CLEVELAND — Cross former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli off the #NeverTrump list.
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Cuccinelli, a leading conservative who helped lead an unsuccessful fight on the floor of the convention to change the rules governing the nomination process, said Tuesday that it was never about taking out presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump. He said he supports Trump.
“I’ve been saying I’m going to vote for him since Ted Cruz got out.”
“I’ve been saying I’m going to vote for him since Ted Cruz got out,” he told reporters after taking part in a panel discussion sponsored by FreedomWorks on federal regulatory overreach.
It did not look that way to many observers on Monday. Cuccinelli and prominent NeverTrumper Sen. Mike Lee of Utah tried to block party-endorsed rules as part of an effort to pass substitute rules unbinding delegates. Many Trump supporters saw it as a frontal assault against the New York billionaire. And Democrat Hillary Clinton has already tweeted video footage of booing delegates to highlight Republican disunity.
“She ought to be careful,” Cuccinelli quipped, alluding to discontent within her own’s party’s ranks. “I think the Bernie (Sanders) people … It may just get borrowed.”
Cuccinelli depicted the fight as a battle against the Republican Establishment — one that Trump supporters should embrace. He estimated only two of the 30 members of the of the Virginia delegation who signed the petition are in the anti-Trump camp.
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“The rest of us are all about empowering the grassroots over the Establishment,” he said. “We missed a huge opportunity to do that.”
At issue was a package of rules for the convention shepherded by the Republican National Committee and pro-Trump delegates. The voice vote was far from clear, but the temporary chairman — Rep. Steve Womack of Arkansas — determined that the “yes” vote carried.
Opponents filled the Quicken Loans Arena with boos, and the Iowa and Colorado delegations walked out. Cuccinelli himself threw down his credentials.
But Cuccinelli said Tuesday he thinks more pro-Trump delegates would have supported the effort if they had understood it. It was a protest, he said, against the kind of rigged system that Trump railed against during the primaries. He compared it to a 2012 fight over delegate credentials. Both times, he said, the party hierarchy shut down dissent.
“This is the second convention in a row they’ve cheated,” he said. “Trump wasn’t around in 2012.”
Cuccinelli said he was not part of any effort to continue the fight by persuading delegates to abstain from the nomination vote in order to embarrass Trump.
“No one in our coalition of grassroots conservatives have talked about that,” he said.
Despite the fact that Republican National Committee Chair Reince Preibus has closed ranks behind Trump, Cuccinelli said he is convinced Trump was far from the party boss’s first choice.
“Heck, if he could have [Wisconsin Gov.] Scott Walker — the Wisconsin mafia is alive and well — he would have,” he said, emphasizing that he intended the jibe as a criticism of Priebus, not Walker.
Trump supporters at Tuesday’s FreedomWorks event tried to assure conservative doubters that Trump is not just repeating lines when he talks about cutting taxes, slashing regulations, and promoting domestic energy production.
“He is very reliable, and a lot of people don’t realize how well Donald Trump listens,” said Harold Hamm, an oil and gas entrepreneur who backs the soon-to-be-official nominee.
Andy Puzder, the CEO of the company that owns the Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s fast-food chains, agreed.
“I do think he’ll stick with very conservative economic policies,” he said on the same panel. “This guy built buildings in New York. He knows about over-regulation.”