The NeverTrump movement went out with a whimper rather than a bang. After months of posturing, wrangling, scheming, and way too many public tantrums, the last ditch effort to deny Donald Trump the Republican nomination lost badly in the Rules Committee. A well-funded effort with the sotto voce backing of Utah Senator Mike Lee to change the rules and retroactively unbind all convention delegates so that they could “vote their conscience” (meaning not vote for Trump) failed when a rule reaffirming delegates obligation to vote according to the rules in their state at the time of the primary passed 87-12.
Unfortunately, Senator Lee became closely affiliated with the dissident group. Lee has been an able Senator and a reliable conservative vote, but this flirtation betrays a political cynicism and dangerous disregard for voter sovereignty that is troubling in a self-described Constitutional conservative. The integrity of the electoral process must remain sacrosanct for free government to survive. And the proposal put forward by Lee’s allies on the Rules Committee, led by Kendal Unruh of Colorado, was an attack on the system itself.
Unruh is a delegate from Colorado described in the press as a school teacher and conservative activist. Just what conservative principles do Unruh and her confederates believe they are defending? In a speech described by observers as “impassioned” Unruh said, “The right to conscience is not just something that we’ve decided is a cool idea. It’s something that is the very basis of our nation. It is why the pilgrims came here and founded our nation. It is a God-given right to why we have the Bill of Rights.”
But Ms. Unruh is confused. The right of conscience applies to such things as freedom of religion or the citizen’s right to cast a ballot in secret in a free and fair election. And those free and fair elections to select the Republican nominee already took place, governed by rules Unruh now wants to change after the fact. The rules of those elections were in place for months and in some cases years prior to the elections.
Just as important, Unruh and the other delegates knew the rules when they put themselves forward as delegates. Ms. Unruh knew the rules in Colorado and agreed to them in advance. But when the voters chose Trump, Ms. Unruh made the untimely discovery that her conscience required her preferences override theirs. A more honorable – and frankly more believable -path for someone facing a moral crisis would have been for her to resign her position as a delegate and have the party replace her with someone who could fulfill the role as a representative of the people in good faith. She did not.
Instead, in just 1 month Unruh’s group, known as Free the Delegates, raised $3.5 million to fund an effort to change the convention rules and deny Donald Trump the nomination he won at the ballot box. According to NBC News they allied themselves with another dissident group called Delegates Unbound and rented offices in downtown Cleveland. The primary goal of Unruh’s group was to change the rules retroactively to allow delegates to vote however they please. But let’s be clear on what that would have meant: effectively voiding every Republican primary and caucus, actively disenfranchising millions of Republican voters, and handing over the party to a claque of insiders. That is not an action any conservative should support or secretly applaud. And Senator Mike Lee did both.
Lee, an outspoken NeverTrumper, played a bit coy with Unruh’s effort, but as one Utah lawmaker put it, he “is definitely there in mind, body and spirit.” Even after the effort failed, Lee kept up the sniping, painting himself and his group as brave victims rather than would-be usurpers.
“This problem, this angst, as we will see in a few days, isn’t just going to go away just because we paper over it with rules,” Lee said. “So I say to Mr. Trump and those who’ve aligned with him: Make the case. Make the case to those delegates who want to have a voice. Make a case they should use their voice to support him. Don’t make the case that their voices should be silenced.”
But nothing was papered over. No voices were silenced, least of all the NeverTrumpers. Don’t we wish – they always seem to find a microphone. In fact, the only voices that were in danger of being silenced were voters and they at the hands of Lee, Unruh, and the financiers behind Free the Delegates. And that is cause for concern.
We can, perhaps, forgive Ms. Unruh’s effort as misguided but in good faith. To the credit of the Rules Committee, it was soundly defeated. But a United States Senator must be held to a higher standard. The ease with which Senator Lee – one of the Senate’s most conservative members – was willing to support an effort to overturn election results that did not suit him is cause for concern. It is further evidence of the degradation of the conservative movement and an example of why we must return to first principles if we hope to regain the Constitutional order that secures our liberty.