Trump: An Outsider in an Insider’s Game

Ashley Pratte,

State by state, delegates threaten GOP front-runner’s path to nomination.

While there is indeed some backroom gamesmanship going on with the selection of GOP delegates, the Donald Trump campaign is suffering losses because of its own inability to function within the rules set by state parties regarding delegate selection.

Trump leads his rivals in the delegate count, but he is underperforming when it comes to ground game — something the GOP front-runner knows only too well. Recently, Trump announced that he had hired Paul Manafort, a veteran Republican operative in charge of the convention process and delegate corralling.

trumpwisconsinwin_small Trump: An Outsider in an Insider's Game

On Saturday, the Tennessee Republican Party Executive Committee met to select the state’s 14 at-large delegates. Due to Trump’s performance in the state’s primary, he was supposed to receive half of the 14 delegates and he did — but only two are actually Trump supporters who would stick with him through multiple round of ballot voting at a contested convention.

Trump’s campaign alleged that five of the seven delegates are “pretend” supporters and that they have loyalties to the Establishment. According to Tennessee’s rules, the delegates are bound for the first two ballots, but after that the delegates are free to vote for whomever they want — a dangerous position for Trump to be in.

Tennessee Republican Party Executive Director Brent Leatherwood suggested on “The Laura Ingraham Show” that Trump’s campaign is worried about what happened in Tennessee because it could happen in other states, threatening his chances at the nomination.

Current Delegate Count
Total Delegates Needed for Nomination
Donald Trump
Ted Cruz
John Kasich

Source: Associated Press

And he’s right, it’s not just the state of Tennessee — it’s Louisiana, North Dakota, and possibly more.

On Sunday, the North Dakota Republican Party held their state convention where 18 Cruz supporters were selected to fill 25 of the delegate slots. This is important because North Dakota doesn’t hold a nominating contest, instead selecting delegates to represent the state at the national convention.

Cruz also seems to have a lock on Louisiana as well. The Wall Street Journal reported that Cruz could wind up with 10 additional Louisiana delegates (5 belonging to Rubio and 5 that are unbound) due to his campaign out-organizing Trump when it came to the delegate selection process.

The Journal also reported that at Louisiana’s Republican convention, six slots for different committees at the Republican National Convention needed to be filled — five of which were won by Cruz supporters. The committees that the six delegates were selected for were the rules, credentials and party platform — three key committees when it comes to building the framework for how the GOP nominee will be selected.

Delegate Shifting
  • Trump was supposed to receive 7 of Tennessee’s 14 at-large delegates, out of the 7 only 2 are Trump loyalists
  • North Dakota which doesn’t hold a nominating contest, selected 18 Cruz supporters to fill 25 delegate slots
  • In Louisiana 5 out of 6 slots for important convention committees were given to Cruz supporters

Now, the state of Arizona has delegates at play, where Trump beat Cruz by double digits in a winner-take-all contest of 58 delegates. The Arizona Republican Party will hold its convention on April 30, where it is expected Cruz will at least carry half of the delegates — all because of the Texas senator’s ground game.

What the delegate selection rules show is that the ground game is still important in presidential politics, but also that the party is still very much in control of who ultimately gets the nomination.

“Trump will need to master the art of the delegate deal if he does not reach the magical number of 1,237 and wants to secure the nomination,” said Mercedes Schlapp, a Republican strategist. “While Trump has been running an outsiders’ strategy, if this GOP election goes to contested convention, it becomes an insiders game where rules, process, and delegate support will be essential for a candidate’s success.”

If Sen. Ted Cruz were to win in Wisconsin’s primary on Tuesday, it would push the Republican presidential race closer to a contested convention, and each candidate must have a ground game in place in order to ensure delegate support in multiple rounds of ballot voting.

What’s more, if Cruz wins Wisconsin, it would be a pivotal win for the Establishment, which would prove that Trump is vulnerable and beatable against its machine — especially at a contested convention.