Colorado is Cruz country. Even those loyal to The Donald here admit it.
And so maybe it’s no surprise that a growing national parliamentary effort to try and slam the brakes on Trump’s nomination at the Republican National Convention next week in Cleveland has roots in Colorado.
Kendal Unruh, a self-described anti-establishment grassroots conservative who teaches government at an Englewood Christian school— and is the co-founder of a group called Free The Delegates— says a recent merger with another anti-Trump group has brought in $3 million for their efforts.
Unruh is an elected delegate to the Cleveland convention and has a seat on the 112-member Rules Committee. She plans to propose a rule that would codify what she calls an existing right of each national delegate to vote his or her conscience. In other words, it would allow delegates who are bound to Trump to vote for someone else.
For the rule to pass, a majority of the Rules Committee— 56 members— would have to vote in favor. That’s where the fight comes in.
In recent weeks, the anti-Trump movement has been gaining media attention, raising money and coordinating efforts among groups that broadly go by monikers such as Dump Trump or #NeverTrump. In an interview with The Colorado Independent, Unruh said a recent marriage between Free The Delegates and another group called Delegates Unbound “brought in about $3 million for a coordinated whip effort,” along with a professionalized infrastructure to aide volunteers.
A July 5 tally by The Washington Post found fewer than 10 committee members willing to publicly commit to the proposed conscience clause rule.
Unruh says she has 28 commitments locked down from members of the Rules Committee and she’s called more than half of the convention delegates so far, reporting 70 percent told her they’re in favor of being unbound.
“We know what our votes are and we know how many we have,” she told The Independent. She declined to say how many might be on her side if the vote makes it to the convention floor.
Why? Fears of retribution.
Since she launched her effort to bump Trump in Cleveland, the fiery conservative says more than 1,000 “horrible” online messages have been lobbed her way.
Her effort started, she said, the moment her favored candidate, Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, suspended his campaign in May.
But the presumed nomination of a controversial billionaire entertainer hasn’t exactly brought the Republican Party together— not nationally, and not in Colorado. So, while Unruh has her detractors, she also has backing from what she characterizes as a “silent majority.”
Despite Cruz bowing out, Unruh knew she was still going to Cleveland on July 18, so she started looking for the right monkey wrench to throw in the machine once she got there. She had heard conservative North Dakota businessman and fellow Rules Committee member Curly Haugland talking about an 1880 rule by James Garfield indicating that Republicans may vote their conscience and aren’t necessarily bound to a particular candidate. So she and Guy Short, another Colorado delegate on the national Rules Committee, started talking about proposing a rule in their capacity as committee members in Cleveland.
“All my rule is doing is codifying a right that already exists, I’m not granting permission for a delegate to unbind. They already have that inherent ability to unbind,” Unruh said.“So my conscience clause on Rules was basically going to give them the permission slip they needed to fight back against any pushback they were going to get when they would unbind.”
After a story in The Wall Street Journal highlighted the plan, calls and messages started rolling in from supporters.
“I knew that I had tapped into something,” Unruh says. “I had been working on it for about a month, then overnight — boom — all the interest was there, and so that’s when I started calling friends of mine to help because I knew a movement had started.”
But Unruh says it’s not her place to determine who the nominee should be if her plot to foil Trump’s rise comes to fruition.
“That’s up to the delegates to decide,” she says. “And that’s what this is all about. With free conscience they get to pick whoever they want … . People think their uncle Joe would make a great presidential candidate.”
Unruh’s trip to Cleveland could be a Kamikaze mission or a coup.
And when the dust clears, she knows the party could punish her for whatever she does. This, however, is not her first convention. Cleveland will be Unruh’s eighth in a row as a national delegate— one who has ratcheted up the ranks of the state’s byzantine caucus-assembly system to become a national player typical of Colorado’s uniquely process-oriented conservative base.
“People will say ‘Oh, your career is over,’” she says of what she plans to do next week. But a career in politics was never her goal.
Says Unruh: “I’m a grassroots activist against the establishment.”
[Photo credit: PBS NewsHour via Creative Commons on Flickr]