On First Day Of GOP Convention, Vt. Delegates Reflect On Failed Effort To 'Dump Trump'

Jul 18, 2016

The outcome of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland is predetermined: Donald Trump will get his party’s nomination for president. But there was controversy nonetheless for the 16-person Vermont delegation.

Vermont delegates had a ringside seat to the inner workings of party politics and found that sometimes the view isn’t all balloon drops and triumphant speeches.

Two members of the delegation are on the Rules Committee, which late last week effectively squashed any effort to "dump Trump."

Janssen Wilhoit, a freshman state representative from St. Johnsbury, is experiencing his first convention. As a member of the Rules Committee, Wilhoit said he hoped the party establishment would support reforms for the 2020 nominating process favored by conservatives.

But he says the Trump campaign and the party powers out-flanked a coalition pushing a more grassroots agenda. The Trump forces successfully fought a plan to "unbind"– or free – delegates to vote for candidates other than Trump.

“The only thing that the Trump people were concerned about was unbinding. And the only thing the RNC was concerned about was chaos at the convention. So they agreed, we’ll come together, and we’ll just reject everything and we’ll both get what we want,” Wilhoit says.

A majority of Vermont's delegation will support Trump's nomination on Thursday. But Janssen Wilhoit, a freshman state representative from St. Johnsbury and a Vermont delegate, says he plans to cast his vote for Ohio Gov. John Kasich.
Credit John Dillon / VPR

The other Vermonter on the Rules Committee is Susie Hudson, the state party's national committee woman to the RNC. She did not support the changes backed by the minority.

And the pro-Trump, pro-RNC forces had a veteran Vermont political operative working with them: Darcie Johnston, a Trump organizer who served as whip during the Rules Committee deliberation to keep members in line.

She says the argument was simple: Trump won, it’s the RNC’s show and the goal has to be a smooth convention.

“A lot of people put a lot of work into producing the type of convention that Donald Trump wants, and that’s what we’re here to support: the kickoff, the campaign and his vision,” Johnston says. “And to derail that would be unfortunate.”

At age 17, Jace Laquerre, a high school student from Colchester, is the youngest delegate in Cleveland. He’s not interested in derailing the convention. But he’s not a Trump supporter.

Jace Laquerre, a 17-year-old high school student from Colchester, is the youngest delegate in Cleveland. He's not happy that his party has chosen Trump, and he plans to vote for Rand Paul in Cleveland.
Credit John Dillon / VPR

Laquerre was inspired by the libertarian leaning views of  Rand Paul, and he plans to vote for him in Cleveland. He’s still not happy that the party chose Trump.

“I don’t know if I’m OK with it. I’m starting to accept it ... I think it’s pretty clear he’ll be the nominee at this point," says Laquerre. "I’ll probably reluctantly vote for him in November, more of an anti-Clinton vote I guess than a pro-Trump vote."

A majority of Vermont’s 16-person delegation will support Trump’s nomination on Thursday, with perhaps three or four votes, including Wilhoit's, going to Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

Update 9:27 p.m. This post has been updated to include additional reporting.

This report comes from the New England News Collaborative. Eight public media companies coming together to tell the story of a changing region, with support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.