clock menu more-arrow no yes

I’m an RNC delegate who opposed Trump at the convention. It was a scary experience.

BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images

It’s hard to pinpoint the moment at which I realized Ted Cruz was about to drop a giant bomb in the middle of the Republican National Convention. I heard chanting coming from the New York delegation, and I slowly realized what they were saying: "Say his name! Say his name!"

You could write a whole sociolinguistic dissertation on those three words in this context.

And then it started to spread, as Cruz did something horrible, something that you should never, ever do at a political convention: He told people they should vote their consciences.

Well, we can’t have that.

Once it became very clear that Cruz wasn’t going to endorse Trump, the hall exploded. They tried to shout him down to "Trump! Trump! Trump!" "Honor your pledge!!!"

It was, to my ear, the loudest the hall got during the entire event — even louder than the welcome Trump would get the next night when he walked on stage to formally accept the nomination. It was a white hot, visceral anger. And the hall was soaked in it.

I never thought I could love Ted Cruz. But in that moment, I did.

How I became @UnknownDelegate

Let me start at the beginning. Several months ago, I ran for and was elected as a Kasich delegate from my state. I’m not particularly political — my wife and almost all of my friends are liberal Democrats — but I genuinely believe that Donald Trump is a unique threat to American democracy as we know it. So I wanted to do whatever I could to stop him if the convention turned out to be contested.

Well, we all know how that ended. Trump locked up the nomination this spring, and I was left to decide whether I should still go to Cleveland or drop out like I’d heard some other people were considering.

I’m generally not big on leaving the tent; I like to stay inside and yell until I can get people to listen to me. That’s why I’m still a faithful Catholic despite my belief in gay marriage, and that’s why I’m still a (somewhat less faithful) Republican despite my belief in, um, gay marriage — and my party’s decision to nominate Donald Trump.

At the same time, my wife — who is much smarter than I am and didn’t want me to go — raised a good point. If I went to the convention, enjoyed the parties, but didn’t speak up, I’d be just as much a collaborator as all of Trump’s supporters. I’d be voting with my presence. But if I went to the convention and did speak up, I risked actual death threats against not only me, but also my family — just look at what happened to Julia Ioffe after she profiled Melania Trump in GQ.

After thinking it over and promising my wife I would not pick any fights, I settled on going. But that still left trying to figure out how to protest in some way that wouldn’t risk my or my family’s safety. (If you think I’m overstating this, Google "trump supporter death threats." It’s chilling.)

Getting involved in the "unbind the delegates" movement was one way. That short-lived movement was trying to get a "conscience clause" passed that would allow delegates to vote their consciences instead of for whoever they may have been bound to under their local party rules. This terrified the Trump campaign, of course, which appears to think that the word "conscience" is an epithet. The people in the movement knew they were fighting an uphill battle (while the RNC rolled flaming boulders down the hill), and I was proud to do my small part to help with that effort.

When that effort failed, I was still left with the desire to speak about the convention in some other, more personal way.

Then, while my best friend and I were standing at the bar waiting for a table at dinner one night, we started to talk about this, and one of us mentioned Twitter. I don’t even remember who brought it up first.

I tried to reserve @anonymousdelegate, but that was too many characters. So I went with @unknowndelegate, they called our table, and there the account sat for several weeks.

In the run-up to the convention, I didn’t give it much thought or have any big plans for it. I imagined that my friends might follow me but that would be about it.

It started as a lark. It ended with more than 4,000 followers, more than 300 tweets, a profile in GQ, and now this valediction. And it absolutely saved my sanity at this week’s GOP convention.

Watch: How the Republican Party went from Lincoln to Trump

Twitter kept me sane during the Republican convention

My first post on the account was on Sunday afternoon of convention week, when I got my swag bag. I took a picture of the various things in there, including a pen for the movie God's Not Dead and the advertisement for its sequel, which is mysteriously not called God's Still Not Dead.

The response was overwhelming. Within 24 hours, I had almost 2,000 followers, and the amount doubled in the next 24 hours. My inner teenage girl had been released! I started tweeting incessantly. I found that it was about the only thing that was keeping me from going crazy. It felt, in some small way, like I was speaking truth to power.

And the response was really amazing. One of the first people to respond called me a piece of shit. So I blocked him, because technology is awesome. But other than that, it was remarkably civil, even warm. Most people who love Trump, it turns out, don’t want to follow a Twitter account that despairs of his ascendancy. I started to feel like I knew some of these people.

There was Jane, who wrote: "We’re out here praying for you all"; "When all this is done, we’re all going to buy you dinner."

There was Jen, who called me her "favorite reason to look at Twitter this week."

There was Brad, who told me that even though he’s a Democrat, "following your thoughts and interacting with you has given me hope for a more cooperative future."

There was Sheryl, who picked up and ran with a #savemeneildiamond hashtag I created.

And there were so many more; I feel genuinely bad that some of them may read this piece and see that I didn’t name-check them, too. That’s weird; it’s just Twitter, and who the hell am I? But that’s what this community felt like.

I started to feel like I owed it these people to keep tweeting — like I’d be letting them down if I didn’t. No one ever actually said that to me, doubtless because I am not actually very important to them. Still, I felt I owed them something, and I did my best to bear witness to what was happening inside that hall.

Voting my conscience is more important than party unity

The main tension in going to the convention was wondering how to do it without resigning myself to be part of the mob. Because on the floor, with all that anger, that’s what it felt like — a mob.

And then I had my chance.

A friend of mine had ordered 200 fantastic buttons: "Sometimes party loyalty asks too much. #NeverTrump." I stuffed my sport coat pockets with them, and he carried the rest in one of the clear plastic bags they give all delegates. And off we went.

I never, in my wildest dreams, would have predicted what happened next.

It started slowly. I wandered around the floor, going to delegations that I thought might be sympathetic (you know who you are!). One nice lady from Alaska was horrified when she saw the button and yelled at me, "We have to unify!" Which was kind of the point we were trying to make with the button — no, sometimes we don’t.

A young Texas delegate wearing a cowboy hat — oh wait, that’s all of them — saw the button pinned to my coat and approached me.

"You’re retarded," he argued.

"Okay."

"What’s your name?"

"I’m not going to tell you."

"Then I’ll follow you around the hall until you do."

"That sounds great. Also, I’m gay." I am not gay. But I was hoping that would deter him. (This was all happening very fast.)

"I don’t care. I have a cousin who’s gay." Damn millennials and their stupid tolerance.

That actually broke it open, and we ended up having a relatively nice conversation. He even apologized for calling me retarded.

I made my way over to the center of the floor and continued handing out the buttons. That’s when the whip came over.

A word about the whips: They wore either lime green hats or white Trump baseball hats, depending on their rank — I think white was higher. I don’t remember which color hat this one was wearing. But I could tell he was pissed.

He grabbed my arm and asked me to show my credentials. He’d done this about 10 minutes earlier when I’d walked by initially, so I showed them and said, "Didn’t you just do this?"

"Yeah, but I want to see them again." I showed him, and that’s when he dropped the hammer: He said if I didn’t stop handing out the buttons, he would have my credentials revoked and have me expelled from the floor (and presumably the arena).

"You’ve got to be kidding me." He was not. And he was pissed.

But I knew something he did not know.

I was walking with a very old friend who also happens to be a prominent journalist. He hadn’t been covering me; we’d just been catching up a little after running into each other on the floor.

So I pointed to my friend, told the whip he was a journalist, and said that if he revoked my credentials, my friend would probably write about it, and I would go to other journalists, who I’m sure would be delighted to report that the Trump campaign revoked a delegate’s credentials for peacefully handing out political buttons. On the floor of a political convention. Where people discuss, and sometimes disagree about, politics.

And wouldn’t you know it — he immediately started backpedaling. All of this because I had a journalist with me. No wonder Trump wants to go after them. They are a pain in the ass, with all their stupid reporting of facts.

When I got back to my delegation, the whips weren’t quite done. One much friendlier whip took me aside and didn’t threaten me, but rather appealed to my sense of party unity. (Which Trump had long ago extinguished.) When I demurred, he graciously backed off.

After that, another one asked me very nicely if I would sit down, because I might have to stand the whole time if I didn’t. I thanked her and told her I knew she was working with the other whips to get me under control. She denied it, but then a few minutes later, I saw her texting someone reporting back her very polite efforts to get me to sit down. So.

I have to hand it to the whip operation. They were organized. Down to their hats — and even their Secret Service-style earpieces.

My fellow convention-goers told me that if I didn’t support Trump, I wasn’t supporting America. Um.

The convention ended with a whimper for me. After the balloons had been mostly popped with these little balloon-popping sticks that I found fascinating, I wandered to a nearby bar. It was about 1:30 am. I was alone, and all I wanted to do was get a beer, tweet a little, and just be done.

But this convention wasn’t done with me yet. Two ladies in their 60s, wearing Trump gear and a cavalcade of pins approached me and stared at the NeverTrump button on my lapel. They asked me who I wanted instead. I tried to demur and told them it had been a long day, and all I wanted to was go across the street and have a beer.

Nope.

When they pressed again, I said "John Kasich." They looked at me as if I’d said, "Bin Laden? He still alive?"

And then they gave me the final gift of the convention — telling me that by not supporting Trump, John Kasich — former House member, current governor of the very state they were standing in — was "not supporting America."

So that’s where we are, coming out of the 2016 GOP convention. If you’re not with us, you’re against us — not "us" the party, or "us" the nominee, but "us" the United States of America.

I have, in these past four nights, seen what sure looks like the enemy. And he, for now, may be "us."

The author is a John Kasich delegate from the East Coast. He tweeted from the 2016 Republican National Convention at @UnknownDelegate.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for The Weeds

Get our essential policy newsletter delivered Fridays.