Drama at Republican convention after anti-Trump effort fails

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CLEVELAND -- Loud cries of protest broke out on the floor of the Republican National Convention Monday after GOP officials dismissed a last-ditch effort by anti-Donald Trump groups to force an embarrassing protest vote against the RNC and the presumptive presidential nominee.

A group of anti-Trump delegates submitted signatures to try to force a vote on the rules of the convention -- a procedure normally done quietly at the start of each convention.

The rules were adopted by voice vote shortly after 4 p.m., then after frantic protests, a second voice vote was taken as Trump opponents shouted repeatedly for a roll call vote. The convention chairman then said there were not enough signatures to force the roll call.

Opponents of the rules package were backed by Ted Cruz allies including Virginia's Ken Cuccinelli and Utah Sen. Mike Lee. They have been fighting to change the procedures for the 2020 presidential election, including trying to close primaries and caucuses from non-Republicans. Such a move would presumably help a party favorite like Cruz, who lose to the outsider Trump this year.

Lee told CNN's Dana Bash the protest wasn't about sour grapes.

"No, absolutely not, this is about the rules of the convention," Lee said, as protesters shouted around him. "This is about the future of the party... This is not about Donald Trump, this is about having a good, fair rules process.

"We are always looking, as conservatives, to make sure that our rules are good to make sure we have good candidates in the future. I would like to have conservative candidates in the future. This is not about this year, it's not about any one year," he said.

Lee said the fight doesn't demonstrate the party is divided.

"It says there is an honest disagreement about the rules and we want vote on the rules. That's all it says," Lee said. "They are people who are trying to make this a simple debate about people who favor Donald Trump and those who don't... We knew it was going to be close."

The move was an attempt to allow Trump opponents a platform to argue against the presumptive nominee and the Republican National Committee, who have worked together to stamp down any move to somehow block the billionaire from winning the nomination and change the rules for the 2020 election.

The rules package maintains that delegates must remain bound to their particular candidate and cannot vote their "conscience." Should delegates become unbound, it in theory could mean Trump doesn't win on the first ballot.

It is unlikely the rules package would have been rejected in a roll call vote, but a Trump staffer said its war room anticipated it could receive roughly 600 votes -- well short of the 1,237 votes needed -- which would be a strong protest vote.

After the voice vote adopting the rules was successful, members of the Colorado delegation walked out in protest as they called for a roll call vote.

"Overwhelmingly the floor was flooded with people who are upset with the way the rules were handled, said Regina Thomson, Ted Cruz's state director and Colorado delegate and executive director of Free the Delegates. "They want a roll call vote and apparently the leadership just steamrolled right through the fact that the whole place was calling for a roll call vote."

Thomson says they oppose a number of things including open primaries, language in the rules package binding delegates. She wants everyone to be able to come here and vote for the "candidate of their choice."

Trump aides and RNC staff worked to strip signatures from the submissions that would deny anti-Trump delegates the signatures they need for a vote. They also challenged the validity of various signatures, with some coming up invalid, and some came up invalid. The combined effort was enough to prevent a roll call vote.

Staffers could be seen fanning across the floor, pulling aside delegates and coordinating their counter-efforts, and top Trump delegate wrangler Rick Gates said he was confident they can repeat their success last week when the Rules Committee met and blocked efforts to unbind the delegates.

"Our goal is to destroy them," Gates said.

As the convention secretary went through the signatures and petitions, the speaker program was interrupted by several musical interludes in order to get more time.

John Fredericks, radio host and Virginia delegate and vice chair of Trump Virginia, whipped his delegates to have his state not sign on to the petition.

"It would disrupt the convention for no reason," he said. "There's no reason for the vote other than the disrupt the convention and embarrass he nominee."

RNC leaders were confident they would have won a roll call vote if one was taken.

"We will do one and they will lose big time," New Hampshire Committeeman Steve Duprey said when asked what happens if the signatures to force a vote are valid. "I hope they do so we can whack them one more time."

Former New Hampshire Sen. Gordon Humphrey delivered signatures from delegates attempting to force the vote Monday afternoon shortly after the convention officially began.

Some drama played out as Humphrey darted across the convention floor looking for the Republican Party secretary to formally collect them. Humphrey worried that Trump and the Republican National Committee were running out the clock on their last-ditch effort against Trump.

Humphrey said he and others were fighting the "political sterilization" of Republican delegates.

Jon Stainbrook, an Ohio delegate, was unhappy the roll call vote was blocked.

"This is Republican family discussion -- and our part of the discussion was shut down very abruptly," he said.

He said Ohio's delegates wanted to nominate home-state Gov. John Kasich, who won its winner-take-all primary.

"I'm not happy about that, but again, we're not voting for Hillary Clinton. So in the end, we would like to have been given the opportunity to vote for our governor," he said.

CNN's John King, Eric Bradner, Jim Acosta and MJ Lee contributed to this report.

By Tal Kopan and Tom LoBianco