Day Two: Delegate Alienation Equals Half-Empty Arena

The Washingtonian reported a month ago that the DC delegation to the Republican convention was so unhappy with Donald Trump as their party’s nominee that they could make trouble in Cleveland. The District’s Republicans only gave Trump 14% of their votes in the primary. Their 19 delegates were awarded to Marco Rubio (10) and John Kasich (9).

But there was a problem.

Even though all 19 DC delegates are pledged to either Rubio or Kasich, DC’s party bylaws dictate that if only one candidate is up for nomination at the convention, delegates are obliged to support that candidate (read: Trump). It’s one of the main reasons DC real estate agent Kevin Cain gave up his spot: “I do not want my name on record in any way as having ever voted for, contributed to, or otherwise assisted [Trump] or his campaign,” Cain announced in a Facebook post last month.

Bob Kabel, a DC GOP delegate who secured a coveted spot on the convention’s Rules Committee, says he has some sympathy for the crisis of conscience in which some delegates find themselves, but ultimately, the rules are the rules. “It’s an unhappy situation,” he says. “But they know the rules. They’ve bought into it. They’re all adults.”

Bob Kabel was right that the delegates are all adults but he was wrong that they’d bought into the bylaws. When it came time to declare their votes during yesterday’s roll call, they announced their support for Rubio and Kasich.

But their protest was not honored.

The D.C. delegation is outraged at the RNC and accusing the convention organizers of “grabbing” its 19 votes for Marco Rubio (10) and John Kasich (9) and giving them all to Trump. When the District was called, its delegation clearly stated the tally for Rubio and Kasich, but the votes were recorded instead for Trump. Some members of the delegation booed, and delegate Chip Nottingham told reporters on the floor that the RNC’s move was “outrageous, it’s petty, and it’s unnecessary.”

It’s actually not outrageous or necessarily petty for the chairman of the convention to honor DC’s bylaws, but this was one more sign of party disunity.

It was actually the Alaska delegation that got more attention.

Just as Paul Ryan was ready to confirm Donald Trump had clinched the nomination at the Republican Convention, Alaska stepped in, claiming that all of its votes were incorrectly recorded for Trump.

While a change in the count wouldn’t alter the ultimate outcome — Trump had many more delegates than the required 1,237 — the state’s delegates were insistent on a recount…

…The delegation was particularly upset –- some were even in tears — that the RNC would, in their view, decide to ignore the will of the voters.

In this case, the fairness of the decision was considerably more contentious. The Alaska bylaws provided rules for dividing up delegates earned by candidates who dropped before the state convention (Rubio) and after the state convention (Cruz, Kasich). Both rules meant that Trump should get all of Alaska’s delegates.

The issue was that Alaskan delegates claimed to have suspended these bylaws at their convention, meaning that they should not have been operative during the roll call.

Regardless of the merits of these cases, it’s clear that majorities of both the DC and Alaska delegations traveled to Cleveland intent on registering their official opposition to their nominee and instead had their votes forcibly cast for him. They are obviously displeased, to put it mildly.

To get a sense of how they feel, let’s look at that June 17th Washingtonian article again:

Kris Hammond was never shy about his opposition to Donald Trump.

Back in March, campaigning to be a Republican delegate for DC, Hammond passed out business cards with the #NeverTrump hashtag splashed across them. The cards stated that Hammond was open to supporting any candidate at the party’s July convention on the second ballot — be it Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, or John Kasich — but not Trump. That platform resonated, catapulting him to the top of the field for a delegate slot. Kris Hammond was going to Cleveland…

“I was elected on a mandate to oppose Donald Trump,” Hammond says. “And that’s what I’m going to do. I have iron knees. I will not buckle.”

Here’s how that turned out:

Minutes after the vote, first-time D.C. delegate Kris Hammond told ThinkProgress he felt insulted and excluded by his party and its nominee.

“How is [Trump] going to listen to us if he’s elected president, if he’s not listening to us now?” he fumed. “He’s not allowing dissent. He’s not going to allow anything other than subservience to Donald Trump.”

Hammond and delegate Chip Nottingham claimed that they were privately assured that, despite the bylaws, they’d be able to vote their conscience and have their votes counted. Maybe that’s true or maybe it’s not, but either way they feel violated by the process because DC did not vote for Trump and yet they’re now on the record as unanimously supporting his candidacy.

It’s a minor thing in the greater picture. In one sense, the rules are the rules. In another sense, the Trump forces chose to meaninglessly pad their stats rather than to be magnanimous. In fact, they may have gone a bit further than that.

It was one final indignity for Republicans who opposed Trump, and D.C. Republicans are among the most establishment members of the party. Even a couple hours later, Dana Hudson was still seething.

“Party bosses are colluding with Trump to subvert democracy,” she said. “The Republican Party is the party of liberty and freedom. If they don’t listen to us, why are we here?”

Hudson, a lobbyist, said she and other Trump opponents had been threatened and intimidated. She was the subject of rumors linking her romantically to Marco Rubio, which she says were false. And after those threats, she had no interest in [Speaker Paul] Ryan’s call for coming together.

“I have been waiting for our presumptive nominee to unify the party and I will not vote for anyone who is not unifying the party,” she said. “That opportunity was lost today. That opportunity was lost yesterday.”

Delegations from several states, including Utah, Iowa, and Colorado have been similarly displeased with how the convention rules have been interpreted.

In fact, during the roll call, those three states, plus DC, Alaska and Virginia vacated their spots on the convention floor.

If you want to know why the primetime speeches last night were delivered to a half-empty cavernous-sounding Quicken Loans Arena, it’s because so many delegates feel disempowered, disenfranchised and disrespected.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.