Hopes by Donald Trump and the Republican Party to hold a carefully scripted national convention were thrown into disarray Monday, after a chaotic shouting match erupted on the convention floor, displaying long-standing tensions between pro- and anti-Trump factions of the party.
In scenes of disorder not seen in a Republican convention in several decades, hundreds of delegates, most opposed to Trump, waved their fists and angrily screamed for a roll call vote on the convention rules. In response, Trump supporters chanted: “USA” and “We want Trump.”
After several minutes of yelling, Republican leaders shot down the demand for a roll call, instead settling the dispute with a voice vote, a controversial move that officially squashed efforts to allow individual delegates the opportunity to vote their consciences and possibly deny Trump the nomination.
“It’s coercion masquerading as unity,” said a stunned-looking Utah Senator Mike Lee - who has led the Never Trump effort - as he spoke to reporters after the effort on the convention floor.
“This should be a party that welcomes its grassroots activists, rather than telling them that their vote doesn’t matter, rather than telling them that they don’t really have a say in the rules of their convention,” Lee said.
But Trump's campaign chairman said even if the push for a role call vote had succeeded, Trump would have prevailed.
"It would have been a meaningless gesture," Paul Manafort said.
Hardy Billington, a Missouri delegate who is pro-Trump, predicted most in the party will coalesce behind Trump.
"I think by the end of this convention, we'll be totally united," Billington said. "Not one hundred percent, but we'll be united for Mr. Trump."
Even though the Stop Trump effort was unsuccessful, there is a likelihood of additional symbolic protests on the convention floor, given the raw anger on display among delegates.
Eric Minor, a delegate from Washington State, said the Republican National Committee had not operated “in good faith” when it attempted to explicitly bind delegates to the results of their state primaries, an attempt that he said had not been made in the past 140 years.
Manette Merrill, another member of the Washington delegation, appeared on the verge of frustrated tears as she clapped and whistled to gain the recognition of the Republican committee chair.
Some of her fellow delegates waved red, white and blue scarves – an apparent attempt to match the patriotic slogans of Trump supporters who drowned out the insurgent delegates by chanting “Make America Great Again.”
Said Merrill, “Where in America do you go where they don’t let you have a vote when you’re supposed to have a vote?”
Heading into the convention, the chances to unbind the delegates were seen as a long shot. That was especially true after Trump’s opponents last week failed to get the 28 votes on the party’s rules committee, which would have sent the matter to a wider floor vote.
Instead, the anti-Trump delegates decided Monday to try to force a roll call vote on the entire package of convention rules – a potentially embarrassing moment for the Trump campaign that would have brought the convention process to a halt.
A roll call required organizers to secure the support of a majority of delegates in at least seven states. Anti-Trump organizers reported having enough signatures for eleven states.
But at the last minute, Arkansas Representative Steve Womack, who was presiding over the vote, said only nine states’ signatures had been presented, and only six had held firm on the vote - three had dropped out - meaning the effort to force a roll call had fallen short.
Womack then called a voice vote, and declared, “In the opinion of the chair, the ayes have it.” The convention hall exploded in jeers and boos. Some delegates threw their credentials on the floor in protest. In some cases, entire delegations walked out.
“Rigged election. Walk out,” read a text message sent to delegates by the organization Delegates Unbound.
“This is an effort by the RNC to make sure that the delegates – who are the true voice of the party – don’t vote their conscience,” Dane Waters of Delegates Unbound told a group of reporters shortly before chaos broke out on the convention floor.
He said Delegates Unbound had worked against the clock after a previous Never Trump effort failed Thursday night.
Even as he explained the effort, Waters was shouted down by a Trump-supporting delegate who said the will of the people had been heard.
The push for a roll call vote was a combined effort by the Stop Trump team, which wanted to unbind the delegates, and a team of other grassroots conservatives who were aiming to pass other rules that decentralized power within the RNC.
Though the alliance succeeded in creating one of the most chaotic scenes in recent GOP convention history, many establishment party members downplayed the incident.
“What chaos? I didn’t see any chaos,” said Ron Kaufman, co-chair of the RNC rules committee, told VOA. “This is fine. People are just expressing their points of view.”
"I think they made a mistake," said Billington of Missouri about the Never Trumps. "If we're not united, then in November, we are going to lose."