CLEVELAND — In the first consequential action of the Republican National Convention, supporters of Donald Trump and ranking GOP members rolled over anti-Trump forces seeking to change the rules that govern the gathering.
In a chaotic spasm, members of the Colorado delegation who were aligned with an anti-Trump movement walked out and the convention floor erupted with dueling calls of “Roll call vote! Roll call vote!” and “We want Trump!”
The fight over the rules that will define the four-day gathering in Cleveland could portend raucous votes over what otherwise might be routine matters over the next few days — including the approval of Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana as Trump’s running mate, and the nomination of Trump himself. Already, there are murmurings from delegates spurned by Trump’s allies Monday that they will put up a rival vice presidential candidate.
The floor fight preceded — and threatened to delay — the highly orchestrated televised debut of Trump’s general election campaign on Monday, including a speech by Melania Trump, wife of the candidate.
A majority of delegates in nine states, including Colorado, had signed a petition challenging a vote on the convention rules as set forth by the convention rules committee last week. Only seven were needed. The crux of the fight last Thursday was over whether to adopt a “conscience clause” that would allow delegates to ignore the primary or caucus results in their states and vote for the presidential candidate of their choice.
“What you saw today was just some people wanting to play politics with rules,” said Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign manager.
Maria Strollo Zack, head of a pro-Ted Cruz super PAC, said she heard the ringleaders also wanted to a rules change for the 2020 presidential election that would have required “closed primaries.” That would mean only registered Republicans could vote in the contests, helping Cruz and others with deep support among Republican insiders.
“There are times where people get so frustrated because their voices just aren’t being heard,” said Zack, who was not involved in the rules fight. “And sometimes they win some, sometimes they lose.”
The petitions were to have forced a time-consuming roll call vote, but some delegates said the ultimate outcome would not have been in doubt. The rules required only a majority vote approval, which is well within the grasp of Trump supporters, who have allied with the forces of RNC chair Reince Priebus.
Instead, the chair, U.S. Rep. Steve Womack of Arkansas, called for an immediate voice vote, shutting off debate. He declared “yea” votes the winner, and moved onto the next item of business – the platform committee. The convention hall quickly descended into chaos.
“These is a meeting of brown-shirts. They may not be fascists, but they’re behaving like fascists,” said former U.S. senator Gordon Humphrey of New Hampshire, interviewed by MSNBC.
Shortly afterwards, the chair returned and said three states had withdrawn their delegates’ names from the petitions.
“The chair has found insufficient support for a recorded vote,” Womack said. He did not say which states withdrew.
“I’ve never seen anything like this. The chairman of the convention left the stage for five minutes,” said U.S. Sen. Mike Lee of Utah.
As delegates poured out into the hallways, many voiced their frustration. Avery Anderson, a Georgia alternate and Trump supporter, vented about the outcry.
“Why don’t these people just stay home?” he said. “It makes no sense to come here and stir up trouble. It’s already a lost cause. It’s almost infuriating to know that people are here just to cause trouble.”
Colton Buckley, a Texas delegate, shook his head as Anderson talked.
“We were elected by our constituencies to stand up for what we believe in,” he said. “This has nothing to do about opposing Donald Trump … The fact of the matter is this rules package takes away the voice of the grassroots.”
Team Trump, meanwhile, declared victory.