More in the limelight, though, are the party leaders boycotting the convention. Prominent Republicans who have made it clear they will not attend, some of whom are refusing to endorse the presumptive nominee, include former presidential candidates Mitt Romney and John McCain, House Speaker Paul Ryan, and the entire Bush family. When Trump procured the necessary 1237 delegates to rule out a brokered or contested convention, upset would-be delegates expressed their contempt by posting online photos of their burning party credentials. Conservative columnist George Will was among the most iconic to quit the party.
Overall fundraising reports published a couple weeks ago showed Clinton’s campaign had outraised Trump’s $42 million to $1.2 million. Going into the convention, the Republican National Committee tendered billionaire casino owner Sheldon Adelson a written request for $6 million to patch the event’s shortfall. It claimed over two dozen corporate donors had reneged on pledges totaling $8.1 million due to “negative publicity around our potential nominee.” Although the letter was later shown to contain a number of misrepresentations, Wells Fargo, UPS, Motorola, JPMorgan Chase, Ford, and Walgreens, all of which sponsored the 2012 convention, will not be helping out this year.
Loyal conservatives have been discomfited. Having pledged allegiance to a party they thought would always take the moral high ground and support business through minimal government intervention, they now felt tricked into supporting a progressive in the form of Trump. God-fearing delegates, unsettled by Trump’s hubris, past pro-abortion stances, bullying, coarseness, and involvement in casinos and strip clubs; are now seeking an out to vote their conscience.
A couple weeks before the convention, Virginia delegate Beau Correll won a lawsuit declaring Virginia’s delegate binding law un-Constitutional. Just as the various states have a number of formulas and processes for assigning, or as low-information voters claim “stealing,” delegates; they have different rules governing the number of rounds of voting in which delegates must vote for assigned candidates. But while the courts overthrew the state law, the Republican Party is a private organization within its rights to set its own rules for its own convention.
So the next attack by a group, becoming known as “conscience voters,” was to take place in the party’s Rules Committee meeting, to be held just prior to the convention. A series of amendments were promulgated by a handful of Rules Committee members, most prominent of whom were Colorado school teacher Kendal Unruh, Utah Senator Mike Lee, and former Ted Cruz campaign aide Ken Cuccinelli. Their intentions were well-published in days leading to the event.
They would propose an amendment to allow delegates to vote their conscience, and they would further change the primary process to prevent a repeat of this year’s outcome. For example, noting Trump’s successes in open primaries, they wanted to close at least the first four primaries to Democrat voters in future elections. While some cite Trump’s popularity with Democrats as widespread appeal, others suspect Democrats were crossing over to damage the party, as Rush Limbaugh had encouraged Republicans to do in Operation Chaos. As a compromise, open primaries would be allowed thereafter on the assumption that most non-serious contenders would drop out by then. Another idea floated was awarding a 20-percent delegate bonus to states with closed primaries. A different set of amendments would have awarded all states’ delegates proportionally, a fallback position being to require proportional allocations in all primaries before March 31.
Other amendments would have decentralized power within the Republican Party. One would have repealed Rule 12, approved at the last convention, which allows 168 RNC members to rewrite the rules at any time rather than distributing the power among 2472 delegates once every four years. Another would have banned lobbyists from being members of the RNC. Others would have reduced the chair’s oversight of the budget committee, allowed committees to elect their own chairs, and require parliamentary procedures at all RNC meetings.
But shortly after the Rules Committee convened, a printer malfunction caused the committee to recess for five hours. Trump campaign officials and RNC leadership later admitted they had contrived the excuse in order to hold a backroom sit-down with Cuccinelli, Unruh, and Lee. Upon emerging, Cuccinelli said the subject of freeing the delegates was never even broached, RNC leadership having made it clear that was a nonstarter. Instead, negotiations were dissolved over an inability to agree on the number of bonus delegates that should be awarded to states with closed primaries.
But when the Rules Committee resumed its business, The Establishment’s action plan was executed like clockwork. News outlets made no secret that committee members had been “whipped” to vote against the amendments, and skilled Parliamentarians made sure all amendments were squashed without debate and with follow-up motions preventing the matters from being reconsidered. As the meeting stretched toward the midnight hour, members enjoyed dinner and side conversations and, on autopilot, voted down the amendments in landslides.
Surprising the “conscience voters” was an amendment proposed and adopted by Trump supporters that explicitly stated delegates must vote their states’ pledges. To the conscience crew, conventions were a check and balance for conventions gone bad. One sarcastically proposed an amendment to change the proactive word “votes” to a more inanimate “counts,” since pledges were standing in the way of reason. Another measure approved by Trump supporters will now provide for the setting up a private email service for Rules Committee members so they don’t have to be “subjected” to emails from concerned citizens.
When all was said and done, Lee was finally granted a chance to speak. “This problem, this angst, as we will see in a few days, isn’t just going to go away just because we paper over it with rules,” he said. “So I say to Mr. Trump and those who’ve aligned with him: Make the case.” Later, Lee explained that the nominee had to win both the primaries and the convention. He said silencing the opposition to achieve unity was not going to “release any of the steam.” Instead, he suggested, if Trump were to “come out with a strong message, a strong focus on federalism and separation of powers, that would help a lot of people become convinced that he’s not going to be . . . an autocrat in office.”
Unruh said in follow-up she never expected to win with the amendments, and things were proceeding as planned.