This article has been updated.
Donald Trump's stumbling, tricky effort to claim the Republican Party nomination for the presidency achieved success seven days ago, putting to rest questions about the extent to which the candidate and his team were having trouble doing the basic work of lining up delegates and preparing for a contested convention vote.
Or, at least, the questions were put to rest for a few days.
On Tuesday, the liberal magazine Mother Jones reported a development that can only be described as astonishing. William Johnson, a prominent white nationalist who recorded a robocall on behalf of Trump that ran in several states earlier this year, says he received an email from the Trump campaign confirming that he had been chosen to represent Trump for California at the convention in Cleveland.
Mother Jones's Josh Harkinson reports:
In order to be approved he had to sign this pledge sent to him by the campaign: "I, William Johnson, endorse Donald J. Trump for the office of President of the United States. I pledge to cast ALL of my ballots to elect Donald J. Trump on every round of balloting at the 2016 Republican National Convention so that we can MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!" After he signed, the Trump campaign added his name to the list of 169 delegates it forwarded to the secretary of state.
Johnson leads the American Freedom Party, a group that "exists to represent the political interests of white Americans" and aims to preserve "the customs and heritage of the European American people." ... Johnson got the news that he had been selected by Trump in a congratulatory email sent to him by the campaign's California delegate coordinator, Katie Lagomarsino.
Sure enough, the list at the California secretary of state's website includes Johnson.
As it stands, if Trump wins a majority of the votes in California's 34th congressional district, Johnson is going to Cleveland.
Update: In an email, Trump campaign spokewoman Hope Hicks blamed a glitch.
"Yesterday the Trump campaign submitted its list of California delegates to be certified by the Secretary of State of California," she told The Post. "A database error led to the inclusion of a potential delegate that had been rejected and removed from the campaign’s list in February 2016."
Update No. 2: Johnson, as one might have expected would happen, is out.
Update No. 3: But Johnson's withdrawal may not matter.
NEW: White Nationalist William Johnson remains on Trump's delegate list. Statement from CA Secretary of State Spox: pic.twitter.com/v7DNg0QE7v
— Candace Smith (@CandaceSmith_) May 11, 2016
There's only one charitable assumption that can be drawn from Johnson's inclusion: Trump's team failed to actually vet the people who put their names forward. And so an unabashed white nationalist gets the nod. He's excited about it, too, telling Harkinson: "I just hope to show how I can be mainstream and have these views. I can be a white nationalist and be a strong supporter of Donald Trump and be a good example to everybody."
Remember: It was delegate troubles that prompted Trump's recent feud with the Republican Party. After his team's ineptitude resulted in his getting shut out of delegates in Colorado, Trump began railing against the primary system, suggesting that it was rigged against him. (In fact, the opposite was true; Trump repeatedly got more delegates than he did vote share, rigging the system in his favor.) After being out-performed in the delegate selection process in several other states, Trump's fury grew. It was only once he won a string of Northeastern states by wide margins and then landed the knock-out punch in Indiana that his concerns subsided.
Since becoming the presumptive nominee, there has been other confusion about how it was moving forward. The day after his Indiana win, Trump told the New York Times that his vice presidential selection team would include Ben Carson, resulting in Carson appearing on talk shows discussing the options. But on Tuesday, The Post reported that the team would be headed up by campaign manager Corey Lewandowski. Carson aide Armstrong Williams told the Daily Beast that Carson was just asked for a list of possible names.
The candidate himself has had some apparent stumbles. Comments offered in interviews dealing with taxing the wealthy and raising the minimum wage seemed at first glance to contradict what he's said in the past, suggesting that he might be moderating his positions for the general election. As our Greg Sargent points out, though, the real culprit is probably vagueness. Trump has long understood that regular voters don't care about policy specifics; his vague nods at questions asked by interviewers leave it up to listeners to hear what they want to hear.
Compared to picking a white nationalist to vote for him on the floor of the convention, though, that vagueness is practically a positive. Why? Because Trump has battled the perception that he's sympathetic to white nationalism for months, allowing his son to appear on a white nationalist radio program, refusing at first to repudiate David Duke when asked, and retweeting white nationalists on more than one occasion. It's almost certainly part of the reason that he's viewed so unfavorably by non-white voters -- the other part, of course, being Trump's campaign rhetoric.
Harkinson's article closes with a stunning quote.
Johnson also now finds it easier to be himself: "For many, many years, when I would say these things, other white people would call me names: 'Oh, you're a hatemonger, you're a Nazi, you're like Hitler,' " he confessed. "Now they come in and say, 'Oh, you're like Donald Trump.' "
Why is this in a news article about Trump's delegate picks? Because the campaign didn't do the basic work it needed to do to weed out someone like Johnson.