Monday night's speeches at the Republican convention were designed in advance to highlight the GOP as a party of law and order in an age when the rule of law is under threat from Islamic and anti-police terrorism.
But the GOP can hardly claim such a mantle after their convention devolved into lawlessness on Monday afternoon. The party leaders, determined to run the convention like it was their own banana republic, may learn a hard lesson about the rule of law, similar to the one that applies to the civil order in general. Arbitrary rule and bullying by those in charge only increase contempt for authority and erode respect for law in general.
Monday's chaos began when party leaders attempted to suppress a motion by mostly anti-Trump (but also some pro-Trump) delegates to hold a formal roll call vote on the party's rules. These delegates, following the official procedures enough submitted signatures — amounting to a majority of at least nine state delegations, but possibly as many as 11 based on various claims on the floor — to trigger a roll call vote.
These rebel delegates were aiming for various rule changes that may or may not have come about — and in fact, the roll call vote they sought might well have approved the rules as they were. Some of them were seeking to unbind the delegates from Trump, but this was always a long shot. More of them were seeking stricter limits on RNC power to change party rules, and new incentives for state parties to hold closed instead of open primaries beginning in 2020.
When the moment for approving the rules came around in the afternoon, the presiding chairman, Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark., at first tried to ignore the loud cries for a roll call vote and move on to other business. But the delegates' shouting was too loud to ignore, and so he (incredibly) abandoned the stage for several minutes while Trump and RNC officials huddled, leaving pro- and anti-Trump forces to shout at each other.
When he finally returned, Womack again called for a voice vote on the rules and declared (controversially) that the "ayes" had it. In response to demands for a roll call vote, he claimed that enough signatories from three state parties had withdrawn their names from the petition submitted earlier that now there were only six delegations still demanding a vote. This supposedly left them one short of the seven required.
All they wanted was a vote, and as Virginia delegate Ken Cuccinelli said afterward, that was too much.
In suppressing its own proceedings, Republican leaders showed no transparency whatsoever. They did not name any of the states or delegates who had supposedly withdrawn, so that everyone on the floor was forced to take the chair's word that delegates had withdrawn. But even assuming it was true, this implies that Trump's minions and his accomplices at the RNC, rather than allow a vote, had used their advance possession of the petition to identify and bully the delegates who signed into submission.
Again, Trump's forces probably would have won a roll call vote. But party bosses decided they would not let the democratic process play itself out on the floor. Instead, they chose to suppress dissent, possibly in violation of party rules, and definitely employing an authoritarian opacity that many Americans fear Trump would bring to the presidency.
The rule of law requires, before anything else, leaders who live by the laws they make, and respect the binding limits that law places on their own authority. This requirement is absolute and forms the entire basis of conservative objection to various overreaches by the Obama administration and liberal justices on the Supreme Court.
Democrats, the Right often and rightly complains, routinely cast aside the law, making whatever mockery of it they must in order to achieve their desired outcomes.
And as of Monday, so do Republican leaders.