CLEVELAND — The Never Trump agitators have been defeated, but they say they’re not going away.
Republicans who failed to change party rules here this week and stop Donald Trump from winning the party’s presidential nomination are threatening to cause chaos on the floor of the national convention next week. Bruised by the way party leaders handled debate on a series of proposed rule changes, leaders of anti-Trump groups vowed Friday to find ways to draw at least some political blood when the party meeting begins Monday.
The options are limited, and attempts to cause trouble at political conventions are usually quickly thwarted. But anti-Trump activists who spent weeks trying to play within the party structure now say they will do what Trump hates the most — find a way to embarrass him.
“If they thought they were going to have the nice, unified kumbaya show, they just completely guaranteed they’re not going to have it,” said Kendal Unruh, a GOP delegate from Colorado who led an anti-Trump group.
During a marathon meeting Thursday, Unruh and a small band of like-minded delegates repeatedly failed in attempts to strip Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus of some of his authority and enact rules that would reopen the nomination fight and put Trump at risk. The RNC and the Trump campaign banded together, agreeing to help preserve policies enacted by Priebus during his six years as chairman and stop attempts to unbind delegates to the results of state caucuses and primaries.
“#NeverTrump is never more,” Trump wrote in a boastful tweet Friday. “They were crushed last night in Cleveland.”
Trump’s campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, spent two months overseeing an elaborate, process-laden pressure campaign to stop the rebellion and insisted that he would successfully quash opponents. But the anti-Trump movement continued to hold support from inside and outside the party, with the possibility of the first contested Republican convention since 1976 drawing further media coverage.
The campaign thwarted the insurrection by banding together with “people who were for Trump, people who care about the party and people who were persuaded by the moral argument as well,” Manafort said in an interview after the revolt was defeated.
“We weren’t heavy-handed,” he said. “We talked to people. We gauged their opinions, found out what they were concerned about and patched together a group that’s been frankly in place for a long time.”
But Trump opponents accuse Priebus and the campaign of ignoring the concerns of grass-roots activists and quickly cutting off debate during the committee meeting Thursday. Opponents also seemed caught off guard by a decision by Trump supporters to amend party rules with language clearly stating that convention delegates must vote based on the results of primaries and caucuses.
Dane Waters, who leads a group called Delegates Unbound, said it was “outrageous” that Trump and RNC officials felt the need to make the rule change “given that he was the only horse on the track.”
“This shows they were concerned enough about the efforts, that they would take the draconian step to silence the delegates and ensure that Donald Trump was the nominee,” he said. “This is nothing but an assault and an affront on the delegates, who are the true grass roots of the party.”
So what can upset delegates do to cause chaos? First, they can try to collect enough signatures to introduce a “minority report” to the full convention. Doing so requires getting at least 28 signatures from members of the convention rules committee. Unruh said Friday that she is unlikely to seek the signatures for her own minority report, since all of her ideas failed.
But other delegates who sought to change the party rules by reverting back to “closed” Republican-only primaries and caucuses have not ruled out introducing their plan to the convention. Gay rights activists who sat on the party platform committee have also discussed introducing a resolution that would soften the GOP’s official opposition to same-sex marriage.
Angry delegates might also attempt to be recognized to officially register opposition to Trump or to force an hours-long roll call of the states, which would upend a speakers schedule aimed at prime-time television coverage.
Notably, the rules committee on Thursday rejected a proposal to ensure that a working microphone was readily accessible to the leader of each state delegation. Having an ability to quickly draw attention amid the crush of people inside the convention hall would be critical for any floor fight.
The party successfully quashed similar attempts at the 2012 convention, when supporters of then-Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.) tried and failed to be recognized.
But “we have more numbers than the Ron Paul folks,” said Unruh, who has repeatedly claimed — without clear evidence — that her movement has the support of hundreds of delegates. Waters has made similar unsubstantiated claims.
One final option remains: Stay away. Some senior RNC officials worry that delegates might start leaving Cleveland before Trump is scheduled to formally accept the nomination on Thursday night, possibly forcing the campaign to scramble to fill seats inside Quicken Loans Arena. The lack of prominent speakers on most nights of the convention might also compel delegates to reconsider their plans.
But Manafort said that months of “conjecture” by Trump’s opponents should give way in the coming days to party unity.
“So now do you finally accept the fact that the Never Trump is nevermore?” he asked. “Period. End of sentence.”