Trump operatives squash ‘Dump Trump’ movement
Campaign 2016 | But what would have happened if prominent Republicans had spoken up sooner?
by Jamie Dean
Posted 7/19/16, 09:35 am
CLEVELAND—Most afternoon sessions of national political conventions pass unnoticed by most Americans, as newscasters perched high above the convention floor chatter about the speakers scheduled for the prime-time broadcast.
But Monday’s afternoon session at the Republican National Convention suddenly erupted into a mini-melee for thousands of delegates on the floor of Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena, and it became the most-contested moment in recent convention history.
It was the tumultuous end of the movement to “Dump Trump,” or at least to vote on rules to allow delegates to vote for a nominee of their choice. And it was Donald Trump’s operatives who dealt the last-minute blow that drew shouts from the convention floor and sent the Colorado delegation storming out.
The effort to unbind delegates had seemed dead on arrival by Monday morning. During a 16-hour convention rules committee meeting last week, Trump staffers and Republican National Committee (RNC) operatives thwarted the effort by convincing enough committee members to vote against it.
But grassroots efforts, led by Colorado delegate Kendal Unruh and others, weren’t over. By Sunday afternoon, they were still working the phones. They needed delegations from seven states to approve a roll-call vote on Monday—a move that would have polled individual delegates on the rules package.
By Monday morning, they had at least nine.
It looked like the roll call possibly could happen, but when Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark., who was presiding over the convention, called for a voice vote on the question, chaos ensued. Womack said the proposal failed, though it wasn’t clear to many on the floor which side’s voices were louder.
Womack left the stage for 15 minutes as delegates shouted disapproval. When he returned, he made an announcement: Three states had withdrawn their support for the roll call. Without support from seven states, the proposal failed.
What happened? Trump operatives had successfully lobbied the states to back out of the effort. It wasn’t immediately clear why the states agreed, and an RNC official told Time magazine the party wouldn’t release a list of the states that withdrew.
By late Monday night, both sides were disputing the numbers of states that had signed on, and the numbers that withdrew, and members of the unbinding efforts called on RNC Chairman Reince Priebus to revisit the issue.
It’s not clear if that will happen, but one thing is clear: Hundreds of delegates wanted an opportunity to vote on the rules, and despite calls for unity, divisions in the party remain deep.
Gary Emineth, chairman of Trump’s finance committee, resigned his position after the floor fight. Though he’s a Trump supporter, Emineth said he stepped down “in protest of the bullying tactics employed by the RNC to silence the voice of delegates.”
Even the mild-mannered Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, shouted at the moderator from his arena post, and he later told reporters, “We are now in uncharted territory. Somebody owes us an explanation.”
The Republican Party had been in uncharted territory for months, with a controversial front-runner who won primaries but still divided Republican leaders and Republican voters in a host of states.
When members of the party’s rules committee launched an effort to unbind delegates at the convention, it wasn’t clear how Lee, a committee member, would vote. Last Thursday, he made a plea during the committee meeting to allow delegates to decide.
(Others on the committee were also pressing for closed primaries in the next presidential cycle to limit the choice of the Republican nominee to Republican voters. That proposal failed as well.)
Lee had been a Trump critic for months, but he didn’t endorse a Trump opponent in the primaries until the prospects of Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., dimmed. Lee then endorsed Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas.
Meanwhile, Cruz, Trump’s closest primary opponent—waited months before raising alarms about the front-runner’s temperament and character. (When reporters asked Cruz to comment on some of Trump’s controversial comments and language last fall, the senator avoided the question by saying there was nothing the media would like more than to divide Republicans.)
Others Republican lawmakers ducked reporters in the halls of Congress and avoided commenting on Trump as the potential nominee.
Would it have made a difference if more Republicans had voiced concerns earlier over Trump instead of remaining silent? It’s political hindsight now, but perhaps a potent lesson moving forward for a party struggling to find its way.
By Monday evening, the arena still buzzed with talk of the earlier floor fight, but prime-time coverage focused on a speech by Melania Trump, Donald Trump’s wife.
In an unconventional move, Trump appeared on the first night of the convention to introduce his wife. He seemed unfazed by the day’s events, telling the crowd, “We’re going to win so big.”