CLEVELAND — Anti-Trump delegates staged their last stand on the convention floor on Monday — and came up short, prompting minutes of televised disruptions and confusion in the aftermath as delegates tried to determine exactly what happened.
Their goal was to force the convention to hold a roll call vote that they hoped would reject convention rules, which include clauses requiring delegates to vote for the candidate to which they’re bound, and, just as importantly, become a live televised showcase of anti-Trump discontent.
Those rules were agreed upon in a lengthy committee meeting last week, a vote that dashed the anti-Trump delegates’ hopes of becoming unbound and voting their conscience.
On Monday, down to their final hopes, anti-Trump leaders said they had enough support to force a roll call vote of all delegates, but they were foiled at the last minute.
In order to force a roll call vote on the rules package, the delegates needed to collect signatures from a majority of seven state delegations. Over the course of Monday, organizers put out word that they had 11 states — more than they needed.
But when the issue came to the floor on Monday after an initial ruckus on the floor with pro- and anti-Trump delegates both shouting, the announcement from the stage was bad news for the rebels: Only received petitions from nine states, the chair announced, and then three states had fallen below the signature threshold and been withdrawn. In other words, the roll call vote on the rules would not occur, and the rules package was going to be voted on in a voice vote.
Chaos reigned on the floor for a few moments as anti-Trump delegates reacted to the news. A text message went out on the text messaging system being used by the anti-Trump delegates: “Rigged election. Walk out.” Sen. Mike Lee, who has emerged as one of the most prominent members of the movement in favor of unbinding delegates, shouted “NO!” and later “point of order!” trying to be heard by the chair. Meanwhile, convention whips and Trump staff hovered on the floor, monitoring the situation.
“I have no idea what’s going on right now,” Lee said during an unexpected pause in the proceedings in which smooth jazz started playing from the stage. “This is surreal.”
“It’s strange, this is a political convention,” he said. “People have taken time off from work, they’ve come from all over the United States to be here. People can be unheard anywhere. They can be unheard at their workplace. They can be unheard at home. They can be unheard with their friends and their neighbors. They don’t travel hundreds or even thousands of miles to be unheard at their own party’s national convention.”
“The chairman of the convention walked off the stage and left it completely unattended for five or 10 minutes,” the senator said.
“We want this to be a robust party that celebrates and welcomes its grassroots activists, rather than shunning them, rather telling them that their vote doesn’t matter, rather than telling them they don’t really have a say in the rules of their convention,” Lee said.
Immediately, people sought answers as to which states had dropped out of the petition drive.
“We don’t know and we have a right to know that,” said Kendal Unruh, a Colorado delegate who led the failed push in the Rules Committee to pass a “conscience clause” last week, when asked if she knew which states had withdrawn.
“Of course we were cheated,” Unruh said. “This is a very obvious rigging of the system.”
“They’re afraid to count the votes,” said Arizona delegate Tyler Mott. “How pathetic is that?”
There were even some delegates who walked out, notably the Colorado delegation. Though the Iowa delegation was reported to have walked out, BuzzFeed News spoke with several Iowa delegates who said there had been no walkout.
Different tallies have emerged of how many states pulled out.
BuzzFeed News spoke to delegates who said they weren't certain about which states — if any — had withdrawn from the effort to force a roll call vote on rules. Some delegates questioned whether any states had actually withdrawn, suggesting that the RNC and Trump forces could have lied.
BuzzFeed News was initially told that the three states whose petitions had been withdrawn were Iowa, Minnesota, and Alaska. Some delegates named Washington, DC, Minnesota, and Maine, from what they had heard, as the three that had withdrawn. Several Iowa delegates confirmed to BuzzFeed News that Iowa’s petition had been added to the list and later some people had removed their signatures, taking their petition out of the running.
Minnesota delegate Marty Seifert, a former Minnesota state legislator, said he knew of two Minnesota delegates who had taken their names off the delegation’s petition after it had been submitted and thought there were others who had, as well — and according to Seifert, Minnesota’s petition had only had a surplus of four names anyway. BuzzFeed News spoke to delegates who said they weren't certain about which states — if any — had withdrawn from the effort to force a roll call vote on rules, but a few named Washington, DC, Minnesota, and Maine from what they had heard.
On Monday evening, an RNC spokesperson told BuzzFeed News that the DC, Minnesota, and Maine delegations' petitions had dropped below 50% signatures before the vote, and Iowa's had dropped below 50% during the vote.
"We want disclosure on this, but that will be near impossible,” said Morton Blackwell, a longtime conservative activist and Virginia delegate who helped lead the push on the Rules Committee to push through several changes that would benefit grassroots conservatives in the future, an effort that was not directly related to the unbinding movement. “What they did was crooked and abusive. If we saw a Democratic convention behave this way, we would have had great disdain for their rotten behavior. They lied about it and said it was a plan to unbind delegates. Sheer lies! They knew darn well it wasn't."
"It's conceivable that they were making up the number," Blackwell said of the states that the RNC said withdrew. "It's also conceivable that there was some basis. That could be. I don't want to speculate but I want to see that information."
Ken Cuccinelli, a top Ted Cruz ally and former Virginia attorney general who spearheaded the attempted grassroots, conservative-friendly reforms presented to the Rules Committee last week, stressed that Monday’s push for a roll call vote was a grassroots conservative — and not anti-Trump — effort.
"I wish [Trump's] people had stepped in to not let that happen," he said of the chaos on the floor.
He confirmed that delegates from Colorado and Washington walked out in disapproval. "We'll see if they come back."
Cuccinelli said he hasn't spoken to RNC Chairman Reince Priebus since their meeting during the Rules Committee meeting last week. "He's gloating. He's gone from nervous to feel like he's won."
Unlike what was said during the convention's proceedings, Cuccinelli and some other delegates maintained that 10 — not nine — states submitted signatures.
Nick Stepovich, an Alaska delegate who supported efforts to force a roll call vote, said, “It's just about transparency. We didn't want to the same thing that happened in Tampa Bay where everything just got rubber stamped. Obviously, the way the gavel was hitting, the RNC was all about sweeping it away. They were throwing mud, and a few people got dirty.”