A key Republican National Convention committee crushed a long-shot attempt by rogue delegates to block Donald Trump’s nomination, as internal strife that’s roiled the party for much of the past decade was on full display Thursday amid fights over governing rules for the next four years.
The convention’s Rules Committee — convened exactly a week before Trump is expected to accept the party’s nomination — worked well into the evening as an air of distrust hovered over the 112-member panel.
While an attempt can still be made to try to unbind delegates from Trump, the committee voted overwhelmingly to reject a proposed amendment to allow delegates to vote their conscience and ignore the results of primaries and caucuses in their states. Kendal Unruh, a delegate from Colorado and a leader of the effort to stop Trump, offered the amendment.
“That is a God-given right,” Unruh said. “It should not be taken away by the RNC, by any party or by the state.”
Delegates defeated the amendment on a voice vote, but the vote to end debate on the measure was 77 to 21.
“It’s over folks,” Steve Scheffler, a delegate from Iowa, said during debate on a previous amendment dealing with binding delegates. “We need to get behind our candidate.”
Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign chairman, celebrated the committee’s actions with a comment on Twitter. “Anti-Trump people get crushed at Rules Committee,” he wrote. “It was never in doubt: convention will honor will of people.”
The tensions played out even before the panel grapples with the question of whether a so-called minority report should be issued voicing opposition to Trump’s nomination. That quest appears likely to come to a head Monday when the report could be delivered on the first day of the full convention, if 28 votes for it can be secured from the committee.
Unless the full convention accepted the minority report, however, the delegates would remain bound. A bid to change the rules could always be initiated from the floor of the convention, but the hurdles for passage there are significantly higher.
The effort against Trump is being pushed by those within the party who view him as an unqualified candidate who has alienated women and minorities and could lead the party to devastating electoral defeat in November.
Much of Thursday’s combativeness came from delegates loyal to Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, who finished second in the primary campaign and may be trying to help shape the party’s rules in a way that could help him with a potential 2020 White House bid.
It was clear from the start that the committee work wasn’t going to move smoothly or quickly. Almost immediately after convening, the panel took a three-hour break for negotiations behind closed doors. Those sessions included the unusual personal involvement of Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus.
Ken Cuccinelli, a former Virginia attorney general and Cruz loyalist, said a coalition of conservative grassroots delegates had a tentative deal with the RNC that the party abandoned. The delegates had agreed to drop their demands for party reforms such as forbidding paid lobbyists from becoming RNC members if the party would agree to incentives encouraging states to allow only party members to vote in their presidential primaries and caucuses, he said.
The deal was not connected with efforts to unbind delegates to allow them to vote against Trump or specifically to help Cruz, even though some of the interests overlapped, Cuccinelli said.
“This is absolutely focused on moving the Republican Party to a position where it is friendlier to the grassroots conservatives that really make up the heart of this party and do the work of this party,” he told reporters.
The Trump campaign participated in the discussions, but supported the RNC’s position and was mostly concerned about the effort to unbind delegates, Cuccinelli said. The coalition plans to submit minority reports Monday with its proposed RNC reforms, if it gets enough votes, he said.
As a result of the deal collapsing, the Rules Committee proceeded to debate a series of votes to limit the power of the RNC. One key flash-point was the party’s Rule 12, that gives the RNC — when three-quarters of its 168 members agree — the ability to amend many of the party’s other rules in between their quadrennial national conventions.
Morton Blackwell, a delegate from Virginia and Rules Committee member who backed Cruz during the primary campaign, proposed eliminating the rule in its entirety, calling it the “worst of the 2012 power grabs by the Romney campaign.”
The rule change was passed four years ago ahead of the convention that nominated former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney as a way to make the party more nimble in a modern era.
Blackwell argued that the rule has triggered “constant ugly battles for power” between the conventions and unfairly gives the party’s establishment the ability to show favor to certain presidential candidates.
That triggered a strong defense of the rule from several RNC’s members who are also serving on the convention’s Rules Committee.
Steve Duprey, a longtime RNC member from New Hampshire and member of the Rules Committee, called Rule 12 “one of the most important rules changes” that has been made in recent presidential election cycles and has allowed the party to be more nimble, including putting stronger requirements in place for how it would run primary campaign candidate debates.
“This rule works,” Duprey said.
23 – 86
Ultimately the amendment failed, with 23 delegates supporting it and 86 opposing.
At one point, Senator Mike Lee of Utah, a political ally of Cruz who is on the committee, alleged that party insiders were blocking the will of the party’s grassroots.
“We can spot a certain trend that’s evolved today, a trend toward not passing those amendments that tend to disperse power,” he said. “We’ve got to be very skeptical of things that help facilitate the accumulation of power in the hands of a few.”
Concessions to Cruz supporters could prove important in trying to eliminate a potential embarrassment for Trump.
The unrest in the party that helped Trump become the presumptive nominee was most evident in the debate about whether to forbid lobbyists at for-profit entities, or those working for firms whose primary purpose is lobbying, from becoming RNC members.
MaryAnne Kinney, a delegate from Maine, said she introduced the measure to exclude those with a financial interest and to “slow down the purchase of the RNC by the for-profit services.”
“We are the party led by the common man,” said Kinney, who is a state representative and a farmer. “Let’s reduce the influence-peddling, without appearance of impropriety.”
Several delegates spoke in opposition to the amendment as unfairly singling out lobbyists and an improper attempt to ban people from participating in politics.
But Cindy Pugh, a delegate from Minnesota, said it was a “pro-grassroots rule” that would not affect lobbyists for non-profit groups opposing abortion or supporting gun rights but would apply to lobbying firms such as the Podesta Group in Washington.
She also said the proposal was in line with Trump’s campaign message and his voters.
“Republican voters have overwhelmingly rejected insider politics this election cycle, and our presumptive nominee has clearly campaigned against special interests, too,” she said. “We make America great again when we empower the everyday Americans instead of insider lobbyists with ulterior motives.”
At one point, Blackwell suggested that all lobbyists on the committee raise their hands. His request was denied as an improper straw poll. “Gee, it would have been fun,” he said.
The amendment was defeated, as was a proposal to replace the ban on lobbyists with a requirement that they register with the party.