In the battle to free the delegates at the GOP convention in Cleveland next week, it seems there has been a victor.
It’s not America.
Utah Senator Mike Lee stood on the side of the those who opposed Donald Trump as nominee.
Lee, a U.S. Senator from Utah, stood and voted with a group of Republicans who were trying to allow all 2,472 delegates to vote according to their conscience and not necessarily for the candidate to whom they were pledged. He had arrived here the subject of interest and curiosity, and was lobbied and buttonholed by the Trump campaign before publicly supporting the effort to “free” the delegates.
It didn’t work. A well-organized effort by a squad of veteran Republican operatives, working on behalf of the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee, dealt the “conscience vote” effort a stinging defeat in the Convention Rules Committee. The motion didn’t get anywhere close to enough votes to send it to the full committee.
This was with no debate, and nothing more than a voice vote.
Lee firmly denounced the efforts of the RNC and the pro-Trump cabal to squash any dissent.
“I hope whoever the nominee is going to be this time will in fact win over the delegates,” Lee said. “But rules like this are not going to help that.”
“The fact that we have a convention in addition to a primary has to mean something,” he said. “Any time you have … a set of primaries and then a convention, I think whoever is going to be the nominee needs to win both.”
“I don’t view this as a Never Trump effort. That isn’t the point. The point is there are delegates who have yet to be won over. He needs to win them over,” he said.
Senator Lee is like many who see Trump as unqualified, and someone who will possibly usher in a time of authoritarian rule in what is supposed to be republic.
He reiterated those concerns about Trump to me on Thursday night. “If he came 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 authoritarian, that he’s not going to be an autocrat in office,” Lee said.
And Lee said that even if the delegates had been allowed to vote their consciences, “the odds are overwhelmingly — I mean really overwhelmingly — that Donald Trump would have still gotten the nomination.” That is likely overstating it. If a revolt had been allowed to grow, all bets were off as to what would happen.
Still, Lee’s concerns are valid, and the move to silence the delegates may likely set off a true revolt, as many are deeply opposed to a Trump candidacy.
“Instead of focusing on a message that could truly unite the party, you’ve got all these people in there who are shouting about, ‘Darn it, we’ve got to be united,’” Lee said, his voice rising. “And to be united we’ve got to shut you guys up. We’ve got to lock up the rules, so that anyone who disagrees with us will be silenced. That’s how we’re going to be unified.”
Lee is upset. The delegates are upset. This is a no-win situation because many of the concerns that Lee and others have about the nominee have not been properly addressed. This is akin to a hostile takeover of our party.
“A lot of people put on a lot of pressure one way or another, whether it was in the media or social media. I certainly got a lot of calls from a lot of people in the party and within the Trump campaign who wondered what I was going to do, who were nervous,” Lee said. “I was very candid with them, every single one of them, including especially the people with the Trump campaign. I told every single one of them: these are my concerns. I am very concerned that if you clamp down on this, this is not going to be good for you, and it’s not going to be good for the party.”
The RNC delayed the start of the Convention Rules Committee for five hours to allow RNC Chairman Reince Priebus and others to lean on Lee and others on the committee, and then voted a little before 9 p.m. to keep working as late as it took to finish all their amendments.
The tactic caught the “conscience” crowd off guard. They had expected to end around 6 p.m., giving them time for a planning session and some rest before a full fight on their motion on Friday. And having been put off balance, they were easy prey for a well-planned and executed series of parliamentary moves by pro-Trump forces to put them on defense, isolate them, cut off debate, and quickly kill their motion.
Dirty tactics, and not likely to instill any confidence in the party apparatus.
Trump’s people are doing what Trump’s people do: gloating.
Kendal Unruh, a Rules Committee member from Colorado and the head of the efforts to unbind the delegates has pledged a floor fight.
It’s about to get real ugly.
Senator Lee is neither promoting nor attempting to dissuade a fight.
“This convention will be over in a few days, but we’ve got the rest of the year to think about. We’ve got what happens less than four months than now, we’ve got the next year, the next three years, the next 30 years,” Lee said. “We’ve got freedoms to protect and preserve, and we’ve got to focus on what it is we want our party to be, what it is that we want to stand for.”
Which is kind of the point. Nobody, Senator Lee included, obviously, thinks that Donald Trump is what our party should stand for, and we’re mad as hell about it.