Republican activists chose party unity over “never Trump” resistance Saturday, with party leaders in one state after another pressuring their members to fall in line behind the presumptive nominee — and even punishing those who refused.
Eleven states held annual Republican conventions or party leadership meetings Saturday, offering a platform for those who still object to Donald Trump as their party’s standard-bearer a prime opportunity to make mischief. But at almost every turn, they slammed into state leaders who closed ranks around a candidate who many once said they’d never support.
In Nebraska, that meant overwhelming passage of a resolution that indirectly scolded conservative Sen. Ben Sasse for leading the #NeverTrump movement and scuttling a countermeasure to condemn “degrading remarks toward women, minorities and other individuals” by presidential candidates.
In Maryland, it meant the ouster of a veteran Republican committeeman — Louis Pope — by Citizens United chief David Bossie, a conservative activist who is close to Trump and closely associated with the rise of super PACs in American politics. Bossie has been a longtime ally of Trump and represents an early look at how Trump’s takeover of the party could reshape it for years.
In Arkansas, it meant packing the state’s national delegation with Trump allies and granting them influential leadership positions to shape Republican Party rules and policy doctrines at the convention.
Across the country, party leaders encouraged, coaxed and even browbeat their rank and file into a message of unity. And they did it by way of a consistent message: Trump is flawed, but Hillary Clinton would be far, far worse.
Oklahoma and Montana conventions shared a common mantra: "United We Stand." In Montana, walls of posters interspersing Trump's "Make America Great Again" signs with campaign posters for Congressman Ryan Zinke and gubernatorial candidate Greg Gianforte reinforced the theme. In Wisconsin, local reports indicated that even former Trump critics were nudging their allies into backing the mogul.
That message carried over into the selection of delegates to the national convention. In all, nearly 400 were picked on Saturday at these 11 party meetings — about one in every six that will fill seats in Cleveland's Quicken Loans Arena in July.
Sources in Ted Cruz’s orbit had suggested the Texas senator would still be a factor in delegate battles over the weekend, flexing his muscle among conservative activists to try and retain a position of influence at the national convention. But that plan appeared to fizzle. In Nevada, at least 13 of 15 statewide delegates were pro-Trump.
In Kansas, a state Cruz won easily, Secretary of State Kris Kobach — a prominent Trump supporter — was selected to be a delegate. In Florida, where former Gov. Jeb Bush helped build today's GOP leadership, most of the 14 delegates selected Saturday were supportive of Trump. And in Nebraska, where Cruz backers indicated they'd attempt to overtake the delegation, 21 of the 36 members picked Saturday had endorsed Trump. Only two opposed him, and the rest were undeclared.
Even in Texas, where Cruz allies appeared poised to make a home-state stand, the statewide delegation tilted toward party insiders rather than anti-Trump leaders. Gov. Greg Abbott, former Gov. Rick Perry and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick — who pleaded for party unity at the convention on Friday -- were picked to go to Cleveland.
There were, of course, lingering indications of discontent. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan skipped the Maryland GOP convention and hasn't backed Trump, according to The Baltimore Sun. In Texas, Cruz's father Rafael earned a delegate slot. In Nebraska, former GOP chair Mark Fahleson — a top ally of Sasse — was selected as well.
Still, it was a far cry from scenes a month ago, when state conventions were tense affairs driven by Cruz’s bid to secure enough loyal delegates to wrest the nomination from Trump at a contested convention.
This weekend, according to sources on the ground in a handful of states holding conventions, delegate selection affairs largely lacked that tension.
Instead, what clashes there were appeared to be over personal disputes — from tension between Sasse and senior Nebraska Sen. Deb Fischer to jockeying between different factions of Trump supporters in Nevada to a squabble over a gay marriage plank in the Texas platform. The meetings were far more akin to the delegate battles in elections past, when delegate selection competitions had little to do with picking the party’s nominee and were driven largely by local power struggles.