Weeks after his campaign vowed to turn things around in the hunt for delegates, GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump is still struggling to ensure that supporters will be there to vote for him at the Republican convention in Cleveland.
In recent days, supporters of Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.) earned delegate slots in Wyoming, Georgia, South Carolina and Virginia. They’re also packing party meetings in Nebraska and Washington state, where Republicans are beginning to pick delegates before primaries next month.
Trump is expected to easily win the New York primary on Tuesday and most if not all of the 95 delegates at stake, ensuring that the businessman will remain well ahead of Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich.
But the GOP presidential race continues through June on dual tracks — the fight to win delegates in caucuses and primaries and the more complex task of picking people to attend the convention in July, which Cruz has excelled at. Although most delegates are bound to support a primary or caucus winner on a first ballot, many can choose to support someone else if there is a second ballot — which is what Cruz is counting on by installing his supporters.
“There is no magic involved. There’s no trickery, there’s no sleight of hand. It’s just good old-fashioned democracy,” said Saul Gamoran, Cruz’s state chairman in Washington.
The Cruz campaign has identified supporters down to local precincts in Washington who will turn out for the state convention next month to support Cruz delegates.
“I have seen no signs of Trump,” Gamoran added.
In Nebraska, the GOP primary is next month, but the process of selecting delegates is underway. J.L. Spray, a Nebraska committeeman for the Republican National Committee, said that he has attended dozens of precinct and county party meetings to prepare and that “Cruz had a presence and Trump had nothing.”
The Trump campaign has failed to return several phone calls offering to give the campaign access to Republican voter data, Spray said.
“If I were them, I would have called me back,” he said, adding that Trump “had a campaign with earned media and has no grass roots. He’s AstroTurf, and it’s hard to grow grass roots all of a sudden.”
On Monday, Trump hired William McGinley, a veteran Republican elections attorney, to work with the campaign on delegate and convention matters, a person familiar with the move said. He is a partner at Jones Day, the same firm that employs Don McGahn, Trump’s top campaign attorney. McGinley advised the 2012 GOP convention rules committee, thus bringing needed knowledge on the arcane process to Trump’s campaign. He is also a well-known attorney for lawmakers facing ethics issues. News of the hire was first reported by Politico.
Trump has repeatedly complained in recent days that the rules for selecting GOP delegates are “rigged” and that party bosses are picking them instead of voters.
In several states, Trump is correct. Indiana Republicans picked a slate of delegates last week that was packed with longtime party activists opposed to Trump. In Florida, party leaders met behind closed doors to pick 81 of the state’s 99 GOP delegates. Party rules dictate that county party officials pick delegates from congressional districts. If a district overlaps multiple counties, the top three party leaders in each of the counties meet to pick delegates.
In three Tampa-area congressional districts, party leaders picked themselves or local lawmakers as delegates. A Miami-area delegation will include Nelson Diaz, chairman of the Miami-Dade GOP and a close friend and former aide to Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who dropped out of the Republican presidential race in March.
“This is how it’s always been done” by Republicans across the state, Diaz said. “I spend a lot of time working for the party, more than the grass-roots people,” he added. “So what’s to say that a party leader doesn’t deserve or doesn’t have the right to go as a delegate?”
Diaz said Trump’s supporters, who turned out to protest the party meeting on Saturday, do little to help elect Republicans to local office. A handful of Trump supporters applied to serve as delegates, saying they were willing to pay thousands of dollars to travel to Cleveland.
“They have time to do this, but whenever we send an email out trying to raise money for the party or trying to get volunteers to a phone bank, the silence that comes from them is deafening,” he said. “They’re nowhere to be seen — nowhere.”
Cruz supporters also prevailed in Georgia, where Trump won the primary handily. Over the weekend, most party leaders in the state’s 14 congressional districts officially assigned two delegates each to Trump and a third to either Cruz or Rubio, who placed second in Georgia. But in many cases, a Cruz supporter will cast the votes.
Trump’s continuing struggles prompted Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to tell a Kentucky television station over the weekend that “I’m increasingly optimistic that there may be a second ballot.”
Republican Party rules require a candidate to win at least 1,237 of the 2,472 delegates at a national convention. Some members of the Republican National Committee, who are scheduled to meet this week in Florida, have proposed changing how the party nominates a candidate before the convention convenes. But McConnell told WHAS-TV that he prefers the current rules.
“This notion that there’s some group of people in Washington who can handpick somebody and deliver it is not true,” he said. “If there were such a group, I’d probably be a part of it. But there isn’t a group.”
Also Monday, Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, repeated his call for either Cruz or Kasich to drop out and allow the party to unite around one non-Trump candidate. Speaking on a podcast hosted by journalist David Gregory, Romney brushed off Trump’s complaints about picking delegates.
“Campaigns have to be able to navigate those rules. And by the way, there’s probably nothing wrong with making it difficult,” Romney said. “These rules are a lot simpler than the rules of foreign affairs, for instance, or the rules of our economy. And if you want to be president, you’re going to have to deal with things far more complicated than Republican delegate rules.”