How the ‘Never Trump’ movement failed at the RNC

'Never Trump' delegates' last challenge to Trump died in Cleveland on Tuesday.

Mike Segar/Reuters
A delegate with a GOP mascot elephant wipes his brow on the floor at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.

Donald Trump is about to get the Republican Party's formal nomination.

A zero-hour challenge from a group of delegates dubbed the Never Trump movement failed at the Republican National Convention on Monday, sealing the nomination for Mr. Trump. The delegates, led by a Denver schoolteacher and conservative activist, had sought to change party rules binding delegates to the vote pledged during the primaries.

Unbinding delegates from their earlier pledge, said the movement's proponents, would free them to "vote their conscience" – for anyone but Trump. And they said a signature-collection drive had netted enough names to obligate the party to hold a roll-call vote on whether to keep existing rules or scrap them, instead of the less precise voice vote usually used to make that decision.

According to party rules, a roll-call vote requires a majority of delegates from at least seven states to get behind it. Members of the Never Trump coalition Delegates Unbound claimed they'd gotten more than they needed, according to ABC News.

"Despite every obstacle thrown in our way, the movement of all the stakeholders involved in this effort have gained a majority of the delegates in 10 states," Delegates Unbound co-founder M. Dane Waters said before the Convention on Tuesday. "Now we take this fight to the floor."

But their effort came to a dramatic end on Monday on the Convention floor when Rep. Steve Womack (R) of Arkansas, who was presiding over the rule-approval process, twice called a voice vote on the existing rules – and twice deemed that those in favor of keeping them had won out, eliciting boos from some delegates.

That decision roiled the floor, with some Never Trump delegates clamoring for the roll call, and others walking out in protest.

RNC leaders keen on uniting the party around Trump had taken an unusual decision in choosing Mr. Womack to preside over the floor vote rather than House Speaker Paul Ryan, who had recently made comments seeming to suggest sympathy with those pushing for a "conscience vote." And leaders seemed to have prepared for the challenge.

With dissent erupting on the Convention floor, according to an account of the events by Politico, RNC and Trump campaign whips fanned out across the crowd, finding delegates who had signed their support to the conscience-vote drive. In a short time, the whips collected a list of withdrawal signatures that they said was long enough to take several states off of the Never Trump coalition’s list. After that effort, RNC leaders determined that the anti-Trump campaigners had fallen short of the seven-state minimum to force the roll call vote, meaning the informal voice vote would hold.

Never Trump delegates criticized the proceedings afterward. Rory Cooper, a senior adviser with the coalition, accused party officials of "strong-arming delegates and skirting the rules to silence" party members, in a statement to reporters.

The Trump campaign dismissed the group's claims. Campaign leaders had repeatedly downplayed the strength of Trump opponents within the party, with campaign manager Paul Manafort telling reporters on Monday, "It's not a movement. It's some rogue, recalcitrant delegates."

Trump is expected to be formally awarded the nomination at the Convention on Tuesday. Some anti-Trump delegates insisted that their efforts were ongoing. 

"Stay tuned. There's a Plan B," said Kendal Unruh, the Colorado schoolteacher and activist who led the conscience-vote signature drive, in an interview with The Hill. "We're going to go back, we're going to strategize ... what they chose was to play hardball to make sure there wasn't dissent, and now they're going to get it."

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