Something's Rotten in Cleveland: Pop-Culture Confusion on the Rules Committee

My wife has voted Republican as long as we’ve been married; 29 years. Shortly into this primary season with Donald Trump already leading among the large field of candidates, she told me she would not vote for Donald Trump. I said I wouldn’t either, but “Don’t worry. He won’t be nominated.” A radio host who not only promotes a conservative philosophy, but also looks at how the party behaves, and like me, laments a lot of it, at the time said the same thing: the delegates at the Republican National Convention are not going to give the nomination to Donald Trump.

Though competition had stopped campaigning and Trump was the last one with only about 44% of the vote even after over a month with no competition, I still thought much of the convention would balk at nominating him. I could go into specifics, but generally he is unsuited to lead anything but his own personal circus, which The Republican Party is not. He’s a pathetic man that most people wouldn’t respect in any organization in their lives. He’s personally dishonest and immoral, poorly spoken, vulgar, inconsistent and incoherent and a totally self-absorbed immature old man, a 70-year-old picture of how a lifetime of wealth and celebrity stunts character development. We’ve all known people half as bad as he is in other situations that we thought totally repellent; a jerk.

It's a wonder if he got through school in the 50s and early 60s without having the stuffing kicked out of him more than once. But with respect to being the Republican nominee for president of The United States, even more important than all of that is the fact that he is no Republican. If he is any sort of one in fact, he’s playing a crude buffoon to attract media, Democrats who want a weak nominee, and the anti-leftist but ill-defined mob that came out to vote for him. They like the loutish abusive chaos. He’ll cut through the political posturing and financial inducement and “make America great again.” They are anti-left statists. They believe government can just will a more prosperous society into existence. Republicans don’t believe that, and they are no more Republican than he is.

Even if you believe he can do that, why you would trust anything he says is beyond me. Yes, I know the Washington Republican establishment is frozen by some combination of fear and contentment in their influence and comfort. But our original field of Republican candidates was the best of my lifetime. For once since Reagan, I could have been relatively enthusiastic about five of them. And the party has additional talent. But it is American principle of liberty, civil virtue and security that made America great in the first place. And Trump and his history show nothing of those values.

When I was a Texas state delegate, Trump would have had little support among the delegates who craft The Republican platform. But I was disturbed by what I saw watching the Rules Committee proceedings. I knew that Trump forces and the RNC had been pressuring people. I’ve heard from a few people I’m inclined to trust that there were even threats to delegates and their families. If that’s true I’m not sure it will be effective in the long run of the convention. If it is, it probably won’t be effective in the long run of the party. Thursday night I watched most of the Rules Committee proceedings, and Friday I watched the rest; both times the critical consideration of “binding” around Rules 37 and 38.

A few delegates got up and spoke of how Trump had won their states and they owed the voters their votes for him. One man, a representative, actually referred to “the voters who put me in office.” Those general election voters were not these Trump-inflamed voters who ordinarily probably don’t vote in Republican primaries. And a lot of his voters were crossover Democrats without whom he wouldn’t have won the most votes. But the whole idea of the primacy of the primary vote is just wrong, as I’ll discuss. Maybe popular culture has overtaken these delegates just as it has the Trump voters who plead “the will of the voters.”

All this was right before the vote on an amendment to weaken the old right of Rule 37 that gives any delegate the ability to demand a roll call vote and have the votes recorded as individually cast. When the chair called for anyone who wished to speak in opposition to the Amendment…no one. No Mike Lee the Senator from Utah and Committee member. No Curley Haugland of North Dakota. No Kendal Unruh of Colorado. I didn’t understand that. Obviously something was going on that I wasn’t privy to. But that amendment was passed.

On Rule 38, Kendal Unruh offered her Amendment to clarify Rule 38’s disallowing of a state “unit rule,” requiring delegates to vote as a unit rather than individually. She explained that her amendment was to clarify that delegates could vote their conscience. She explained that the founders had spurned raw democracy and given us a representative republic. The party system paralleled that. The delegates elected in the platform-framing convention system represented the principles and interest of the party. Freedom of conscience, she explained, is a God given right. I agree with that. She’s a Christian conservative. I’m a Christian conservative. But here there’s a more essential point that should be recognized whether you accept a delegate’s God-given right to conscience or not.

Apparently many or most didn’t agree because the amendment was defeated by a voice vote with no standing count, which some have questioned. The no vote seemed louder, but volume does not necessarily indicate number. But Rule 38 remains and how will convention officials behave if delegates vote their own sentiments, per Rule 38, upheld by 3 Supreme Court decisions? I’m sure some will. But how many? I wouldn’t vote for Trump under any circumstances.

Anyway, I was fairly shocked that no one made the point of what was being proposed. ALL of the work of conventions passed and those this year from state down to district down to precinct, and the national next week was to be obviated by a mob oblivious to Republican principle that voted for an unprincipled and graceless candidate. Why did the delegates go to all the trouble? Why would they in the future, if the party is so vacuous as to nominate Trump?

The party is a private association that represents values and causes, just like any organization. Ordinarily, the voter’s choice may not be as meticulous and resolute as some of us would like, but he understands what being a Republican and an American present means, and delegates accept the public preference. But the delegates need an individual of some dignity and appeal to represent the party’s principles to the public. We need to call people to those principles, not change our agenda if a public voted abandons them. As I’ve said, Trump is as qualified to be the pope or president of the Southern Baptist Convention as he is to be the Republican candidate or the president.

The decisive popular vote is in the general election’s electoral college. Republicans have a duty to the party and the country to set out a representative of our principles in an able and appealing person. The primary is a public opinion poll, not a public facility. A non-Republican should run as an Independent or seek the nomination of a third party. By the way, third parties select their nominees in conventions too. Should we complain about that?

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