Custer in Cleveland
#NeverTrump’s Last Stand Starts Now
The GOP’s anti-Trumpsters have one final chance to stop their presumptive nominee—but the tide may be turning against them.
CLEVELAND — The #NeverTrump movement’s plan to force a coup at the Republican convention next week is in its twilight moment—trying to pull off one last gasp to disrupt Donald Trump and prevent an uncontested coronation.
It’s been a valiant effort by a group of Republican delegates who find the idea of Trump’s presidential nomination intolerable, and who say they have the moral courage to stand up for what they believe to be right, at the risk of jeopardizing their personal standing in the party.
But it is unlikely to be successful, and instead Cleveland will be something of a tragic last stand for anti-Trump Republicans.
The critical battleground will be the meetings of the Rules Committee, which begin on Thursday. The #NeverTrump initiative hinges on the idea that Republican delegates in Cleveland should be able to unbind from their state’s preferences, voting instead based on their personal consciences.
But the proposal to unbind delegates has never had a real shot at earning support among a majority of committee members. Those who support unbinding the delegates hoped to secure 28 of the committee’s 112 members, which would then send the proposal to the convention floor as a “minority report.” This vote is expected on Friday.
Kendal Unruh, a Colorado delegate who is spearheading the effort, claims that the proposal to unbind delegates has gained increasing support. But if more delegates are leaning anti-Trump, few are willing to say so publicly. And even Unruh seemed to indicate Wednesday night that she was looking past the “conscience clause” effort.
Instead, the delegates willing to speak out publicly on the issue are largely against unbinding. The Daily Beast reached out to 112 members of the Rules Committee; out of the 26 who responded, only five said they now support allowing the delegates to vote their conscience. A Wall Street Journal survey last week found that 20 members in total were open to the idea.
Trump, as the presumptive nominee, has an incredible amount of power over the convention—and the Republican National Committee, which wants a smooth convention process, is only happy to aid the effort to nix the conscience clause invocation. On Wednesday afternoon, RNC general counsel John Ryder stressed he did not believe that delegates were free to vote for their personal preferences.
One of the reasons the conscience clause effort was likely to fail, said RNC member Morton Blackwell—who has attended every rules committee since 1972—was that it has not been championed by someone with “sufficient political clout” to sway large groups of members.
“The power of a presumptive nominee is immense,” Blackwell told The Daily Beast.
Anti-Trump delegates have been feeling the heat for airing their personal opinions. Lori Hack, a delegate from Arizona, told The Daily Beast she was denied convention credentials by her state party because she did not want to sign a pledge stating that she would support the presumptive candidate. She claims she was coerced into signing the pledge by Arizona GOP Chairman Robert Graham.
Graham also leaked a letter to the media that was intended for Hack before it was even sent to her. The letter stated that she had resigned as a delegate—which she denies. This week, Hack was threatened on Twitter by Trump supporters who said she “doesn’t belong in America” and should be “carrying protection 24/7.” Nevertheless, Hack told The Daily Beast she plans to travel to Cleveland and vote her conscience as a delegate.
This week, only two rules committee members were willing to go on the record about their support for the proposal: Gina Blanchard-Reed of Washington state and Colorado’s Unruh, who is the architect behind the push to free delegates’ votes.
“Why should just 112 people have the final say?” Blanchard-Reed told The Daily Beast. “I would like to see it come to the floor for an up and down vote.”
But #NeverTrump’s fierce lobbying effort is beginning to fray tempers. Blackwell said that he had received perhaps 300 emails from people “fiercely opposed to Trump being our nominee.”
Meanwhile, New Jersey delegate Christine Serrano-Glassner summed up the view of the pro-Trump crowd: “Sore losers should shut up and support the Republican nominee as he prepares to accept the party nomination that is rightly his.”