CLEVELAND — So I was walking in a corridor at the Quicken Loans Arena late yesterday afternoon, keeping an ear cocked toward the ambient din in the hall, when suddenly I heard a loud cacophony of angry voices and choleric chants of “U-S-A! U-S-A!”
At first I assumed that they were burning Hillary Clinton in effigy, but nah, it was only Day One, and that wouldn’t be scripted so early. Turned out, instead, there was a breakout of spontaneous drama — an ugly display of Republican disunity. And that itself was highly unusual, because modern political conventions have been stripped of spontaneous drama since at least the Ford-Reagan fisticuffs of 1976.
The Trump forces have been trying to tamp down all expressions of rebellion — and who can blame them; the latest national poll (NBC News-Wall Street Journal) says that only 38 percent of Republican voters are satisfied with Trump as the nominee. But yesterday’s rebellion went public, and ruined Trump’s phony kumbaya narrative. And then Trump himself went on Twitter to complain about the incident. (Of course he did.)
The gist of what happened: Anti-Trump delegates and allies in at least nine states collected enough signatures to force a roll call vote on the convention’s rules. The rules, enacted last week under great pressure from Team Trump and the Republican National Committee, barred delegates from voting their consciences on the convention floor. The anti-Trump people wanted the conscience provision, as a last-ditch way to voice their opposition to Trump.
They lost in the Rules Committee, but by forcing a roll call on the floor yesterday, they would’ve been able to register a strong protest vote on national TV. But with some parliamentary maneuvers that I will spare you, the Trump people at the podium basically declared that a lot of the signatures were invalid and thus, there would be no roll call. Which prompted the anti-Trumpers to shout in anger, and the pro-Trumpers to drown them out with chants of “U-S-A!”
One anti-Trumper, conservative activist and ex-Virginia attorney general Ken Cuccinelli, threw his credentials onto the floor; he later complained that Trump and the party chiefs “are trampling their own grassroots delegates.” Anti-Trump delegates from Colorado walked out of the hall in protest. A North Dakota delegate named Gary Eminenth, who only last month was calling for party unity, lashed out at the Trump show of muscle: “You don’t do this in America.” Utah Senator Mike Lee said of the Trump forces, “If what they want is unity, treat us respectfully.” And ex-New Hampshire Senator Gordon Humphrey, who is also a delegate, said, “They act like fascists.”
To stomp the flames, Trump campaign chief Paul Manafort speedily surfaced on MSNBC with an Orwellian claim that what had happened “wasn’t a rebellion,” and that a roll call vote would’ve just been too “complicated as far as our schedule was concerned.”
Ah yes, the schedule. Because what America truly needed was to see B-actor Scott Baio speaking on schedule (“Let’s make America America again”). Ditto ex-underwear model Antonio Sabato Jr., who spoke on schedule and subsequently told ABC News that President Obama is “absolutely” a Muslim. (Really? That again?) Ditto Rudy Giuliani, who screeched at length about how Hillary Clinton is a clear and present danger. (When Hillary yells in public, she’s ridiculed as a harridan. But when a guy like Rudy yells in public, he’s lauded on Twitter for strong manly speechifying.)
And a grassroots democratic rebellion would’ve messed up the schedule for Melania Trump, who informed us at the key 10 p.m. hour that she grew up with parents who taught her to “treat people with respect.” Somehow, as we saw yet again yesterday, that credo has not been embraced by the significant other in her household.
From Cleveland, I’ll be on WHYY’s “Radio Times” this morning at 10, for the first segment.