Never say never? Anti-Trump forces gain steam in Georgia

Donald Trump’s paltry fundraising, his flailing poll numbers and his questionable campaign tactics are giving new energy to the rowdy band of Never Trump forces in Georgia.

They are pledging to maintain their resistance to their party’s standard-bearer at GOP meetings across the state, and some are urging delegates to next month’s convention in Cleveland to vote against him in a last-ditch effort to halt his coronation.

It would take a monumental collapse for Trump to lose his lock on the party’s nomination. The Never Trump movement has no leader, no funding and little organization. And yet there still could be an opening — however narrow — when thousands of delegates gather in Ohio.

Republican National Committeeman Randy Evans, a Georgia lawyer who helped shape the convention’s rules, said it’s implausible but not impossible to block Trump from winning the nomination.

“You’re counting on a lot to convince a party regular to throw the convention into chaos,” Evans said. “But I wouldn’t be telling you the truth to say that it’s not a realistic possibility — and that everyone is gearing up for it.”

‘Buyers’ remorse’

Anti-Trump forces lost steam as the mogul notched one primary victory after another and soared well beyond the 1,237 delegates he needed. And supporters of Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in Georgia who outmaneuvered Trump in an early round of delegate votes have watched with dismay as much of the state’s GOP has united, if reluctantly, behind the billionaire.

But recent campaign miscues have helped rekindle their fire.

Trump trails Democrat Hillary Clinton in most polls since May, and she has amassed a campaign war chest that’s more than 30 times greater than his. His incendiary comments, including targeting a federal judge with criticism that Republican leaders labeled as “racist,” and his campaign trip Thursday to Scotland to tend to business interests have raised new questions about his electability.

And with each campaign misstep comes more calls to dump Trump. Dozens of Georgia’s 76 delegates to the GOP convention have received texts or emails from anti-Trump forces pressing them to defy Trump. Glynn County Cruz Chairman Larry Grabill, the author of one of the pleas sent to Georgia delegates, wrote that Trump has “shown himself unfit and has little chance to win.”

No Georgia delegate has publicly stepped forward to disavow Trump, but many Cruz supporters rest their hopes on a procedural maneuver at next month’s meeting. They want to force a vote on a “minority report” that could let delegates vote however they wish. First, though, they would need one-quarter of the rules committee — or 28 people — to support the vote. Evans said Cruz supporters are about six votes shy.

It would launch a wide-open battle on the convention floor, much like the battle that Cruz and Florida U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio once envisioned. Evans estimated that Trump has about 900 fervent backers at the convention while Cruz has 700. The rest — about 800 or so — are undecided and at the center of a frenzy of calls, he said.

“There’s a full-blown whip operation” to tally votes, Evans said.

Many delegates in Georgia are dismissive of the coup talk. William Carter, a delegate from the Savannah-based 1st Congressional District, accused the plotters of handing the election to the Democrats.

“This is an idiotic and close-minded approach for these people to take,” Carter said. “Why? It’s simple, they are willing to have Trump not be the Republican nominee and run as a third-party candidate, which he almost certainly would do if this were to be successful.”

Other activists expected the calls to only amplify. John Wood, who serves as the chairman of the Savannah district’s GOP committee, said he’s also received a seemingly unrelenting stream of emails and texts from Cruz backers hoping to block Trump in Cleveland.

“There’s still a collective notion that we have not bought into the Trump candidacy,” he said. “There’s still people that have buyers’ remorse.”

A Trump ‘tsunami’

The Atlanta Young Republicans is something of a hotbed for debate about Trump’s viability. The group of mostly millennial intown conservatives is composed of three main factions: Trump supporters, Trump critics and those torn between voting for Trump or writing in another candidate.

Angelyn Dionysatos, the group’s president, put it more diplomatically: “We are neutral on Trump and we want to provide a voice for the disparate factions. We want them to feel like they still have a home.”

At the group’s Wednesday night meeting at an Atlanta brewery, the fractures were on full display. A featured speaker was Linda Beggs, a longtime Republican activist and one of the state’s most prominent Never Trump supporters.

“How many of you have donated to Hillary Clinton? How many of you have only voted in one Republican primary?” she asked the room of about 50 Republicans, noting that not a single hand went up. “Well, Donald Trump has done both.”

Some in the crowd murmured their discontent while others nodded in agreement as she outlined her concerns, which amounted to a distrust of his conservative credentials, his fiery rhetoric and his “casual remarks” about foreign policy.

Bruce LeVell, a Dunwoody jeweler who heads the National Diversity Coalition for Trump, sat two chairs down from Beggs as she laced into his candidate. He said Trump is the party’s best bet for long-term growth, pointing to the newcomers he’s brought to the party, and LeVell sounded very much like the billionaire as he told the antsy crowd to have faith in the campaign.

‘We have a tremendous game plan, and it’s one like you’ve never seen,” LeVell said. “When we come out of Cleveland, it will be like a tsunami. It will blow your mind — we’re going to come together. It’s going to be fine.”

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