The Donald Trump campaign this weekend continued its assault on the Republican National Committee and the party’s nominating process, with the billionaire frontrunner demanding unspecified changes to the system in advance of the nominating convention, and warning of dangerous consequences for the party if his demands are not met.
The RNC “better get going or they’re going to have a rough July at that convention,” Trump said angrily from the stage at a rally over the weekend. The party needs to “straighten out the system, because the people want their vote,” he added.
Trump has grown increasingly agitated in the past few weeks, after it became plain that his campaign was badly unprepared to follow up on his early success in Republican primaries with the on-the-ground work needed to assure that delegates friendly to him were actually sent to the convention to work on his behalf.
The GOP nominating process is complicated by the fact that each state sets its own rules for how the delegates are selected. Trump’s main problem boils down to this: in many states, the results of the primary election or caucus determine how many delegates from the state will be sent to the convention with an obligation to vote for a specific candidate on the first and perhaps the second ballot. But they don’t determine who those delegates will be, and who their preferred candidate is.
Those decisions are made in myriad ways, but typically at meetings of the state parties, where organization is critical. The Ted Cruz campaign has outclassed Trump’s people in that regard, placing delegates loyal to the Texas senator in seats won by Trump. Those delegates will have to support Trump in a roll call vote for one or two ballots, but will be free to switch afterward. They will also be free to vote against Trump’s wishes on other matters, for instance, on decisions about the rules under which the convention will operate.
Trump has characterized the system as rigged in favor of Cruz, and indeed, if he fails to get a majority of the delegates by the time the convention begins, there is a strong possibility that when ostensible Trump delegates start flipping their votes on the second and third ballots, he could lose.
For the second weekend in a row, Trump stayed off the talk show circuit, sending surrogates who amplified his message. On Fox News Sunday, Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski was asked what his boss meant by promising a “rough July” for the GOP if Trump comes into the convention with the largest share of delegates but loses the nomination.
“What he’s saying is that he’s going to be the Republican nominee, and anything they’re going to try to do to stop him from being that is going to be detrimental,” Lewandowski said.
Trump himself has suggested that there might be riots in Cleveland, and informal Trump adviser Roger Stone has called for “Days of Rage” protests.
Lewandowski was asked if Trump was suggesting that there could be violence. “No,” he said. “What we’re talking about is a fractured party. What we’re talking about is millions of people who have turned out to support Donald Trump, and now they’re saying potentially they’re going to take this away from Donald Trump at a convention.
On ABC’s This Week, Trump convention manager Paul Manafort, who is in charge of salvaging the billionaire’s delegate gathering operation, reinforced the claim that the system is “rigged,” claiming that delegates are being chosen in “closed caucuses with no voters.”
He said that is why the Trump campaign didn’t try to win delegates in Wyoming when that state chose part of its overall slate this weekend. Describing it as a “closed system,” he said, “We didn’t play there because we didn’t want to waste our money.”
Cruz, however, did play in Wyoming and was rewarded with 14 out of 14 delegates on Saturday.
Trump has directed much of his anger at the Republican National Committee, which he claims has been actively working against him. RNC Chair Reince Priebus, however, made several appearances Sunday morning and his message was consistent: The rules have been set and public since at least October, and the RNC has no power to change them. Furthermore, the RNC itself has no authority to set the rules for the convention, which will be determined by a subcommittee made up of delegates and then ratified by the entire convention.
However, Priebus wasn’t above taking a dig at Team Trump’s unfamiliarity with the process.
After the primaries and caucuses, he said, “There’s another part of the process that is, as a candidate, making sure that the people who are sitting in those [delegate] seats are people that, once the process gets going, are friendly to your wishes and desires. That’s a function of each campaign doing a good job in each of these states with grassroots activists”