Rank-and-file Arlington Republicans on June 22 decisively, and noisily, shot down a proposal calling for an open presidential-nominating convention rather than a first-ballot coronation of Donald Trump.
Supporters of the surprise resolution could muster only 10 votes in favor during the monthly meeting of the county GOP committee, to 27 against.
“Like any family, we’re going to have our disagreements,” Arlington County Republican Committee chairman Jim Presswood said after the vote, acknowledging that the discussion proved to be “extremely volatile stuff.”
Supporters of the resolution, which called on delegates to the upcoming national convention in Cleveland to be freed to vote their consciences, said the Republican brand would suffer with Trump at the top of the ticket in November.
“We elected good delegates. We should encourage them to use their judgment,” said former party chairman Matt Wavro, who supported the motion.
But others – both Trump supporters and those who decidedly are not among his fans – countered that bypassing established party procedures would do more harm than good.
“We have rules,” said Presswood, who supported Marco Rubio and later Ted Cruz during the primary season. “Honor the voters. We need to get behind our nominee and support him.”
Any momentum the dump-Trump contingent at the meeting might have had evaporated before the debate even began.
Morton Blackwell, a Virginia member of the Republican National Committee and its rules committee (and a Cruz supporter), suggested disarray would result if anti-Trump forces managed to take control of the convention and press their choice (he predicted John Kasich) on the party.
“I’m not going to be party to changing the rules at this point – it is just wrong,” he said. “It would be a horrible disaster.”
How big a disaster? Blackwell pointed to 1912, when followers of Theodore Roosevelt, having failed to take the Republican nomination away from President William Howard Taft, bolted the GOP and paved the way for the election of Democrat Woodrow Wilson.
“If there were a big fight [at the 2016 convention] . . . it could split the Republican Party, and I don’t mean a little split,” Blackwell said.
The debate at times got heated and proved almost too disorganized to manage. “Do we have a parliamentarian?” Presswood asked, plaintively, at one point.
For Wavro, the debate – testy though it may have been – was a healthy one to have at the local level. “Power flows from the bottom up,” he said.
But to Joe Haertel, a familiar presence at the monthly GOP meetings, it seemed those with vested interests are working to negate the votes of rank-and-file activists. Their votes can’t be ignored, he said.
“They don’t want the establishment, they want the Donald – with all his sins and all his faults,” Haertel said.
Blackwell, whose activism in conservative Republican politics goes back more than a half-century, said there have been a number of Republican presidential nominees who were not his preferred option. But, he said, he supported them all, and would support the presumptive 2016 nominee.
“Fair is fair,” Blackwell said. “Trump got more Republican Party votes, by far, than anyone. We just have to grin and bear it.”