Arkansas Congressman Steve Womack was at the center of holding back the last gasp of the Never Trump movement at the Republican National Convention.
The U.S. Representative for the third district in northwest Arkansas served as chair on Monday afternoon, when rules for the convention were adopted. On a voice vote, Womack determined delegates approved the normal set of rules binding delegates to vote according to primary and caucus results and consequently paving the way to Donald Trump’s nomination.
Anti-Trump delegates wanted to alter the rules to free delegates to vote as they pleased, for a so-called “conscience” vote. The effort was led by Utah Senator Mike Lee and Utah Chair Phil Bryant as well as Virginia delegate Ken Cuccinelli.
One of the Arkansas delegates who disagreed with Rep. Womack’s call for a voice vote is one of Womack’s own constituents – state Rep. Bob Ballinger of Hindsville.
“The emotion that I’d say I am characterized by is probably more frustration than excitement because I felt the way the rules vote was handled was terrible,” said Ballinger.
Womack’s auditory determination that the ayes did indeed have it stirred up anti-Trump delegates who responded with a cacophony of points of order and roll call requests. The Representative from Rogers responded to escalating din by walking off the stage for a handful of minutes.
He returned but didn’t intend to grant a roll call request. A similar effort failed last week during the drafting of the rules.
“Delegates, once again I need your help and your cooperation,” said Womack. “The chair would remind the hall that it is absolutely critical that we are able to discern the ayes from the nays. “
Again, Womack determined the ayes were the majority of the room. Again, delegates called for a roll call.
This time, Womack offered a better retort than walking off the stage.
“The secretary received request from a total of 9 states requesting a roll call vote.” He continued, “Subsequently the secretary received withdraws, which caused three states to fall below the threshold required under the rules. Accordingly the chair has found insufficient support for the request of a record vote.”
There is some discrepancy between Womack’s delegate count and what anti-Trump backers claim. An article in the The Hill concludes that either way the effort fell short:
“Never Trump claimed to have turned in signatures for 11 states. Womack said the group turned in for signatures for nine, then signors for three states peeled off, leaving majorities from six states when seven were needed to force a roll-call vote.
After being denied the vote, most of the delegation from Colorado walked off the floor in protest, leaving behind rows of empty seats.
An RNC source said that the opposition delegates initially submitted the majority of signatures for nine states, but had only majorities in six states by the vote.
The source said that Washington D.C., Minnesota, Iowa, and Maine all dropped below the 50 percent threshold before the vote and Iowa dropped below during the vote. That left Colorado, Wyoming, Virginia, Utah and Washington state as the five states that maintained a majority effort calling for a roll call vote.”
Slate attempted to cipher through the noise of the voice vote to see if Womack’s interpretation of 2,400-plus delegates was correct.
“To figure out which bloc really earned the win, Mickey Capper, one of Slate’s podcast producers, ran the audio from the convention through a program called REAPER. The program allowed us to visualize the auditory peaks and troughs that map onto the yells, whoops, and silences of the crowd.”
Despite a frustrating day one in Cleveland, Ballinger says the rules battle pales next to the prospect of a Hillary Clinton presidency.
“As much as I don’t like Donald Trump or the fact that the rules weren’t voted on to make it more conservative, more Arkansas-based, the unifying factor is going to be how bad Hillary Clinton is and how bad her nominees to the Supreme Court would be,” Ballinger said.
He joins more than a dozen Arkansans at the convention as delegates for Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who lost the state’s primary by less than 2 percent of the vote to presumptive nominee Donald Trump. Marco Rubio – the preference of nearly all of the state’s top elected officials – has nine delegates. Trump has 16 and Cruz 15.