A last-ditch effort to block Donald Trump’s Republican presidential nomination soundly failed to gain traction late Thursday night as the RNC Rules Committee met ahead of the convention.
Thanks in part to back-room negotiations, the movement to “free the delegates” — or rather, ensure that Republican convention delegates are not bound to any presidential candidate because of who their state voted for by enacting a so-called “conscience clause” — was defeated by a voice vote of the 112-member committee.
Not only was the proposal defeated by an overwhelming margin, the "Never Trump" movement also lacked the 28 delegates needed to send a minority report to the convention floor, where it would be sure to be defeated — but not without enormous attention.
Backers of former Republican presidential contender Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas) propelled much of the movement to free the delegates — although many in the movement intensely bickered about who they wanted to replace Trump as the GOP nominee.
But despite the infighting, their efforts were taken seriously by the RNC and Trump campaign as Trump aides reportedly descended upon the convention hall when the delegates met. Trump’s campaign lawyers also met with the RNC’s attorneys as they created the language for consideration.
Anti-Trump people get crushed at Rules Committee. It was never in doubt: Convention will honor will of people & nominate @realdonaldtrump.— Paul Manafort (@Paul Manafort)1468548154.0
The Rules Committee didn’t get to the issue of unbinding delegates until late Thursday, but a vigorous debate ensued.
Kendal Unruh, a delegate on the 112-member rules committee and leader of the grassroots movement, at one point likened requiring delegates to vote for Trump to forcing a doctor to perform an abortion.
Members of the free-the-delegates movement blamed the RNC and argued that the party colluded with the Rules Committee to ensure Trump would not suffer an embarrassing defeat on the convention floor during the highly publicized event next week.
“This just proves that Donald Trump did not have the support of enough delegates to be the nominee,” Delegates Unbound co-founder Dave Waters said in a statement. “This act by the Rules Committee just highlights the hypocrisy of the RNC.”
“If the delegates were unbound as the RNC claimed, why vote to bind them?” Waters said.
The sentiment that delegates were never bound to state party rules was peddled by national committeeman Curly Haugland.
“The delegates in 2016 are free birds. Whether they know it or not, they’ve been lied to,” Haugland told TheBlaze earlier this month. “I’ll confess to knowing that the staff of the Republican Party in Washington has lied repeatedly to the media and to the candidates themselves as well as to the delegates about the binding, and they continue to do it.”
Longtime RNC Rules Committee member Morton Blackwell told TheBlaze that it was unlikely for the party to pass a national rule to unbind delegates this close to the actual convention prior to the vote.
“It would be wrong to change the rules at the end of the process and know that if we did change the rules, it would split the party horribly,” he said earlier this week.
Blackwell asserted that there would only be two ways to change the rules of the party: a consensus among Trump supporters, the Cruz faction and Reince Priebus establishment, or a bitter rules battle in Cleveland that would split the party. Blackwell likened a potential rules battle to that of the 1912 convention, when a fight between Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft resulted in a Roosevelt walkout and ultimately the presidency of Democrat Woodrow Wilson.
“I don’t believe that Reince Priebus wants to be known as the national party chairman presiding over a party analogous to the split of 1912,” Blackwell predicted earlier this week.
Following Thursday’s meetings, Priebus praised the “unity” of the GOP as well as the Rules Committee’s transparency.
“Our Rules Committee meeting made very clear the high level of unity within our party,” he said. “Grassroots voices from every state and territory have crafted a set of rules which will keep our party strong at the local, state and national level, and we honored the spirit of democracy by conducting our Rules Committee meeting in a completely open and transparent fashion.”
Shortly after the Rules Committee convened Thursday morning, it recessed due to a "printer jam." But under the window of time created by the technology glitch — which supposedly occurred right after the arrival of Utah Sen. Mike Lee — Priebus and his allies were able to meet behind closed doors with Lee and members of the free-the-delegates movement, including Unruh.
Recess until 1 pm. Probably not the printer. Not an accident this happened when Sen. Mike Lee arrived. Can he fix printers?— Ben Ginsberg (@Ben Ginsberg)1468505824.0
A Republican source told TheBlaze that "they are running this like the Senate — lots of pre-scripted stuff," but was unable to go into further detail regarding the meeting.
A leader of the free-the-delegates movement who spoke to TheBlaze under the condition of anonymity early Friday morning said the group is still working to drum up the 28 signatures needed for a minority report.
“We haven’t given up hope quite yet,” the activist said.
The deadline to present the required number of signatures is tough; minority reports issued by a committee are to be introduced Monday once the convention formally convenes.
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