So What Was The Deal With The Rules Freak-Out At The RNC Yesterday? A Wonksplainer!
The #NeverTrump movement -- such as it was -- came to a noisy, angry end Monday afternoon, smothered in a blanket of parliamentary procedure before the prime-time HateFest got underway. They had the numbers, they had a mastery of the arcane rules, they had a plan, and it all fell apart anyway, because come on, was the Trump-run convention really going to listen to a bunch of whiny losers? That's not how democracy works!
The problem for the NeverTrumpers (we are not going to type a hashtag all through this) was that convention rules required delegates to vote according to the rules of their state parties, which meant many delegates had to vote for Trump whether the delegate liked him or not. But if freed from the state rules -- something that could happen if the convention rules were changed -- maybe, just maybe, delegates could vote for Paul Ryan or Ted Cruz or a cheese sandwich, anything to keep Trump short of 1237 votes. Then on successive ballots, a more palatable candidate -- perhaps an inanimate carbon rod -- could be agreed on, just like in the brokered conventions of olden times. The rules even include a mechanism for throwing out the rules, as Mother Jones's Pema Levy and Tim Murphy explain:
In order to free up convention delegates, the Never Trump movement hoped to reject the convention rules package on the floor. First, the anti-Trump delegates had to force the party to hold a roll-call vote, instead of a voice vote, on the rules. This required Never Trumpers to obtain the signatures of the majority of delegates from at least seven states. After that, anti-Trump delegates would have needed a majority of all the delegates to reject the rules package. It was unclear whether the anti-Trump forces could have bagged a majority of all the delegates. But Carl Bearden, a Missouri delegate and a member of the Never Trump movement, believes that had his side forced a roll-call vote and won, the convention would have reverted to a previous version of the rules, under which delegates bound to Trump could instead vote their conscience.
Clear enough! And as it turned out, NeverTrumpers led by Nevada Sen. Mike Lee, former Virginia attorney general Ken Cuccinelli, and Colorado delegate and MSNBC fixture Kendal Unruh managed to get signatures from a majority of delegates from eight states plus the District of Columbia, which should have been enough to force a roll-call vote. All they had to do was get them to the convention secretary, Susie Hudson, who had become strangely difficult to locate. Eventually the NeverTrumpers' petition carrier, former New Hampshire Sen. Gordon Humphrey, got the petitions to her. But instead of a roll-call vote, the rules came up for a voice vote, which the acting convention chair, Arkansas Rep. Steve Womack, decided did not go in the NeverTrumpers' favor. And that was that! Chaos on the floor, screaming and tears, and chants of "Roll Call Vote!" that were far more passionate and coordinated than any of the sad attempts at "U.S.A.! U.S.A.!" that came later in the evening.
Womack tried to move on to the next order of business, because that rules fight was clearly over, but the hall was full of Republicans screaming at each other, Trumpers chanting "Trump" and NeverTrumpers yelling "Roll Call Vote!" and "Shame!" and "Point of Order!" and "Applejack is Best Pony!" It wasn't enough to get Womack to reconsider or call roll call vote, but he did walk away from the podium, leaving the stage empty for a while. That was fun to watch, though not as crazy as the Reagan/Ford floor fights of 1976 which went on for like an hour -- I was 14, and my mom didn't find that nearly as cool as I did.
But what about the nine delegations that had petitions from majorities of their delegates? That was two more than was even needed to force a roll call vote, wasn't it? Wellll, not so much, at least by the time of the voice vote:
faced with the possibility of a runaway start to the convention, the Trump campaign and Republican National Committee staff members working the floor went into overdrive to get delegates to withdraw their support.
Stamping the rebellion out was a show of organizational muscle and discipline by the Trump campaign and the party, which had teams of aides scurrying around the arena as they tried to flip votes. They wore ear pieces and carried stacks of affidavits that they circulated to delegates as they pressured them to withdraw their support for the roll call vote.
In the end, they peeled away enough votes so that only six states had a majority of their delegates on the petition. And the crowd broke into chants of “we want Trump!”
See? All fair and honest, or at least technically following the rules. The Colorado and Iowa delegations walked out in protest. Ken Cuccinelli said,
"Disenfranchised! I seem to remember hearing something about this." He took off his credentials and tossed the badges to the floor, appearing to concede defeat.
Another Virginia delegate suggested throwing something onto the stage to get the chair's attention, but was talked out of it. Former Sen. Humphrey told MSNBC reporter Jacob Soboroff that Trump supporters were pretty much Nazis:
I sought to be recognized to raise a point of parliamentary inquiry and was immediately drowned out by people I would refer to as brownshirts in my surroundings. … You just saw the second most important item of business rushed through in a split second with no opportunity for debate, no opportunity for questions, no opportunity for points of order and no roll call vote [...] So this was pretty shocking and shameful, I’ve seen a lot of, but this is not a meeting of the Republican National Committee. This is a meeting of brownshirts.
Just to clarify matters, Soboroff asked Humphrey what he meant, exactly, because when somebody says "brownshirts" at a political convention, you keep the camera rolling:
I mean people who act like fascists. They might not be fascists, but they act like fascists they have the lack of manners of fascists, and in this respect they are only too reflective of Donald Trump himself.
And yet the NeverTrump movement was dead as a doornail, not quite purged from the convention but kept from any parliamentary tricks to derail the nomination. Or in terms Humphrey might appreciate, it was the Night of the Short-Fingered Vulgarians.salt vampire to suck up the salt, one might well ask how this example of parliamentary gamesmanship is any different from the infamous Nevada Democratic convention? We have thought about it, and have mixed feelings. You've got your parliamentary maneuvering and your powers-that-be shutting down an insurgent effort to overturn the results of a popular vote, so that much is similar. Then again, nobody from the Hillary campaign went through the ranks of the Bernie delegates telling they they'd better remove their names from the petition or they would face political consequences back home. Probably the biggest difference? At least in Nevada, the insurgents actually had a candidate they were for. The Never-Trumpers were damn sure they didn't want Trump, but seemed to be hoping Ronald Reagan's reanimated corpse might squelch into the Quicken Loans Arena to save the day.
Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.