Anti-Trump forces, preparing their final, desperate maneuver to deny Trump the Republican Presidential nomination, are struggling to settle on a strategy and they’re down to their final day.
In hushed meetings in hotels dotting the downtown Cleveland on Saturday, deflated leaders of the effort discussed a slew of parliamentary tactics that may disrupt the GOP National Convention, which begins Monday, but are unlikely to derail Trump himself.
For now, the favored strategy appears to be an attempt to block the Convention’s 2,472 delegates from adopting a new set of Party rules on Monday, rejecting the blueprint passed Thursday by the Convention Rules Committee. Anti-Trump operatives are cobbling together signatures from delegates in order to force a recorded vote on the rules package. They need the support of majorities in seven delegations to guarantee a vote. And if they succeed, their next challenge would be to furiously lobby the entire Convention to reject the rules and add new language freeing them to rebel against Trump.
“I’m not going to let the Rules Committee think that they’re relevant,” said Kendal Unruh, a Colorado delegate and Leader of the “Free the Delegates” movement. “I’m not going to empower them anymore. The power has been and will continue to be in the hands of the delegates.”
The effort to kill the rules got a boost Friday night when Ken Cuccinelli, the Leader of a conservative faction of delegates, suggested he’d consider aiding the attempt. Cuccinelli is miffed at failed negotiations with the Republican National Committee (RNC) on conservative-favored changes to the rules. Now he has appeared to find common cause with the stop-Trump delegates, even if he hasn’t explicitly endorsed their goal.
Cuccinelli also met Friday with a cadre of delegates who intend to back his effort to force rule changes. They included Virginia’s Morton Blackwell and Anne Gentry, Louisiana’s Gwen Bowen, Wyoming’s Harriet Hageman, Minnesota’s Cindy Pugh, Oklahoma’s Megan Winburn and Oregon’s Solomon Yue, according to two sources familiar with the meeting.
The chances of success are slim. Trump’s allies at the convention, the RNC Leadership and his campaign whip team, proved during Thursday’s Rules Committee meeting that advocates for stopping Trump are fewer than anticipated. And they’ll be out in force on the Convention floor to keep any wavering delegates on their side. They also expect to have a friend in the Convention Chairman, House Speaker Paul Ryan, who will make all rulings on proceedings and decide whether to recognize anti-Trump delegates.
Trump’s opponents say they’re nervous that Ryan and RNC Leaders may also resort to more heavy-handed tactics, from cutting microphones on the floor to physically intervening to prevent delegates from filing signatures. But officials with the RNC and Trump campaign both suggest they don’t expect more than a nominal effort by anti-Trump delegates that will be dispatched with easily.
But killing the rules package isn’t the only tactic for anti-Trump activists. Unruh is also working to force a Convention-wide debate on her proposal to “Unbind” delegates from their obligation to support Trump through a so-called minority report. Unruh attempted to pass this proposal last week, during debate in the Convention Rules Committee, but she found little support, only 12 members of the 112-member Committee stood with her on the issue.
Dane Waters, a strategist with anti-Trump group Delegates Unbound, saidt that the Rules Committee defeat, ensured by the Trump campaign's aggressive organization and partnership with the RNC, has actually boosted his group's effort. Delegates, he said, are furious at being shut down on a slew on conservative proposals, not just the unbinding effort, and they're readier than ever to rebel against Trump.
But if Unruh can somehow convince 28 members of the panel, more than double her original level of support, to sign a “Minority report,” it would bring her proposal to the floor of the Convention for debate. Unruh claimed on Friday that she had already convinced two members of the panel who didn’t join her in Thursday’s vote to sign the Minority report. Cuccinelli has also signaled he’d back a Minority report strategy on some of his favored rules proposals, including a plan to encourage States to close Primaries form Democrats and independents. Though the proposal has little to do with Trump’s nomination, RNC and Trump campaign leaders worry any debate on a rules change could become a forum for Trump’s opponent to wield influence.
Anti-Trump leaders convened their own conference call Friday afternoon to hone their final tactics. On Saturday morning, Waters was spotted speaking strategy in the lobby of the Doubletree Hotel. An unidentified associate turned to Waters and said, “The only way we’re going to get a rules fix is to actually stop the rules,” he said.
Trump allies are largely convinced any serious threat of rebellion is over. Though their whip team will continue to be out in force on the convention floor, supporters say they don’t expect any true threat to materialize.
Still, it’s unclear whether the constellation of anti-Trump groups represented in Cleveland are on the same page. Unruh said she’s not really sure what her fellow anti-Trump Coloradan Regina Thomson was working on anymore, noting that she’s fully aligned herself with Waters’ efforts. A separate effort by Steve Lonegan, a New Jersey conservative who recently broke from Unruh’s group, said Friday he intended to reach out to her to make sure their strategies are aligned not contradictory.
Some are considering a strategy to walk out of the Convention during the Presidential roll call vote in an attempt to deny Trump enough support. But this could have the perverse effect of strengthening Trump because many alternate delegates who take their place might vote in favor of the New York developer.
For the most part, though, there was a prevailing sense of defeat among some of the most outspoken anti-Trump advocates here. They watched Thursday as an overwhelming and organized Trump-RNC whip effort dismantled the anti-Trump effort and left them hobbled heading into the week.
“I don’t have the sense that our people were really well-versed on the parliamentary procedure,” said Eric Minor, a Washington State delegate and supporter of unbinding. “It’s going to hurt our chances very much I would say. We’ll see if there’s enough will to keep pushing this effort forward.”
Lonegan suggested that he may turn his focus to supporting a plan that would shut Democrats and independents out of Republican Primaries. “People tend to go along with the crowd. It’s hard to get people to buck the system,” Lonegan said. “This closed primary battle is going to be critical. We may lose in the short run but win in the long run.”
NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker