CLEVELAND — The movement that sparked the most dramatic moment in the modern history of political conventions began with people like Bethany Bostron. It was her job to deliver the document.
The document contained the signatures of 30 of Virginia’s Republican delegate. Theirs were joined with signatures of delegates from eight other states, all asking that Republican Party leaders permit an up-or-down vote when it came time to approve the official rules of the Republican National Convention.
If that sounds complicated, well, it was. But that’s all this movement had left.
First they tried snatching the Republican presidential nomination from Donald Trump. Then they tried to rewrite the rules of the Republican Party and how it picks its 2020 presidential candidate. When all of that backfired, this renegade group turned to a simple procedural move: Force delegates to hold an up-or-down vote on the rules of the convention instead of approving them unanimously, as usually happpens.
Ultimately, that also failed.
The “Never Trump” or “Stop Trump” movement ended Monday with shouting, loud boos and angry denunciations. Their failure seemed inevitable, but it succeeded in spoiling Trump’s hope of launching his big week with party unity.
On Monday afternoon once Bostron had her signatures, she was whisked via black SUV from her hotel to a meeting place — the exact spot was a secret — where other rebellious state committees gathered to scan their petitions and transmit them electronically to party bosses.
Then came the hard part.
In order to beat back any attempt to thwart their plan, they also wanted to hand-deliver paper copies of the signatures to the convention’s secretary, who proved hard to locate in the cavernous arena.
“Some people told me the fourth floor, some people told me here,” she said as she stood on the floor. “Crazy wild goose chase.”
Former New Hampshire senator Gordon Humphrey also had signatures to turn in. With a dozen reporters and photographers in tow, he sauntered across the floor and handed his signatures to Eric Ueland, a convention official taking time off from his day job as staff director of the Senate Budget Committee.
Ueland assured Humphrey that the signatures would be reviewed by party officials.
“I trust him,” Humphrey said. “He works for the Senate.”
Humphrey said he was willing to stick out his neck for other like-minded Republicans because, “Someone has to stand up for decency and transparency in these proceedings.”
But the former senator seemed like a big brother buying beer for his younger siblings — he knew it was wrong, but figured they deserved to have a little fun.
That’s exactly what Gary Eminent wanted. The North Dakota delegate believed that the convention should be required to reconsider a series of rules changes rejected last week by a panel comprised mostly of people loyal to Trump or Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus. The renegades wanted more delegates for states with a Republican governor or that close their presidential primaries only to Republicans. The committee flatly rejected those ideas.
“They want a kumbaya moment. What’s wrong with a little debate and a little discussion?” Eminent asked.
As party officials reviewed the signatures in a back office, Trump supporters in bright yellow hats were pressuring delegates who signed the petition to reconsider.
Pressing the Virginia delegation on that front was Mark Lloyd, former head of the statewide Virginia Tea Party federation, according to several members. They said he was asking them to sign affidavits withdrawing their names from the petition they signed at a breakfast meeting that morning.
Lloyd and other Trump staff were warning those who signed the petition that the effort would embarrass Trump, delegation members approached by him said afterward.
But Lloyd’s pressure got “no traction,” said Diana Shores, a Virginia activist who had helped circulate the petition among the Virginia delegates.
In another corner stood Regina Thomson, a Colorado delegate who led a campaign that initially wanted to snatch the nomination from Trump, but changed course over the weekend and focused instead on rewriting the rules.
Thomson marveled at the chaos, but blamed party leaders for causing it.
“I’ve always heard about the thugs in our party and how they control things, now I’ve seen it firsthand,” she said. “When you actually look them in the eyeballs then you watch them do these things, it's disheartening. There’s no reason why we can’t have open, honest discourse.
After nearly two hours of arm-twisting, the showdown came quickly.
When it came time to settle the matter, Priebus was nowhere to be found. He had opened the convention by leading the national anthem and pledge. But unwilling to face the crowd, he sent out Rep. Steve Womack (R-Ark.), who often serves as speaker-designate during mundane House votes, to put down the rebellion.
Womack quickly called for approval of the convention rules.
Immediately delegates from Colorado, North Dakota, Utah, Virginia and elsewhere started shouting “No!”
But the rest of the room shouted, “Aye!”
Womack declared the rules passed.
“Roll call vote! Roll call vote!” shouted hundreds in the hall.
“Hold the vote! Hold the vote!” shouted others.
Trump supporters tried drowning them out:
“Trump! Trump! Trump!”
“U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!”
“No Clinton! Stop supporting Clinton!” a New Hampshire delegates screamed at Virginia delegates.
Hoping to distract photographers, some Trump supporters unfurled a “TRUMP” banner on the white steps of the stage.
Among those shouted down was Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), a lawmaker with a loyal national conservative following.
“There’s no precedent for this in parliamentary procedure,” he told reporters on the convention floor. “We are now in uncharted territory.” He called the outcome “surreal.”
Former Virginia attorney general Ken Cuccinelli II, a ringleader in the effort, stood at his state’s microphone on the floor. He tapped it. Dead — like all of the microphones. He raised his right arm in the air and used his left to shake the red-white-and-blue “Virginia” sign marking the delegation’s back-row seats.
“Shame! Shame! Shame!” he hollered.
He continued to tap the microphone. Still dead.
“A political party that doesn’t want a vote,” he muttered. “This is pretty disgusting.”
At one point, eyes filling with tears, he whipped off the lanyard that held his convention pass around his neck and threw it down.
“I’m not going to do this again. I am not going to do this again,” he said. “Are we done or are we done?” he asked the delegation.
“No we’re not done,” a woman replied. “Stay on the floor.”
At her urging, Cuccinelli quickly picked up the credentials again and shouted again.
“Roll call vote! Roll call vote!” he shouted with others.
Womack, who left the stage during the protest, returned and did it again.
He announced that nine states had submitted signatures, but that three had dropped their challenge. The rebellion fell one state short.
“Which states?” the Virginians yelled.
In a bid to find out, Cuccinelli resumed hollering: “Point of information! Point of information – Virginia!”
“Point of information,” like-minded delegation members echoed.
But their calls went unheeded.
Dan Balz, Dalton Bennett, Isaac Stanley-Baker, David Weigel and Katie Zezima contributed to this report.