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Dump Trump rules move quashed at GOP convention

Chad Livengood, and Jonathan Oosting

Cleveland — Controversy briefly invaded the Republican National Convention floor Monday when party officials quashed a move that could have helped free delegates to vote their conscience and possibly against presumptive nominee Donald Trump.

An uproar broke out on the convention floor after party officials adopted rules by a shouted voice vote, a move aimed at blunting anti-Trump forces seeking to derail the New York businessman’s nomination. Delegates erupted in competing chants in a televised dispute Republican leaders had hoped to avoid.

Over angry and prolonged objections from anti-Donald Trump forces, Republican Party leaders approved rules for their national convention and rejected a demand for a state-by-state roll call vote, a discordant start to a gathering designed to project unity.

The convention chairman declared that the anti-Trump forces did not get the seven states needed to require a state-by-state vote on changing the rules, saying three of nine states had withdrawn their petitions.

Michigan was not one of the states involved in the rules change movement. There was no push for it in Michigan because delegates are generally pledged to candidates they supported, said Barbara Bookout of Grand Rapids, one of two state delegates who was seeking to dump Trump at the convention.

“I have no idea what’s going on right now. This is surreal,” said Utah U.S. Sen. Mike Lee, a supporter of Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz who had helped lead the efforts to force a state-by-state roll call vote on the rules.

Cruz supporters expressed disappointment that their attempt to force state-by-state votes was not heard.

“There was a tremendous amount of frustration that the rules kind of got shoved down everybody's throats,” said Saul Anuzis, a Cruz delegate and former Michigan Republican Party chairman. “There are a lot of grassroots people who feel frustrated their voices weren’t heard. ... This had nothing to do with unbinding the delegates or anti-Trump or anything.”

Anuzis added: “Process-wise ... people perceived to be the establishment, the small cabal that runs this thing, chokes off the debate on issues that are important to a lot of people.”

But independent political analyst Larry Sabato said the kerfuffle does not amount to much.

“I’ve seen a lot of disputes at conventions over the years,” said Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. “Two weeks after the convention, no one can remember what they were about. This is in that category.”

Still, the brief controversy highlighted an unusual division in the Republican Party, Sabato said.

“The party elites and establishment are mainly anti-Trump or only minimally for him. Much of the rank and file is either enthusiastically for Trump or reconciled to his nomination,” Sabato said in an email. “This split will probably persist all the way to November.”

Bookout said there was sentiment for unbinding delegates from voting for Trump in other states where party officials selected their delegates before a primary was held. In Washington state, “you have 44 Cruz people stuck in Trump positions against their moral judgment,” she said. “And so it matters whether they were allowed to make that vote.”

Michigan Cruz campaign director Wendy Day supported the effort to free the delegates but said she didn’t really try to collect signatures from Michigan delegates because of how the state’s primary and delegate selection process worked.

“I didn’t want to put any of our delegates in a bad position,” Day said.

The chaotic scene on the floor quickly died down when convention leaders moved to adopt the party’s platform, which supporters touted as the most socially conservative in decades.

Republicans reinforced the party’s public policy beliefs and goals by stating that marriage is reserved for only one man and one woman. Social conservatives defeated efforts to define marriage as an institution between “husband and wife” because it could be interpreted to include individuals in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

Changes to the party’s governing philosophies include adopting presidential nominee Trump’s call for a wall to be built along the Mexican border, although it does not specifically call for Mexico to pay for it as the New York businessman has demanded.

Dave Agema, Michigan’s outgoing Republican national committeeman, said the new platform is “25 to 30 percent more conservative” than the 2012 document.

“What they did, I think, surprised the establishment,” Agema said.

Searching for party unity

Republican leaders had hoped the convention would focus instead on the glue that does unite the party’s factions: disdain for Democrat presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton. Convention speakers planned to relentlessly paint Clinton as entrenched in a system that fails to keep Americans safe.

Matt Hall, a Trump delegate from Grand Rapids who served on the convention Rules Committee, said after the floor maneuvering that it’s time for Republicans to unite behind the winner of the primaries.

“Many times conservatives like me have had to accept the choice of the majority of the party, even if we didn’t agree,” Hall said.

While safety and security was the focus of Monday’s opening session, Trump was also trying to shore up Republican unity, in part by assuring party leaders and voters alike that there’s a kinder, gentler side to what many see as merely a brash businessman.

Tumult over roll call votes

Earlier Monday afternoon, activists with a group called Delegates Unbound claimed they had submitted signatures from enough states to force a roll call floor vote on the convention rules, opening the door for possible rejection and a tussle over new rules.

Dane Waters of Delegates Unbound said that 11 states initially filed enough signatures — not nine — but two states submitted their signatures after the other nine. He was not sure which states might have seen a significant number of delegates withdraw.

Hundreds of socially conservative delegates opposed to nominating Trump protested noisily after the convention’s presiding officer, Arkansas GOP U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, abruptly put the rules to a vote and declared them approved by voice.

“Call the roll, call the roll,” opponents shouted. Practically drowning them out were chants of “USA, USA” by Trump supporters and party loyalists.

Minutes later, Womack had the convention vote by voice again, with both sides shouting their votes.

“There’s no transparency and absolutely no confidence that they’re going to follow any of the rules,” Waters told The Detroit News. “It’s absolutely outrageous, outrageous what they’ve done. It can’t be allowed to stand.”

The sudden and tumultuous approval of the rules was the latest example of the recent alliance between the Trump campaign and top officials of the Republican National Committee.

Despite wary and even hostile relations early on, the two forces have a mutual interest in healing party divisions and making Trump as competitive as possible for his expected fall matchup against Clinton.

“This is the best possible outcome for us,” said Ron Kaufman, a GOP leader from Massachusetts who has been in the middle of the rules fight. “The never Trump movement never was.”

Associated Press contributed.

GOP platform excerpts

Among the more social conservative policies in the Republican Party platform:

■ Defines traditional marriage as “between one man and one woman”

■ Supports Donald Trump’s call for a wall built along the U.S.-Mexico border

■ Opposes “ill-conceived laws” restricting gun magazine capacity

■ Opposes taxpayer funding for Planned Parenthood and any other organization that provides “elective abortions”

■ Calls for imposing “firm caps” on the $19 trillion national debt and accelerating repayment

Source: Republican Platform 2016