“It’s time, after all these years, to put an end to this,” Ross intoned. “Let’s give the people what they expect—that their votes count.”
A delegate from Rhode Island, Eileen Grossman, agreed: “I will not turn my back on the millions of people that voted for Donald Trump,” she said. The whip effort by the anti-Trump advocates, she noted, had deluged her with hundreds of emails, many of them threatening, and when she responded politely, “the responses were not nice.”
The rule was approved, 87 votes to 12.
Unruh brought up her proposal next. The serious-faced brunette seemed to take a deep breath as she prepared to make her case. “Does anybody need any information on the conscience clause?” she joked, an allusion to the deluge of emails.
Unruh cast the choice in religious terms, comparing delegates’ right to vote their preferences to doctors’ right to refuse to perform abortions. “That is a God-given right, and it should not be taken away by the RNC,” she said.
With little discussion, the committee moved to cut off debate and defeated Unruh’s proposal on a voice vote. Then Ross—who had, he told me later, worked with the Trump campaign to draft his proposals—put forward another measure that would codify binding. That’s when Lee got up to speak.
The voters are important, Lee said, but the delegates are an important safeguard that shouldn’t be removed. Presidential candidates, he argued, have to win over the voters and the delegates. For Trump to silence the delegates, he claimed, would only deepen the party’s internal strife: “This problem, this angst … isn’t going to go away just because we paper over it with rules,” he pleaded.
But Texas delegate Steve Munisteri delivered a rebuke: “Sir, there’s nobody else running for president in this party right now than Donald Trump,” he said. And a Hawaii delegate named Nathan Paikai, who wore a red sweatshirt, a long, wispy beard, and a Make America Great Again hat, broke down in tears as he exhorted, “He is the nominee because he won!”
There were a few more things to discuss, but it was a formality. The last-ditch effort to stop Trump had been routed in a clean sweep. They never managed to come up with satisfactory answers to the biggest questions surrounding their effort: How could they justify overriding the popular will? And who would they get to run instead?
At every turn of this unusual Republican primary, there has been a vocal minority of dissenters who saw stopping Trump as a necessity of apocalyptic proportions. But their efforts were always too little too late: the elected officials, the operatives, the donors, the establishment, all seemed to mobilize only after Trump took firm hold of the party’s reins. Their efforts mattered—many felt they were laying down a marker of principle against a nominee they saw as ruinous or toxic. But in the end, the great majority of the party regulars succumbed to their unorthodox new ruler, preferring the chaos they were already in to the chaos they could not imagine.