The #NeverTrump movement tried to make a stand. It failed by a massive margin.
Efforts to block Donald Trump’s nomination — hyped for months by proponents as a growing grassroots movement among Republican activists attending next week’s convention — turned out to be a flop.
During key votes on Thursday evening, only 12 hardcore holdouts continued to resist Trump’s nomination as they were when members of on the powerful 112-member Convention Rules Committee considered a proposal to prevent delegates from rejecting Trump. A long-anticipated “conscience clause” proposal intended to stymie Trump fizzled with similarly minimal support.
The twin setbacks seemed to cripple what is likely to be the last concerted attempt to deny Trump the GOP nomination.
“Anti-Trump people get crushed at Rules Committee,” Trump’s campaign manager Paul Manafort boasted on Twitter. “It was never in doubt: Convention will honor will of people & nominate @realdonaldtrump.”
Anti-Trump delegates may attempt to bring their fight to the convention floor next week, but it’s unlikely to be heard because they failed to earn even the limited support necessary to advance their proposal and won’t have an obvious vehicle to make their stand. In a statement after the vote, a spokesman for Delegates Unbound, one of the organizations working to stop Trump, said, “The fight is far from over in Cleveland.”
The pro-Trump victory was the main event of the Republican rules fight that ended at 11:30 p.m. on Thursday when the committee passed a package of rules that will govern the party for the next four years. Despite all the tension surrounding the rules fight, very little actually changed.
The most significant change was a rebuke of Mitt Romney’s 2012 maneuver to raise the threshold of support for candidates to be formally nominated at the GOP convention – an attempt to block Ron Paul from delivering a nomination speech that year. The revised rule requires that candidates received support from five state delegations in order to be nominated – down from the eight-state threshold pushed by Romney allies.
“This thorn that has been in our flesh … has finally been removed,” said Utah’s national GOP committee woman Enid Mickelsen, who chaired the Rules Committee. The measure passed on a voice vote without a single vocal opponent.
Republican National Committee members, who held 38 of the committee’s 112 seats, joined by dozens of pro-Trump delegates, easily fended off repeated efforts by conservative delegates to weaken the power of the Republican National Committee chairman – from chipping away at the chair’s ability to unilaterally appoint committee chairs to restricting the RNC’s ability to change party rules between conventions.
The rules panel also defeated a push to encourage state parties to adopt closed primaries, which prohibit participation by independents and Democrats. But 32 members registered support for the switch – which would tilt the party toward more conservative candidates – leaving open the prospect of a minority report that would stretch the debate into next week.
And a long-anticipated move to oust Nevada as an early state was put on the back-burner when members of the panel decided to form a study commission to review the GOP nomination process instead.
The day threatened to be a fractious affair. Shortly after delegates convened to begin rewriting party rules, Mickelsen recessed the panel for what she described as a printer malfunction. But as the recess stretched from minutes to hours, it became clear that the real reason for the break was to permit conservative delegates a chance to negotiate in secret with RNC leaders on a package of reforms to party rules.
Those talks — with conservative delegates in the meeting led by Virginia’s Ken Cuccinelli and Utah Sen. Mike Lee — delayed the start of the panel’s meeting by five hours. And as the panel began considering its rules, the talks collapsed altogether, leading some RNC members predicting a long, acrimonious fight that had the potential to stretch on for another day.
But that’s not how the day played out.
Shortly after talks collapsed, the committee debated a proposal that RNC leaders had hoped to squash behind closed doors: a ban on lobbyists from holding positions on the RNC. But the measure failed easily, forcing anti-Trump and anti-RNC leadership with a lesson they would learn time and against Thursday: They had plenty of energy, passion and conviction, but they fell far short in terms of votes.