CHICAGO – Donald Trump is about to get more fuel for his complaint about the Republican Party and its process for selecting the delegates who will determine his political fate at a national convention.
Meeting behind closed doors, party leaders in Indiana on Wednesday selected 27 delegates, with most expected to be opposed the billionaire, even though the state’s voters won’t cast primary ballots there for nearly more three weeks. As the calendar advances closer to the July national convention, it will become more common to have states like Indiana pick delegates before ballots are cast. That could buttress accusations by the New York real estate mogul and his allies that the system is rigged.
“Trump is doing well in the allocation process, but Cruz is doing much better in the selection process,” said Josh Putnam, a University of Georgia lecturer who runs the FrontloadingHQ blog, referring to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.
Trump, who leads in delegate count so far, is projected to get beaten badly this weekend in Wyoming when 14 delegates are picked at the state party convention. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin is scheduled to appear there to try and boost support for Trump. Roughly 100 other delegates will be picked this weekend in more than two dozen congressional districts in at least seven states. All told, more than 10 percent of the 1,237 delegates needed to win the nomination will be chosen this week, as the Republican race increasingly focuses on a person-by-person contest to determine whether Trump can secure enough support to win.
Delegate selection is a second battlefront, as the campaigns work through their final two months of primaries that conclude June 7 with California, New Jersey and three other states.
While rules vary by state, delegates in most of those that Trump has won will be obligated to vote for him on the first ballot at the national convention in Cleveland. After that, roughly three-quarters of all delegates will be free to vote for anyone. Establishment Republicans, including those in Indiana, are trying to engineer a slate of delegates that, while initially bound by party rules to the results of their state primaries, will switch on subsequent ballots at the convention.
Putnam said Trump can complain all he wants about the Republican National Committee – as he has done often this week – but his attention might be better directed at state party leaders and activists he’ll need at the convention.
“States really are resistant to change in their delegate process,” he said. “They tend to only make changes when they are prompted to do so.”
Cruz’s ability to outmaneuver Trump at district and state conventions has fed the narrative that the front-runner doesn’t have his act together. That has emboldened anti-Trump forces when it comes to delegates even in states where he easily won primaries, such as Massachusetts and South Carolina.
Indiana provides an example of what has gone wrong for Trump with delegate selection. Even though the state’s voters hold some similarities to those in neighboring Michigan and Ohio, where Trump finished first and second in March primaries, he’s unlikely to win many delegates favorable to him. The state will send a total of 57 to the national convention. Roughly half were picked last weekend at congressional district meetings, while the rest were selected at a closed-to-the-media meeting Wednesday in Indianapolis.
One of those who competed for an Indiana delegate spot was Thomas John, an Indianapolis lawyer and lobbyist. He said he has no plans to support Trump at the convention.
“I have real concerns about the rhetoric of Donald Trump and he doesn’t reflect what I would like to see from the Republican Party,” John said.
He dismissed Trump’s criticism that delegates are being selected by party insiders and not reflecting a democratic process.
“These are people who derive all their power from the grassroots,” he said, noting how the party elects leadership starting at the precinct level, then the county, then the district and then the state.
“He can complain about it, but these are the same people who probably would have come through the process anyways,” he said of the slate of delegates approved Wednesday. “There hasn’t been an effort to stack it against Trump.”
Kristen Williams, a spokeswoman for the Indiana Republican Party, said names of the state’s delegates wouldn’t be released until later this week or early next week.
The Indianapolis Star newspaper reported this week that several convention delegates from Indiana received hate email from the front-runner’s supporters after expressing concerns about his candidacy.
After Cruz’s sweep of all 34 delegates available last weekend in Colorado, he’s still almost 200 delegates behind Trump, according to Associated Press estimates. Trump has 743, compared to 545 for Cruz. Neither Cruz nor Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who has 143 delegates, can clinch the nomination before the convention.
Besides Indiana, some of the other states that will select delegates before primaries include Montana and New Mexico, which both hold June 7 elections. South Dakota, also a June 7 state, elected its delegates in mid-March.
Party rules require that information about the delegates be provided to the Republican National Committee at least 35 days before the start of the convention, so it’s a tight turnaround for the states that vote in June.
Although the Republicans and Democrats both moved their national conventions earlier in the summer this year, Putnam said most of the primaries and state conventions are being held at the same time that they have typically been held in previous years.
“Traditionally, most of the selections being done now didn’t matter much,” he said. “The way these things have gone in the past, we have typically had a presumptive nominee by April.”
Besides his Colorado sweep, delegates backing Cruz also won 11 of 12 convention slots allocated at four congressional district meetings in Iowa last weekend.
In response to his delegate losses, Trump gave a bigger role on his team to political consultant Paul Manafort, a veteran operative who helped manage the 1976 convention floor for then-president Gerald Ford against challenger Ronald Reagan, the last time Republicans entered a convention with no candidate having clinched the nomination.
On Wednesday, his campaign announced the hiring of Rick Wiley as its national political director. Wiley worked as the campaign manager for the failed presidential bid of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, as well as a former RNC political director.
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