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Thursday, March 23rd, 2017Last Update: Friday, February 3rd, 2017 01:39:14 PM

Report on the Republican National Convention

By: Steve Byas

Oklahoma Constitution newspaper editor Steve Byas was a delegate to the Republican National Convention, elected from the fourth congressional district. This is his report:

The Oklahoma delegation to the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio was bound by the results of the March 1, 2016 Oklahoma presidential preference primary, according to party rules. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas won the primary followed closely by eventual nominee Donald Trump, then by Senator Marco Rubio of Florida. They were the only three candidates to win delegates from Oklahoma.

In the end, since Rubio did not win enough delegates in enough states to be nominated, Oklahoma's state rules dictated that his delegates would have to be re-allocated. Based on the results of the March presidential primary, Cruz captured 16 delegates, Trump 14 delegates, and Rubio 13, but when Rubio's delegates were released at the convention, the totals changed to Trump 24 and Cruz 19.

In the days leading up to the convention, there was an effort to adopt rules which would leave all delegates, across the country, unbound by either state laws (which have been ruled unconstitutional more than once) or by state party rules. This effort was unsuccessful, and it then became apparent that Trump would capture the nomination.

Of long-range importance was the effort to reduce the impact of "open primaries" upon the process. Several open primary states allow Democrats, independents, and voters registered in any party to vote in these Republican primaries, which many states use to determine how the delegates are to vote for president. This has been compared to allowing Methodists to walk into a Baptist church and select their deacons. Hey, I would like to have a say in electing the pope. A delegate from Ohio told me, in our discussion on this issue, that he would like choose OU's quarterback, since Ohio State and Oklahoma play in September in a key battle in the 2016 college football season.

Each state's delegation gets to select one man and one woman to the Rules Committee, and Oklahoma sent former state chairman Gary Jones along with Megan Winburn to serve on this vital committee. They both attempted to either eliminate open primaries, or reduce their impact on choosing our nominee, and should be applauded. In past years, more moderate Republicans (such as Bob Dole and John McCain) have benefitted from this practice, at the expense of more conservative candidates. I told those who said we need to "attract Democrats" by having open primaries, that if we made Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders our nominee, we could attract even more Democrats.

Carolyn McClarty and Marc Hader served Oklahoma on the Platform Committee, and fought for a more conservative platform. It appears that the platform is a conservative document, for the most part, more so than in 2012.

While at the convention, I was able to meet many delegates from other states. A delegate from Tennessee, Charlotte Bergmann, told me that she was for Donald Trump because of his experience in creating jobs. She added that she liked the idea of a wall, and that she opposed sanctuary cities. Bergmann added that she had no problem with Ted Cruz's position on the issues, but that she just did not like his "body language." On the other hand, Matt Russell of Austin, Texas, an alternate delegate, was strongly for Cruz, commenting that Cruz had the "right vision for the country." He attributed his defeat to the "star power" of Trump.

I also spoke with Kendal Unruh of Colorado, perhaps the principal national leader in the effort to unbind the delegates. She told me that she did not understand why Trump came to Colorado shortly before the convention to basically chew out the Colorado party for not supporting him, instead of visiting a swing state. She contended that campaigning for the general election, instead of worrying about what happened in the primary season, made more sense. The Colorado delegation was strongly for Cruz, giving almost all of their votes to the senator from Texas. They were placed far to the back of the convention hall, while New York, California, and Alabama were near the front.

Perhaps my most interesting conversation with a delegate from another state was when I spoke with Morton Blackwell of Virginia. Blackwell has been a noted conservative strategist for several decades. Blackwell was a Cruz supporter, but added that he would support Trump as the party's nominee. I had been in one of Blackwell's schools for young activists in 1976, when I was a volunteer in Mickey Edwards' congressional campaign. He brought up how we got Democrat candidate Tom Dunlap on tape during an event at Central State University (now UCO) making comments about drug legalization that helped the Edwards campaign.

Blackwell's analysis of the campaign was, not surprisingly, very thoughtful. He said this was the first time an "anti-establishment" candidate had won the nomination since the days of Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan. He said the difference between Trump and those two was that Goldwater and Reagan had held conservative principles for many years before running for president, but that this was "not so" with Trump.

The reason that Cruz (which Blackwell placed in the anti-establishment camp) fell short of the nomination was "we had four or five candidates that were more conservative than any nominee we've had since Reagan," thus taking away votes from Cruz, allowing Trump to win. Blackwell did not name the four or five conservative candidates, but one would presume that Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky would be included in that group.

While Blackwell said he was "all for Trump over Hillary" in the election, he did raise an interesting question: "What will Trump do when conservatives disagree with him on issues?" Again, Blackwell did not offer any specific issues, but there are certainly social issues with which conservatives care more about than Trump.

Of course, perhaps the biggest controversy from the convention was the speech on Wednesday night by Ted Cruz, and how Trump delegates booed him for failing to endorse the nominee. The speech itself was probably the clearest presentation of limited government conservatism that came from the podium in the entire convention. Cruz appeared to make an effort to identify with Trump's positions of trade and immigration, specifically calling for the building of a wall between the United States and Mexico (although he stopped short of predicting that Mexico would pay for it). And Cruz praised the decision of the United Kingdom to leave the European Union, adding that this should inspire Americans who are concerned about our own erosion of national sovereignty through multilateral trade deals.

While Cruz began his speech congratulating Trump for winning the nomination, and urged the TV audience to vote for Republican candidates "up and down" the ticket, as long as the candidates followed the Constitution of the United States, he did not utter the words, "I endorse Donald Trump." As he neared the end of his speech, Trump delegates increasingly began to express agitation, chanting "endorse Trump," before finally resorting to booing. I was standing in the aisle and could see increasing displeasure in the faces of Trumpers.

Inside the Oklahoma delegation, it was my impression from speaking to the delegates, that those Cruz delegates who actually campaigned for Cruz and were most supportive of him, were not angry with him. Their opinion was that Trump did not deserve an endorsement, since Trump had essentially called Cruz's wife ugly and associated his father with Lee Harvey Oswald and the Kennedy assassination. The national media and even local media hunted down so-called Cruz supporters who were upset with the Texas senator, but from my observations in the Oklahoma delegation, the Cruz "supporters" who were upset tended to be those whose support was not as strong to begin with. They were perhaps for him over Trump, but I did not meet any Cruz delegates who had actually campaigned for Cruz who thought he had done wrong. I spoke with one reporter who quoted another delegate who criticized Cruz, but did not quote me -- I told him that I had no problem with Cruz's talk.

The argument seemed to be that Cruz should not have accepted Trump's invitation to speak if he was not going to endorse him. Of course, the invitation was not conditioned upon an endorsement, which is similar to the invitation of President Gerald Ford in 1976, who asked former California Governor Ronald Reagan to speak, following Ford's acceptance speech. Watching Cruz's speech this year, and Reagan's speech in 1976, one finds them amazingly similar. In 1976, Reagan praised the Republican platform and condemned the Democrats's platform. Cruz made similar comments, with both men expressing concern about the "erosion of freedom." At the end of his speech, Reagan did not endorse Ford, but Reagan was not booed, unlike Cruz. Instead, the convention cheered heartily.

Perhaps a comparison of Cruz's comments with that of Ivanka Trump, Trump's daughter, are instructive. Ivanka introduced her father before the acceptance speech. Cruz said, "We deserve leaders who stand for principle, who unite us all behind shared values, who cast aside anger for love. That is the standard we should expect from everybody. And to those listening, please, don't stay home in November. If you love our country, and love your children as much as I know that you do, stand and speak and vote your conscience, vote for candidates up and down the ticket who you trust to defend our freedom and to be faithful to the Constitution."

Ivanka Trump did not offer an endorsement of all Republicans. She said, "Like many of my fellow millennials, I do not consider myself categorically Republican or Democrat. More than party affiliation, I vote based on what I believe is right, for my family and for my country." That is very similar to Cruz's standard of "If you love our country, and love our children." But, of course, no one booed Ivanka Trump. Her speech actually promoted liberal themes. She certainly said nothing about limited government, the Constitution, or freedom.

One issue upon which I feel I can safely say is that the people of Cleveland were as gracious as hosts as we could ask for. I can highly recommend visiting the city.

About Steve Byas

Steve Byas is editor of the Oklahoma Constitution newspaper. He may be contacted at: byassteve@yahoo.com

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