As we say our eulogies over the #NeverTrump movement and its effort to overturn Donald Trump’s nomination (or at least wreak havoc on his convention), it’s helpful to remember how the whole thing got started. Back in March, when it looked like Trump would have a plurality but not a majority of delegates, while Ted Cruz and his movement-conservative legions were winning delegate-selection contests, the idea of prying away disloyal Trump delegates by unbinding them from primary and caucus results seemed feasible.
It was always a dicey proposition, in part because Team Cruz did not want to do anything to open up the nomination to dark-horse candidates like (potentially) Paul Ryan or Mitt Romney.
The minute Trump won a majority of pledged delegates and Cruz threw in the towel, however, the whole effort to use the rules against the presumptive nominee at the convention took on an entirely different complexion. It was then a matter of repudiating the will of primary and caucus voters, and throwing the convention into chaos. From its beginning to its end, the post-primary #NeverTrump movement never found a candidate to serve as a rallying point. And even though Cruz-aligned conservatives made tactical accommodations with the rebels, they never really formed a common cause.
This was made apparent at the crucial meeting of the convention Rules Committee Thursday when the “Free the Delegates” caucus was struggling to obtain the 28 votes necessary to move the debate over unbinding themselves to the convention floor via a minority report. Suddenly Ken Cuccinelli, captain of the Cruz forces on the committee, opened up negotiations with RNC chairman Reince Preibus to abandon the “Free the Delegates” drive in exchange for concessions to conservatives on the future nominating process, mostly involving incentives to close primaries and caucuses to participation by non-Republicans. Negotiations dragged on for hours, and finally collapsed, with both sides knowing Priebus had the votes. In the end, both the “Free the Delegates” resolutions and Cuccinelli’s “reforms” went down to defeat. The rules will be adopted by the convention Monday without any troublesome debates over minority reports.
In the end, both of these Rules Committee efforts were undermined by the gradual erosion of movement-conservative resistance to Trump, and by the stout assistance Trump received from Priebus and his Establishment allies, who in the end simply wanted a peaceful convention and a relatively united party.
The closest think to a whimper of dissent left on the table this weekend involves a convoluted challenge to the platform. To make a very long story short, a distinct minority of Platform Committee members upset by the rampant homophobia that infects the document seized on an earlier effort by conservative ideologues to junk the usual long and detailed tome in favor of a short statement of “core principles.” The pro-gay-rights group managed to get 38 signatures (theoretically ten votes more than is needed to authorize a minority report) on a petition to substitute the short statement (written in part and heavily promoted by the famous Christian-right revisionist historian David Barton) for the entire platform. Realizing belatedly that they were being used by pro-gay Republicans, Barton & Co. are now loudly disassociating themselves from the petition, and as of today it seems 28 of the 38 signatories are repudiating it. We won’t know for sure until Monday morning, but it looks like the platform as approved by the committee will be gaveled through without debate.
Could anything else strange happen against the wishes of the RNC/Trump forces that control the convention? Well, in theory, delegates are not bound to vote for any particular vice-presidential nominee. Now that Trump has finally made his choice of Mike Pence as a running mate official, the odds of a revolt have dropped to near-zero, but even if one developed, rebels would have to unite around an alternative because the restrictive Rule 40(b) (remember that?) requiring majority support from eight delegations before a name is placed into nomination remains in force. Only egregious arrogance or stupidity can relax Trump’s grip on the convention at this point.