Before he left for the Republican National Convention, Bob Orr started reading William Shirer's The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. He'd heard Donald Trump's political ascent likened to that of Adolf Hitler. But as a retired judge who spent eighteen years on the N.C. Supreme Court and Court of Appeals, Orr believes that arguments should be backed by evidence. So he cracked open the 1,143-page volume to see if the comparison held up.
Orr is a twenty-first-century rara avis: a moderate Southern Republican steeped in the GOP's anti-Confederate history. His great-grandfather, a Henderson County farmer named Robert Franklin Orr, refused to defend slavery during the Civil War and traveled over the mountain to join the Union army. Orr wore an "I Like Ike" button in elementary school. When he launched his first judicial race in 1988—no Republican had been elected to a statewide appellate court seat since the 1890s—"it required me to reach out to a broader spectrum of voters," he says. "Most people are interested in fairness and competence, and not so much in chest-beating."
Today such bridge-building talk sounds quaint. "We are a dying breed," he says.
We are talking in the lobby of the suburban Cleveland hotel hosting North Carolina's convention delegation. Orr is one of nine state delegates pledged to Ohio governor John Kasich. (Trump has twenty-nine delegates; Ted Cruz, twenty-seven; Marco Rubio, six; Ben Carson, one.) When Trump secured the nomination after a campaign marred by violence and race-baiting, Orr wanted to understand this historic moment in a longer context. That's when he picked up Shirer's history of the Third Reich.
The circumstances in 1930s Germany and twenty-first-century America don't line up neatly. Nonetheless, Orr couldn't help but notice "some of the very same dynamics: a lack of institutions being willing to say no, prejudices and fears, economic strains upon the masses. You had a huge rise in the nationalism: 'Deutschland über alles' versus 'Let's make America great again.' There are enough frightening similarities that I hope give people pause."
Orr, sixty-nine, has never been a delegate before. But Trump, to him, represents such a grave threat that he feels compelled to speak up. "I'm not here to cause problems," he says. "But somebody's got to say—even if we're in a tiny minority—that not all of us believe this."
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Before she left for the RNC, Ann Stokes prayed: "Let me hear your voice, Sovereign Lord. And let me stand for what is right no matter what comes."
Stokes, who lives in Lexington, has only been politically active since 2012. But her values, she says, were forged as a child. "I was raised on the Bible," she says. "My grandfather was a minister, so I was taught the word of God." Starting in her twenties, Stokes flirted with liberalism, but "then I came home to my roots. Socialism sounds wonderful on paper. But the reality of socialism is you run out of other people's money. The Bible clearly teaches us that you're going to answer for your own actions. The Bible tells us if you don't work, you're not going to eat."
Stokes, sixty, was once on food stamps herself; she was in college, and her husband lost his job. "But as soon as we were self-sustaining, we were immediately off," she says. By contrast, she calls Obamacare socialist—an enduring government incursion into people's lives.
Stokes found her candidate in U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, a preacher's son who, launching his presidential bid, talked about "the transformative love of Jesus Christ" and described the Constitution as a check on overzealous government. In the Texan, she saw a "standard-bearer for religious liberty." In December, she retired early from her career as a marketing representative and went on the road to volunteer for his campaign.
If Cruz is, to Stokes, a fighter for her values, Trump is merely a dealmaker. "If you don't have core values, everything is negotiable," she says. "And the bottom line then becomes: What's in it for me?"
Believing a national convention should be deliberative, Stokes became involved in Free the Delegates 2016, a coalition trying to write a "conscience clause" into the convention rules. That would allow delegates to change their votes if their pledged candidates behaved badly. "The delegates," she says, "are a firewall against mob rule."
Adopting the rules will be one of the first orders of business tomorrow. Stokes knows a conscience clause is improbable. Still, she's ready to make her stand.