unclear which side had it, and again Womack declared the ayes had it. Although nine states had submitted the request for a roll call vote, Womack claimed three states had withdrawn their requests after the first voice vote. “The chair has found insufficient support for a record vote,” he said. And that was that. Convention officials denied requests to identify the states that had supposedly withdrawn their requests for a record vote.
So instead of a roll call vote that would have revealed where the delegates stand on the rules question, the country was treated to the equivalent of a stadium-sized “applause-o-meter.”
Worse, though, is that it wasn’t at all clear convention officials followed their own rules in quashing the vote. “They rolled through, they cheated,” Cuccinelli said afterwards. “You saw them violate their own rules. And if the rules don’t matter I’m not sure why we spend all this time writing them.”
The GOP Now Belongs To Trump
The entire episode confirmed that the GOP establishment is firmly in Trump’s hand, and that conservatives don’t count for much his party. The RNC has been trying mightily to project an image of unity in the weeks leading up to this convention. But instead of unity, the overwhelming feeling on Monday was chaos.
There was even a battle over what all the fighting Monday afternoon was about. Pro-Trump delegates claimed the attempt to force a record vote was about denying Trump the nomination, while conservative delegates insisted it was about giving the grassroots more say in how the party conducts its business.
“The roll call vote makes things accountable, it allows us to understand who is doing what,” said Texas delegate Drew Danford. “There are a lot people who don’t understand the nature of what’s going on, who think this was all about unseating Trump. In fact, the Cruz people wanted it, the Trump people wanted it. Anybody who wanted accountability wanted it. It was all about accountability.”
Lee and Cuccinelli shared that sentiment, saying the rules vote was more about future elections than whether Trump is the nominee this year.
Trump’s GOP Isn’t About Power-Sharing
Alas, accountability and power-sharing don’t appear to be priorities for the new Trump GOP. Paul Manafort, Trump’s bag-man, said the roll call vote would have been a “meaningless gesture” because Trump would have won anyway. Plus, he said, it would have messed up the schedule for Monday night.
In other words, in Trump’s GOP, the evening speaking schedule—essentially an extended Trump rally—is more important than giving convention delegates the chance to cast a record vote, to clear the air and ensure accountability, and to feel they have a stake in the future of the Republican Party.
The only reason to have a convention in the first place was to work out those issues, and in so doing, bring the party together. That’s what real unity would have been. Instead, conservatives were muzzled by an opaque process that likely violated the convention’s own rules, deepened fissures within the party, and alienated party members Trump will need to win in November.
Welcome to the Trump GOP.