For those observers who got all excited by Monday’s thwarted attempt to require a roll-call vote on the convention rules, tonight’s obligatory Roll Call of the States for purposes of nominating a presidential candidate could have become another big negative story. After all, a decent number of delegates were required to vote for somebody other than Donald Trump: the only downside of the “delegate binding” system that protected Trump from even the outside chance of any revolt against his nomination. Might viewers not familiar with the rules be shocked by signs of dissension in the vote? Could some chair announce her or his state’s vote in a manner that would undermine the sense that Trump is being lifted by a rising and unanimous tide of Republican excitement? Perish the thought!
So, convention organizers and/or Trump campaign operatives decided to pursue the confusing, but emotionally dampening, process of making it extremely clear that non-Trump votes were required by the rules, as announced first by the chair, and then by each state, and then repeated by the recording secretary. In most cases, the state chair raised the volume when Trump’s vote was announced, often referring to him by the traditional honorific of “the next president of the United States!” Perhaps the biggest surprise among the Trump-shouting chairs was CNN analyst and former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski announcing New Hampshire’s vote.
One little detail of the roll call may have reflected an appropriate fear of a screw-up: Trump clearly wanted his home state to put him over the top, pushing him over the threshold of 1237 delegates. So, convention chair Paul Ryan stipulated at the get-go that New York could vote “out of order.” Even big believers in Trump’s magic may have not anticipated that he could change the English alphabet.
As it happens, New York was indeed able to cast the crucial votes after passing when its actual turn came up. Donald Jr., made the announcement that the Empire State had, in a rather inelegant phrasing, “thrown him over the top.” The only remaining source of suspense was the possibility that one of the handful of strongly anti-Trump states might make a hostile or divisive announcement. There were some scattered boos when the host state of Ohio announced its unanimous vote for its governor, John Kasich. There were some fears Utah — the heavily pro-Cruz, anti-Trump state at the center of the rules rebellion — might cause a scene. But Utah was cool about it, and was promptly rewarded by the secretary, reversing its unanimous vote for Cruz to a unanimous vote to Trump — apparently the result of a state-party rule (or the RNC’s interpretation of that rule) that does not enable votes for a candidate who is not formally placed into nomination.
In retrospect, this was another unforced convention error. Just when we were all waiting for the official announcement that Trump was nominated — and perhaps even some motion to make the nomination unanimous that would be gaveled through despite objections — Alaska heatedly challenged the secretary’s recording of its vote as unanimously for Trump, which it apparently did on the same basis as the switcheroo it inflicted on Utah and the District of Columbia. Back in the chair, Paul Ryan solemnly ordered an individual polling of the Alaskans as the band did another of its interminable musical interludes. Finally, Ryan asked Reince Priebus to come and explain the original ruling, which he did. The Alaska delay was really a waste of precious time.
Unsurprisingly, after all that had happened, no one dared make the traditional motion to make the nomination unanimous. Instead, with anxious looks at the clock, the convention moved on to the uncontested nomination of Mike Pence as Trump’s running mate.
How did the RNC/Trump forces do in handling the balloting? Well enough until the stupid and avoidable fight over Alaska, which not only ate up time but also robbed Trump of the drama of being immediately announced as the nominee when the original balloting was done. It was probably a good thing this embarrassment occurred well before prime-time. But that also meant that fewer Americans saw Trump’s iconic moment — or got to hear various chairs tout their state’s sports teams, products, weather, tax system, or Republican complexion.
At competently managed conventions, the schedule is padded to allow for unexpected delays, and the managers are adept at handling last-minute changes in speaking times. It will be another test of this convention to see if that happens tonight — or, if instead, more self-important speakers are bumped into late-night speeches to a largely empty hall.