CLEVELAND (AP) — The struggle by conservatives for an 11th-hour derailment of Donald Trump’s drive for the Republican presidential nomination is gasping for breath after a committee at the GOP national convention crushed their push to let delegates back the candidate of their choice.
The convention’s rules committee, dominated by Trump backers and top national and state GOP officials, used a voice vote late Thursday to reject the proposal, a result that was expected.
A series of related votes underscored the 112-member panel’s one-sided opposition to the conservatives’ drive, and it appeared uncertain whether its backers could gather enough support to force the full convention to revisit the proposal when it convenes Monday. Foes said they believed the movement was essentially finished.
“It was never real, it was always overblown,” said Ron Kaufman, a party leader from Massachusetts after Thursday’s late-night vote. “They were never there.”
For good measure, the rules panel approved words specifically stating that party rules allow delegates to be “bound” to candidates they were committed to by state primaries and caucuses.
Kendal Unruh, the Colorado delegate who authored the proposal, said afterward that she would try gathering the signatures of 28 rules committee members needed to force a convention floor showdown. Her plan would let delegates “cast a vote of conscience” and back the contender of their choice.
“It’s just the start,” said Unruh, who like many of her allies supported the now abandoned presidential campaign of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. “There’s no shock here, this was expected.”
Even if she forces a floor vote next week, she seems unlikely to win the majority of the 2,472 delegates she’d need to prevail.
The amendment became the focal point of furious lobbying that for weeks pitted conservatives against the Trump campaign and top leaders of the Republican Party.
Unruh encountered overwhelming opposition from delegates arguing that it would be unthinkable for the party to abandon Trump after he overwhelmingly won GOP primaries and caucuses and garnered more than 13 million votes.
“You want to ignore what is really the grassroots, which is millions and millions and millions of voters who voted for Donald Trump,” said Stephen Munisteri, a delegate and leading GOP figure from Texas.
While on a path to near-certain victory, Trump has drawn bitter opposition from Republicans who say he’s not conservative and is an inept campaigner whose harsh statements will cause his defeat and losses by GOP candidates for Congress and elsewhere.
Earlier Thursday, talks between top party officials and recalcitrant conservatives broke down, increasing the odds of nationally televised clashes during next week’s sessions on other GOP rules that leaders have hoped to avoid.
As Thursday’s negotiations foundered, the alliance between the Trump campaign and leaders of the Republican National Committee showed its muscle and rejected conservatives’ repeated attempts to revamp party rules.
In one showdown, the rules committee voted 86-23 to reject an effort by conservatives to eliminate the RNC’s ability to change party rules in years between national conventions. In another, the panel used a voice vote to defeat a plan to bar members of the RNC from being lobbyists — a profession that employs many of them in their home states — though it would have exempted lobbyists for nonprofit organizations.
In a gesture to conservatives, the rules panel voted to create a commission that by 2018 could propose changes to the GOP’s presidential nominating process, which came under intense fire this year. Trump called the system “rigged” early on, and his opponents have demanded more power for delegates to select a fresh nominee.
The failed talks included Ken Cuccinelli, a leader of the conservatives who was a Cruz campaign adviser, and RNC chairman Reince Priebus. They focused on conservative proposals aimed at appealing to grassroots conservatives that would take power away from Priebus and the 168-member RNC.
Both sides agreed that the bargaining broke down over an effort by conservatives to provide extra convention delegates to states with primaries closed to independent and Democratic voters, many of whom flocked to Trump in this year’s voting.
Cuccinelli said he would win enough support — 28 of the rules committee’s 112 members — to be allowed votes on several of his proposals by the full convention.
RNC chief spokesman Sean Spicer said he would not.