“This is not a way to unify the party,” Guy Short, a national delegate from Colorado and member of the Republican National Committee convention’s Rules Committee, tells me. Short supported Ted Cruz during the primaries, but he’s a loyal partisan, hardly #NeverTrump.
“I’m an easy guy to get if you want to unify a party,” says the amenable Short. “I was on board for Dole and McCain. I supported Mitt Romney. None of them were my first choice, either. But the way this convention has been handled by the RNC, so heavy-handed, it’s going to be difficult to unify this way.”
When pro-Trump forces circumvented a roll call vote on the convention rules on Monday, a group of Colorado delegates walked out in protest. While they were lucky enough to avoid a torrent of stilted platitudes and clumsy tautology that dominated the convention, Short stuck around. But like other Colorado delegates I spoke with, he’s suspicious of the RNC’s tactics.
It was apparent that the RNC engaged in union-style steamrolling to save face. A roll call vote to challenge the rules would almost surely have failed, but it might have been less damaging to illusory “unity” than watching well-known conservatives like Mike Lee and Ken Cuccinelli screaming at the presiding officer of a convention to allow a delegate vote.
Imagine if all the petrified politicians who were avoiding the convention had participated in this effort. Perhaps conservatives would have had a chance to save their party from a half-empty hall cheering on a former sitcom actor and a plagiarized speech.
As it went down, a majority of delegates from nine delegations — Iowa, Washington, Minnesota, Colorado, Maine, Utah, Virginia, Wyoming, and Washington DC — had petitioned the secretary of the convention for a roll call vote on the rules. After a long, unexplained break, Steve Womack of Arkansas, acting as the presiding officer, finally allowed a Utah delegate to request the vote so he could shut it down. Womack maintained that delegates had removed their names from the petition, bringing the number under the requisite amount needed to proceed.
Those with whom I spoke have been unable to track down who backed out. In any event, instead of a proper roll call, there was a voice vote with a bunch of people screaming “ayes” and another bunch screaming “nays.”
The RNC declared the “ayes” the winner, and Trump supporters cheered and celebrated the ability to shut down a minority faction, as the GOP starts to take on the personality of its new leader. It was “the most disgusting display of parliamentary abuse that I’ve ever seen in the 14 conventions that I have attended starting in 1964,” longtime Virginia conservative activist Morton Blackwell told NBC.
“They heard our voices, and they sent the world a message that they don’t care about fairness or delegates, that they cheat and steal and conduct business without any transparency,” explained Kendal Unruh, the Colorado teacher and pro-life advocate who’s become the leading voice of the campaign to free the delegates.
Unruh says the Trump forces have shut down debate at every turn. Short relayed a story about the Rules Committee meeting before the vote, where a delegate from Alaska named Fred Brown stood to make a passionate plea that unity could be achieved by allowing disagreements to be aired. The chairwoman, “angrily, and without any grace or sympathy,” according to Short, demeaned Brown, ruled him out of order (which she had no power to do, incidentally) and shut him down.
“I am on the Rules Committee, and we got rolled,” Short goes on. “There are delegates that weren’t even elected to this convention. They were elected as, effectively speaking, super delegates by virtue of their representation in that body. So we wanted a full vote on the floor of delegates. And we submitted 10-plus states to do it. They denied some states. And they said some took their names off. We don’t know why.”
You probably never will. One of the central criticisms the GOP has leveled against Barack Obama is that the president has abandoned his commitment to “unprecedented” transparency. The GOP offered none, as it denied delegates the ability to vote their consciences. Really, what’s the point of having delegates if they have no choice?
“Bottom line, there was a significant amount of delegates requesting a roll call,” Short says, “and it wasn’t just about Trump but folks who were interested in dealing with a lot of other issues; open versus closed primaries; the transparency of the RNC; issues about governance and rules. We want a bottom-up process not top-down one. These were all important issues that went ignored.”
Unruh says it isn’t over. That anti-Trump RNC delegates will regroup and probably challenge the delegate vote count on Wednesday, although she says anything after this will be an “organic effort.” As you can imagine, Paul Manafort, who has a keen understanding of how dictatorships function, will likely see to it that there’s unanimity. It seems unlikely pro-“conscience” delegates have any way to disrupt the convention other than walking.
“They have given full power and control to the RNC, not the delegates,” Unruh says. “This was a candidate who portrayed himself as an outsider but reveals himself to be the quintessential insider and power boss when it comes to making a choices for all Republicans.”
There are probably three basic types of Trump supporters: The majority are probably partisans who will vote for Trump because they routinely vote for their party’s nominee. Then there are those who believe voting against Hillary Clinton is a moral imperative, even if it means supporting someone as distasteful as Trump. And then there are those willing to drop any pretense of principle to do whatever it takes to facilitate Trump’s rise. These are people like Reince Priebus.