Unconventional #37: GOP establishment crushes Rules Committee insurgents seeking to dump Trump

The RNC rules committee abruptly adjourned for three hours on Thursday to hold negotiations with so-called #NeverTrumpers. (Photo: Andrew Romano/Yahoo News)
The RNC rules committee abruptly adjourned for three hours on Thursday to hold negotiations with so-called #NeverTrumpers. (Photo: Andrew Romano/Yahoo News)

Unconventional is Yahoo News’ complete guide to what could be the craziest presidential conventions in decades. Here’s what you need to know today.

1. In a blockbuster Rules Committee battle, the GOP establishment crushes insurgents seeking to dump Trump and reform the party

CLEVELAND — The meeting was supposed to last for two full days. But instead of recessing for the night and returning Friday, an overwhelming majority of the RNC Rules Committee decided at 8:45 p.m. Thursday to stick around and finish their job in a single marathon session.

The extension was widely seen as a way for the Republican establishment to wear down — and ultimately destroy — a pair of overlapping grassroots insurgencies angling to reform the party and possibly dump presumptive nominee Donald Trump.

The strategy worked.

Rules Committee meetings are usually boring. This year’s gathering broke with that tradition. Why? Because it’s where the two defining battles of the 2016 Republican convention were waged.

Can the delegates unbind themselves from their states’ primary results and instead vote their conscience on the first ballot — a maneuver that would allow them to rebel against Trump and select someone else instead? And should the GOP become a less centralized — and ultimately more conservative — party?

Nearly every major rules-change proposal was designed to address one of these two existential questions, with the RNC brass and Team Trump lining up on the “nay” side and the Dump Trump delegates and grassroots conservatives pushing for passage.

And on every major proposal, the RNC-Trump alliance got exactly what it wanted.

The marquee battle over binding began at 9:20 p.m., when Jordan Ross of Nevada stepped to the microphone to propose an amendment to Rule 38 that would, as he put it, “settle this once and for all.” Ross’s amendment clearly stated that binding would be permitted.

“I have no intention of returning to Nevada’s voters and telling them I had a part in shredding their votes,” Ross said.

“Donald Trump is the presumptive nominee,” added Bruce Ash of Arizona. “There should be no question who we’re going to vote for.”

“It’s over, folks,” concurred Steve Scheffler of Iowa. “We need to get behind our candidate.”

“I strongly urge us to start hugging the person next to us,” concluded Eileen Grossman of Rhode Island. “Do a kumbaya. Be happy. We have a better nominee than the Democrats.”

The amendment passed by a crushing margin — 87 to 12.

A few minutes later, Kendal Unruh, the leader of the Dump Trump group Free the Delegates, introduced her much-anticipated “conscience clause” — an amendment that would explicitly allow delegates to vote for whomever they wanted.

“Obviously this is a very important topic to the heart of many Americans — people from all walks of life who truly believe in the right of conscience,” Unruh said. “It’s not just something we decided is a cool idea. It’s fundamental to our nation.”

But 10 minutes later, Unruh’s conscience clause was clobbered in a voice vote.

“Clearly the nays have it,” said Rules Committee Chair Enid Mickelsen of Utah. Unruh had been caught flat-footed by the RNC-Trump forces. The chair didn’t even bother to count the votes.

The back-to-back binding decisions capped a long day of victories for a GOP establishment that has resolved to support Trump despite lingering doubts about his fitness for the presidency.

Shortly after the start of Thursday’s session — which took place in the bowels of Cleveland’s new Huntington Convention Center, where hundreds of reporters jostled for seats in the meeting room — Mickelsen announced that a “printer [had] jammed” and that the committee would have to recess until 1 p.m. as a result.

The excuse was comical. For the next five hours, RNC Chairman Reince Priebus met behind closed doors with key players on either side of the divide — including Colorado’s Unruh; Utah Sen. Mike Lee, whose support would give the Dump Trump movement new momentum; and Ken Cuccinelli, the Virginia conservative behind the proposed grassroots reforms — in an attempt to strike a deal that would keep the insurgents from forming an alliance and causing trouble in front of the TV cameras.

When the committee reconvened at 1 p.m., Mickelsen acknowledged that a broken printer had not, in fact, caused the long delay. A number of delegates “asked for a period of time to work out their differences,” she explained. “I don’t know what they have or have not decided.”

The answer, as it turned out, was nothing. The not-so-secret effort had failed.

With no deal in place, it seemed as if the insurgents might have a chance. But as the day unfolded, it soon became clear that they were outnumbered by Republicans sympathetic to the status quo and out-organized by the tactically brilliant RNC-Trump whip team, which divided and conquered the committee, texting voting instructions to members throughout the day.

The first key test case was a debate over Rule 12. Amended four years ago to allow RNC members to change the party’s rules between conventions, the measure has long angered conservative activists opposed to top-down governance. The back-and-forth went on for more than an hour, with Lee eventually rising to rail against Republicans for “allow[ing] one group of people or a person to accumulate too much power.”

But when the measure was put to a vote, Lee & Co. lost by 63 votes — 86 to 23.

It was a sign of things to come. A few minutes later, the committee considered an amendment — also supported by Cuccinelli and his allies — to ban lobbyists from becoming members of the Republican National Committee. “The Republican Party is the grassroots party,” argued committee member Gwen Bowen of Louisiana. “It should be the grassroots people making the decisions, and not the paid lobbyists.” But that amendment also failed, this time by a clear voice vote.

The same thing happened with every amendment related to Rule 16, which governs the primary calendar and which insurgents have said is unfair to grassroots candidates: They were all voted down. And even though Lee again stepped to the microphone and said that the GOP “will cease to be a party if we allow others to vote in our elections and determine our values,” an amendment that would reward states for holding closed primaries fell short as well. The vote was 73 to 32.

The battle over binding isn’t quite finished yet. The question now is whether Unruh and her allies will be able to cobble together the 28 votes they need to pass a minority report and force all 2,472 delegates to vote yes or no on the convention floor. Unruh’s support appeared to be dwindling throughout the day; looking defeated, she withdrew a number of late amendments after her conscience clause failed.

But Lee, for one, insisted that a rematch would be taking place at the Quicken Loans Arena next week.

“This problem, this angst — as we will see in a few days — isn’t going to go away just because we paper over it with rules,” Lee said in an impassioned speech to his fellow committee members. “So I say to Mr. Trump and those aligned with him: Make the case. Make the case to those delegates who want to have a voice. Make the case that they should use their voice to support him. Don’t make the case that their voices should be silenced.”


2. The GOP’s list of prohibited convention items is a lot weirder — and more paranoid — than the Democrats’. What gives?

If you want to know which national nominating convention — the Democratic get-together in Philadelphia or the Republican shindig in Cleveland — is more paranoid about security threats, look no further than each party’s respective lists of banned items.

Due to safety concerns, law enforcement officers won’t let you bring certain things anywhere near Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena or Philly’s Wells Fargo Center. But the GOP seems to be much more worried about violence — and much more imaginative about the implements that people might use to carry it out.

The Democratic Party’s list of prohibited stuff is pretty much what you would expect to see at a gigantic, target-rich gathering like a political convention:

Aerosols, ammunition, animals other than service/guide dogs, backpacks, large bags, bicycles, balloons, coolers, drones and other unmanned aircraft systems, explosives, firearms, glass, thermal or metal containers, laser pointers, pepper spray, packages, structures, supports for signs and placards, toy guns, or weapons of any kind.

To be sure, there are a couple of curveballs on the Democratic list: no “e-cigarettes” or “selfie sticks” will be tolerated in Philadelphia, either. But those bans make sense. Vaping is an outdoor activity; selfie sticks could be used as weapons. Also: e-cigarettes and selfies are annoying trends that should be banned wherever and whenever possible.

What to make, however, of the GOP’s banned items? Many of them are weirdly specific. For instance: instead of just saying “weapons of any kind,” the Cleveland authorities go into obsessive detail about all of the comically archaic “instrumentalities” that they will not allow convention-goers to brandish: “cestus, billy, blackjack, sword, saber, hatchet, axe, slingshot, BB gun, pellet gun, wrist shot, blackjack, metal knuckles, nunchucks, mace, iron buckle, axe handle, shovel,” and so on. Just so you know, a cestus is an ancient battle glove that was used in the empty-handed Greek submission sport of pankration. If you were thinking about wearing one to the RNC, think again.

Other banned items don’t seem like the kinds of things anyone would really want to bring to a convention. “Containers of bodily fluids,” for example. Or “ladders.” Or “grappling hooks.” The ban already extends to “any other item determined by the Chief or Director to be a clear and present danger to the safety of others.” Unless Republicans are afraid that Batman is plotting to scale The Q, they probably could’ve left this stuff out.

Finally, there are the banned items that don’t make any sense — namely, “tennis balls.” We understand that tennis is suspiciously European. But as practical matter, why is a tennis ball more dangerous than a racquetball? Or a baseball? Or a golf ball? Inquiring minds want to know.

Fear not, though. While fuzzy green balls are prohibited in the 1.7-square-mile event zone surrounding the Quicken Loans Arena — as are water guns — real firearms are allowed, per Ohio’s open-carry laws.

“Our intent is to follow the law,” Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson said at a news conference Wednesday. “And if the law says you can have open carry, that’s what it says.”

Safety first.


3. Tim Kaine auditions to be Hillary Clinton’s attack dog — but some say he’s no Elizabeth Warren

Hillary Clinton and Sen. Tim Kaine, Democrat of Virginia, in Annandale, Va., on July 14. (Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)
Hillary Clinton and Sen. Tim Kaine, Democrat of Virginia, in Annandale, Va., on July 14. (Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

By Liz Goodwin

ANANDALE, Va. — Potential vice presidential pick Sen. Tim Kaine called Donald Trump a “me first” trash-talking candidate at a rally in Northern Virginia with Hillary Clinton Thursday.

Kaine is considered a frontrunner on Clinton’s list of potential vice president picks, but progressives in the party have raised concerns he is a “safe” choice who lacks the liberal cred and ability to motivate the base of Sen. Elizabeth Warren and others on the short list.

(Read the full story here.)

He debuted his attack lines on Trump Thursday, contrasting Trump to Clinton. “Do you want a trash-talker president or a bridge-builder president?” he asked the crowd. “He trash-talks women, he trash-talks folks with disabilities, he trash-talks Latinos.” He then asked if the crowd wanted a “you’re fired” president or a you’re hired” president, a “me first or kids and family first” president.

Kaine’s attack lacked the ferocity of Warren’s, who called Trump “a small, insecure money-grubber” who will “crush you into the dirt to get whatever he wants” when she appeared with Clinton in May. (At one point, Kaine said it “gets me steamed” when Trump called the U.S. military a disaster, sounding a bit like a character from a 1950s sitcom.)

The senator and former Virginia governor, who spent years as a missionary in Honduras, showed off his Spanish at the beginning of the rally, saying “Estamos listos para Hillary” — we are ready for Hillary. He then explained the subtle difference between the meaning of the word “ready” in English and Spanish.

Clinton referenced Kaine several times in her speech, saying he was “absolutely right” to frame Trump as a president who is out for himself. “’Do you want a trash-talker or a bridge builder?’ I like that one a lot,” she said.

Dawn Kirton, a travel agent and Clinton supporter who attended the rally, said she thought Kaine was “mediocre” but that Clinton was a “superwoman.” She said she wanted Clinton to pick Warren as her vice president. “She’s a shaker and a mover,” Kirton said.

“I thought he was pretty good,” said Janet Schreiber, an independent voter who supports Clinton. “Very pleasant.”

Some progressives in the party say they don’t like Kaine’s past support for the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal and his personal opposition to abortion. They would like Clinton to pick a more liberal running mate to further rally Sanders’ supporters to her side for the general election.

“So far the Clinton campaign has been surprisingly bold in the progressive positions they’ve carved out,” said Adam Green, founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee. “And to go an extremely cautious route with a VP pick would cut against their pattern so far.”

Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., who co-chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus, told Reuters that he would prefer a running mate ” who’s really going to signal to the progressive base that we’re going to make some advances on this income inequality people have been suffering from.”


4. Police in Cleveland are ready for the RNC protesters — and they’ve got jail space too

Cleveland Chief of Police Calvin Williams delivers a security briefing on preparations for the Republican National Convention. (Photo: Reuters Video)
Cleveland Chief of Police Calvin Williams delivers a security briefing on preparations for the Republican National Convention. (Photo: Reuters Video)

By Jeff Stacklin

Whether you’re a Republican National Convention delegate or a party VIP, a demonstrator or a journalist, the city of Cleveland is ready for you to have a safe and peaceful visit.

But keep this in mind: If you step out of line, there will be local, state and federal police officers — thousands of them, including officers from across the nation — ready to keep you in check. And, if necessary, Cleveland police Chief Calvin Williams says there is adequate jail space in his city.

(Read the full story here.)

“We want people to stay within the law and make sure they stay peaceful,” Williams said. “But if you get outside the law, and definitely if you’re not peaceful, then it’s not going to be good for anybody.”

Williams, as well as representatives of the Secret Service, city administration and the RNC organizing committee, on Wednesday gave a last security briefing before the convention begins on July 18.

“We are prepared,” said Ronald Rowe Jr. of the Secret Service. “We are ready to welcome the world to Cleveland.”

Everyone expressed optimism and confidence in the security plan that’s been in the works for the past couple of years — and amended as recently as this week to take into account last week’s sniper attack that left five Dallas police officers dead at a demonstration against police violence.

Officials won’t say specifically what’s been changed after Dallas, but Williams did say that police officer safety has been given extra consideration. “Dallas was a wakeup call,” he noted.

Demonstrators like Citizens for Trump organizer Tim Selaty Sr. of Texas and Stand Together Against Trump organizer Bryan Hambley of Cleveland will be among the crowds in Cleveland next week. Politically, Selaty and Hambley are worlds apart, but they share a common concern about the Republican National Convention: security.

Thousands of emotionally charged people will pour into downtown Cleveland next week, and Selaty and Hambley said during interviews with Yahoo News that they have big worries that the convention organizers have not done enough to separate the groups with opposing positions on presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump.

“It’s a recipe for disaster the way they are handling it right now,” Selaty said.

While Hambley said he hoped the city would have created buffer zones between opposing groups and segregated where they could assemble, city officials said that was not possible.


5. The best of the rest



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