CLEVELAND — As Duck Dynasty’s Willie Robertson, head wrapped in an American flag bandanna, took the stage at Quicken Loans Arena on Monday night to fire up Donald Trump’s supporters at the Republican National Convention, a very different type of Republican had her own receiving line in the seats farthest from the podium.
Kendal Unruh, a Colorado delegate and the founder of the Free the Delegates movement, had led in a walkout a few hours before, after her latest tactic to undermine Trump’s campaign failed — and was greeting people who supported her effort.
“We knew we’d get shut down,” Unruh said. And indeed, the move was doomed from the start. But that doesn’t mean Unruh and the other Colorado delegates have given up, and some hinted that more dramatic gestures could come tomorrow, when the convention must formally nominate Trump as their choice for president.
The goal isn’t to overthrow Trump so much as to embarrass him, and to punish him for scorning conservatives resistant to his campaign.
As for why the NeverTrumpers had returned, a mere few hours after they’d stormed out: “We’re here to participate,” said Regina Thomson, the executive director of Free the Delegates. “We needed to make a statement.” They also wanted to plan: Unruh hinted that there were “other plans of action” that could be still to come tomorrow.
Unruh and other anti-Trump delegates wanted the Republican convention to change its rules to allow delegates to vote for whomever they wanted on the first ballot, rather than requiring them to vote according to the results of their state’s primaries and caucuses. Changing the rules was the last best hope to stop Trump by allowing the delegates to nominate someone else.
The effort failed by a lopsided margin when the rules committee met last week. What Unruh and her fellow travelers wanted on Monday was a written roll call vote, and got enough signatures to force the convention to take one. When Rep. Steve Womack of Arkansas tried to get delegates to accept the rules just by yelling “yea” or “nay,” the convention floor erupted into chaos. Unruh and the Colorado delegation walked out, as did the Iowa delegation.
But a few hours later, after dinner, Unruh, the rest of the Colorado delegation, and the Iowa delegation were back. Unruh said they’d made their point: It was “revealing” that Trump didn’t want the votes counted, something she said should have been the “quintessential American way.”
She also said she wanted delegates to know that Trump, who ran as the consummate political outsider, wasn’t above using insider tactics to get the election. “The whole world” knows, she said.
“I can’t describe how bad this is for the Republicans to act like tyrants,” Thomson said.
Unruh, and the rest of the Colorado delegation, supported Cruz as the Republican nominee. That’s why she was so far away from the speakers Monday night: Usually, swing states or states that solidly support the party get prime floor position. But Colorado was relegated to the rear, as far back as Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia and behind the Northern Mariana Islands.
Colorado also had an unconventional delegate selection process — rather than a statewide preference vote in a primary or caucus, delegates were selected at the state convention, where Cruz got the most support. That means its delegates aren’t actually representing the will of the state’s voters, as they are for other states.
Still, Colorado wasn’t the only state to oppose Trump and be sidelined at the convention as a result. Texas, which favored Sen. Ted Cruz, and Ohio, which voted for Gov. John Kasich, were also pushed to the margins.
And while Robertson and actor Scott Baio spoke onstage, Unruh was enjoying a mini celebrity of her own. While Trump opponents are a minority, they’re a vocal one — “I am not going to vote for Trump,” one delegate said loudly into his cellphone just outside the arena floor.
A delegate from DC asked to take a picture with Unruh and Thomson, the two women who were the most visible leaders in the fight to deny Trump the nomination. (DC went for Marco Rubio.)
They aren’t done yet, although they wouldn’t say exactly what they planned for Tuesday. But they did say they weren’t going to give up: “You’re going to see a lot of resistance from this crowd,” Thomson said.