The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Anti-Trump delegates consider several attempts to upend convention

A sign prohibiting drones is seen July 16 amid preparations for the arrival of visitors and delegates for the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. (Dominick Reuter/Agence France-Presse)

CLEVELAND — Delegates to the Republican National Convention infuriated with top party leaders are mulling several different ways to upend carefully laid plans for the start of the nationally televised party meetings on Monday.

The details of what exactly might happen and whether there's enough support to pull it off remained the focus of intense discussions on Saturday, with plotting expected to continue through Sunday, according to multiple people familiar with the planning. Several were reluctant to specify what they're planning for fear that party leaders would thwart their plans before the start of the convention.

Ultimately, this group of delegates — increasingly resigned to the nomination of Donald Trump — is hoping to extract concessions from Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus on the structure of the national party.

The threat to try and embarrass the top ranks of the Republican Party comes as the glare of the global media begins turning to Cleveland, a city eagerly preparing for this week's events. The Trump campaign has sought to ensure reporters that the party will leave Cleveland next week united in mission to defeat Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

"This convention is going to be a unifying convention. You’re going to see over the next five days the party coming together. I’m talking about on the convention floor, at the podium, and the distraction of the rules fight and the platform fight were just distractions. They were never threats," Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort said in an interview with The Washington Post.

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But many delegates descending on Cleveland disagree with him and in response, "Something is going to happen on Monday," said Dane Waters, head of Delegates Unbound, a group that pushed to allow delegates to vote however they want instead of being bound to the results of state caucuses and primaries.

Gwen Bowen, a delegate from Louisiana who served on the rules committee, said on Saturday that other delegates she's working with are preparing to use cumbersome procedural tactics to try and slow down the convention.

Four to six "minority reports" are being drafted, she said. Other delegates, who declined to be identified, confirmed the plans.

A minority report can be introduced by members of the convention's three committees on rules, the party platform and credentials. Usually the reports detail a proposal that was rejected by one of the committees.

"It is clear that the RNC wants to take total control of the party," said Bowen, who was a member of the rules committee. "They would not even allow speaking on it. What is right and fair and transparent is when you let people speak."

"To sound like Donald Trump — they rigged it," said Kendal Unruh, a rules committee member from Colorado who led the charge to unbind delegates as the founder of Free the Delegates. "The very thing they scream about is the very thing they did. I want to make this point extraordinarily clear: What a bunch of liars they revealed themselves to be."

Several fault Priebus and his allies for mounting what several described as a "power grab" during a day-long meeting of the convention's rules committee on Thursday. The panel met to set the rules of the convention and to begin considering potential changes to how the GOP picks a presidential candidate for the 2020 elections.

Delegates from several states introduced amendments to the rules that were overwhelmingly rejected by the rules committee, which includes 42 members who also serve on the party's central committee and are loyal to Priebus.

Several of the rejected proposals are expected to be the subject of minority reports, according to Bowen and others.

One proposal would have awarded more convention delegates to states with Republican governors, senators and lawmakers. Another would ban corporate lobbyists from serving on the Republican National Committee, the central body that oversees the party. The panel also soundly rejected a proposal to require the RNC to release the names of delegates serving on the convention committees.

That move especially angered rank-and-file Republicans paying close attention to the proceedings. Despite assurances to the contrary, RNC officials refused to release names and contact information of delegates serving on convention committees before last week, a move designed to make it more difficult for anti-Trump delegates to find one another and start plotting.

But RNC officials disputed suggestions that they influenced the process in any way.

"I know that people are upset when they lose, but the bottom line is that in nearly every case, a majority of the grass roots won on motions," said Sean Spicer, RNC communications director.

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Other delegates hope to force a roll call vote of the states — an hours-long process that would put the votes of every single delegate on the record (with cameras rolling) — potentially embarrassing Trump if he barely wins more than half of the votes.

Even more upsetting to some renegade delegates was the behavior of Trump supporters. In the days leading up to the meetings, one close associate of the candidate sent threatening messages to delegates supporting rules changes.

Kim Taylor Fralick, a delegate from Lousiana, said she received at least three emails from Carl Paladino, a New York delegate and close associate of Trump. He was responding to an email sent by Fralick encouraging convention delegates to join Unruh's group.

"It's like pissing up a drain pipe. You get wet. A revolt will never materialize," Paladino wrote to Fralick.

In another message, he told her: "Kim, you should get back on your medications. You are a very sick dude. You obviously are a Hillary acolyte."

"I have no problem speaking out about this because I did nothing wrong," Fralick said on Saturday.

Paladino wasn't immediately available for comment.

Bowen was especially upset by the whole spectacle. Standing in a hotel lobby, she said by telephone that the increasingly louder tone of her voice was starting to draw attention.

"The problem isn't Republicans. The problem is the RNC," she said. "They want all the power and they don't care about the grass roots."

The convention is scheduled to convene at 1 p.m. on Monday. Most of the first day of the convention is expected to focus on military veterans and Clinton's response to the Sept. 12, 2012, attack on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya.

That is, of course, unless a wily band of delegates finds a way to mess up those plans.