Inside The Delegate Revolt At The RNC

Tommy Valentine refuses to participate in the official RNC photo after officials denied calls for a roll call vote. CREDIT: KIRA LERNER
Tommy Valentine refuses to participate in the official RNC photo after officials denied calls for a roll call vote. CREDIT: KIRA LERNER

CLEVELAND, OHIO — Boos, screams of “no,” and cries of “shame” rang throughout the Republican National Convention’s arena Monday afternoon as party leaders rejected demands from at least ten states to allow a vote on the rules that bind delegates to vote for Donald Trump.

The delegates leading the eleventh-hour rebellion, including Colorado’s Kendal Unruh, were furious. She told ThinkProgress minutes after the vote that she felt cheated by her own party and its nominee.

“The fact that Donald Trump ran on a platform of populism and listening to will of the people…and the very first course of action he could take he chose…to squash the grassroots, to line up with the establishment, and become the establishment, be the party boss, and make sure that he thwarted the will of the people, this does not bode well for the party,” she said.

Unruh has for months led a movement to “unbind” delegates and allow them to vote for a candidate other than Trump. Her attempts to win this freedom during the Rules Committee’s negotiations last week went down in flames, so she and other Republicans opposed to Trump scrambled Monday to force a floor fight.

Anti-Trump delegates claimed they had enough signatures to force a roll call vote on the rules, thanks to support from Colorado, Washington state, Utah, Minnesota, Wyoming, Maine, Iowa, Virginia and Washington, D.C.

But Deputy RNC Committee Chair Steve Womack called instead for a voice vote — asking delegates to shout out yea or nay on adopting the rules without changes. A well-organized group of dissenters screamed out in protest, drowning out the nays. But Womack ignored the clamor and announced from the podium, “The ayes have it.”

The room immediately erupted in chaos. Many delegates marched out of the hall. Others booed and chanted, “Shame!”

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Womack fled the stage, then returned and held a second voice vote that he also called for the “ayes.” He then announced that several states had withdrawn their support for opening up the rules to a roll call vote — a decision that some delegates attributed to intimidation tactics from the RNC and Trump loyalists.

“We had Trump people looking over our delegates’ shoulders taking pictures of their texts,” Unruh said. “We had Trump delegates that were standing in front of the microphones to deny us access. You see the strong arm tactics. You have the coercion.”

Virginia delegate Tommy Valentine, a 22-year old first-time convention attendee, said that representatives from the Trump campaign tried to retaliate against him for favoring a roll call vote.

“I had one Trump staffer who came to me and said, ‘When Trump becomes president, he will remember,’” he told ThinkProgress, adding that the Trump campaign staff also made a vague mention of Virginia’s tax dollars. “I said, ‘Are you threatening me or are you threatening Virginia?’ And he said, ‘No, no that’s not what I meant.’”

Valentine said he watched the same staffers attempt to strong-arm others. “They were going around to the delegates who would sign the documents intimidating them and telling them to take their names off it,” he said.

The Trump did not respond to ThinkProgress’ questions about these accusations.

When the effort to force a roll call vote failed and convention leaders attempted to move on, former Virginia Attorney General and delegate Ken Cuccinelli threw his credentials on the ground in frustration. He told ThinkProgress he wanted to know which states withdrew their support from the petition effort and why.

“Why wouldn’t they name the states?” he asked angrily.

Convention leaders then asked all 2,000-plus delegates to stand and pose for a group photo as cameras floated over the massive stadium. But the moment that should have symbolized the party’s unity was broken by more chanting from the delegates who felt they were denied a voice. Some began chanting, “roll call vote!”

During the group picture, Valentine turned his back on the camera. “I’m not going to smile for the stupid picture,” he said. “I’m an elected official, sent here by my district, and they just ignored me.”

Valentine told ThinkProgress that the rejection of the vote makes him question his role in the nominating process.

“These people just broke parliamentary procedures, their own rules,” he said angrily, pointing to the arena stage. “Why should I even come to the convention? Why should I come tomorrow? Why should I come Wednesday? Why should I come Thursday?”

As one of the youngest delegates on the floor, Valentine noted that the rejection of the vote hurts the party’s chances with young people. “How are we going to recruit young people when we tell them: your voice doesn’t matter?”

Despite their defeat on the floor on Monday, Unruh and other anti-Trump delegates are vowing to fight on.

“This entire system is rigged to force the vote for Donald Trump,” she said. “If he had allowed a free process, a fair process, and earned the vote fair and square, you wouldn’t have this division in the party. This is what’s sad: that the RNC doesn’t want chaos in the party but then they create the chaos.”

Valentine, who represents a district in Northern Virginia, said the chaos shows how little unity exists in the Republican Party going into the general election.

“If the Trump campaign were so sure about unity, they shouldn’t be afraid of a roll call vote,” Valentine said.