The following story was reported during The Student Journalist Program’s five-day Summer Newsroom Workshop in August, 2016.
Washington D.C.’s Republican voters, who split their nineteen delegates from their March convention—Marco Rubio earned 10 and John Kasich, nine—are now left with a tough choice. They must choose between the Republican nominee, Donald Trump, a drastically different candidate than Kasich or Rubio, and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
If the opinions of D.C.’s Republican delegates are any indication, the District’s Republican voters could be taking Sen. Ted Cruz’s message from the Republican National Convention in July, to “vote your conscience,” very seriously.
Cruz’s message particularly resonated with attorney Kris Hammond, a Kasich delegate.
“Ted Cruz said at the convention ‘vote your conscience’... and I would encourage D.C. Republican voters to also vote their conscience, to consider the nominees and what’s best for the country,” Hammond said.
To Hammond, Trump’s ideology and experience, or lack thereof, he said, is much more worrying than the prospect of a Hillary Clinton presidency.
“I’m not convinced that Trump has an ideology. I think Donald Trump decided that it would be better if he ran as a Republican -- and I think he’s taking the Republican Party for a joyride,” he said.
Betsy Wright Hawkings, a veteran GOP congressional staffer and Kasich delegate, wants voters to make their own choices. However, she voiced concern with Trump’s violent rhetoric.
“In a country where someone can be pulled over for a broken taillight and end up dead, or police can go to work to cover a peaceful protest and be shot like animals in a pen, I don’t think that a solution to that is to nominate or elect a candidate for president, who in essence, will legitimize further violent responses,” Hawkings said.
Hawkings also signed a letter with more than 75 former Republican members of Congress, their staffers, and delegates urging the Republican National Committee to “immediately suspend all discretionary RNC support for Trump, and focus the entirety of the RNC’s available resources on preserving the GOP’s congressional majorities.”
Hawkings took time off of work to be present for the floor vote at the Republican National Convention in July - where a contradiction in the DC GOP’s Convention and Delegate Selection Plan allowed the Republican National Committee to count all 19 of D.C.’s votes for Donald Trump.
One rule in the plan says that if only one name is in nomination, all of D.C.’s delegates are required to vote for that candidate, while another says that delegates are bound to vote in accordance with the outcome of D.C.’s convention.
Hawkings said that the DC GOP sought guidance from the National Committee before the convention, and received clarification on which rule would be in effect as late as the Sunday before the convention.
Because D.C. is not officially a state, the RNC had complete discretion over how to interpret the contradiction in the rules, and although the committee originally told D.C.’s delegates that they were free to vote for the candidate to whom they were bound, local party officials got a last minute call informing them that their votes would be counted for Trump.
“It was more disrespectful to the delegation and disrespectful to the people of D.C.,” Kris Hammond said. “The RNC and the Trump campaign simply should have deferred - they already had enough votes to achieve the nomination, and they didn’t need to force the issue with D.C.”
D.C. typically plays a negligible role in the general election. This city with a population of over 650,000 has never given its three electoral votes to a Republican.
Even so, both Hammond and Hawkings argue that a D.C. Republican’s vote has an impact.
“There are a lot of really good people who have worked long and hard to keep two parties alive in this city,” Hawkings said. “I think you need to have alternative points of view in any community.”
Hammond also said that just because another candidate -- namely, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton -- may win the District, it doesn’t mean that Republican voices will go unheard.
“People can vote their conscience, and I think it would be very interesting if (Libertarian nominee) Gary Johnson defeats Donald Trump in the District of Columbia,” he said.
According to Hammond, Trump’s campaign may also be a blessing in disguise for the GOP.
“If it’s a complete and utter blowout, not only a landslide election result in the presidential election, but also in the house and the senate, that might also be what’s necessary to finally wake people up,” Hammond said.