Donald Trump is complaining that Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) is racking up “voterless” victories in states such as Colorado and Wyoming, where delegates are chosen by a “small handful of elites” who are “sidelining” Republican voters.
This is dead wrong. In both Colorado and Wyoming, all registered Republican voters in the state had the chance to vote and participate in the delegate selection process.
The Wyoming Republican Party website explains the process clearly: “Delegates to the state convention are elected by the county conventions. Delegates to the county convention are elected by precinct caucuses in their respective counties. Any person registered to vote Republican as of the call for precinct caucuses in a given precinct may vote in that precinct’s caucus” (emphasis added).
In other words, there is a whole lot of voting going on. All Republicans in Wyoming had the chance to go to their precinct and vote for delegates who support their preferred candidate. And they did so in record numbers. In Laramie County, for example, the lines ran out the door on Super Tuesday, and turnout was up almost 400 percent compared with 2012. “The lines outside, they are amazing,” said Glen Chavez, a first-time caucus-goer. “If you’ve never taken part in something like this, get involved. If you want to make the difference, you make the change.”
The same was true for Colorado. Under Article XII of the Colorado Republican Party’s bylaws, any person who is a resident of a precinct for 30 days and is a registered voter “affiliated with the Republican Party” for at least two months can vote in a precinct caucus. Any such person can also run for delegate. Like Wyoming, voters at the precinct caucuses elect delegates to county conventions who, in turn, elect delegates to the congressional district and state conventions, which then elect national convention delegates. The process is completely open and fully democratic.
These rules were not set by national party elites or big-money donors trying to rig the delegate selection process. They were decided by state and local leaders — soccer moms and teachers, ranchers and Rotarians, pastors and community leaders, small-business owners and elected officials — all of whom participate in local Republican Party politics.
This is as it should be. As a matter of philosophy, conservatives believe that the most democratic system is one that leaves as many decisions as possible at the state and local level. What would be undemocratic would be for a bunch of Washington insiders to set the rules for local and state parties, instead of letting them decide how to choose their own delegates. Some choose to have primaries. Others have statewide caucuses. Others, like Colorado and Wyoming, have conventions with delegates elected at precinct and county caucuses.
It is true that a system built around precinct caucuses gives disproportionate influence to those who are motivated to show up and participate. But this is true of statewide caucuses as well. In Iowa, there are about 612,000 registered Republicans but only about 182,000 — or 29.7 percent — participated in the Iowa caucuses in February. No one calls that process illegitimate.
Trump also rails against what he calls “double-agent” delegates who, while committed to voting for him on the first ballot, may switch their allegiance on subsequent ballots. Well, if no one wins a majority on the first ballot, what are delegates supposed to do? Keep voting for the same candidate? If they did, the convention would be permanently deadlocked.
If Trump fails to wins a majority, then of course some delegates will have to switch their votes since the nominee must win a majority of delegates. Would Trump consider it unfair if Cruz or John Kasich delegates switched their allegiance to him on the second ballot in order to give him that majority? Of course not.
Delegates are not robots. Like congressmen and state legislators, they are elected to represent their state and to use their judgment at the national convention to ensure that the party unites behind a candidate who can win in November.
Speaking on “Meet the Press” on Sunday, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus explained that “if Donald Trump . . . was winning the majority of votes, he’d likely have the majority of delegates. But that’s not actually what’s happening. He’s winning a plurality of votes, and he has a plurality of delegates. And under the rules . . . a majority rules on everything.”
The rules for delegate selection in the states have been known since October. Trump has not mastered them, while Cruz has.
The truth is, there are no voterless elections — there are only hapless campaigns.