It was bad enough that the GOPe and Ted Cruz gave Donald Trump a drubbing in Wisconsin on Tuesday, March 5.
The 13% gap left a mark on the Republican front-runner’s campaign.
Even worse is the simmering cauldron of the delegate problem which, despite the billionaire’s stunning victories, could deprive him of the 1,237 needed to clinch the party’s nomination.
It all started on Wednesday, March 16, when a unbound North Dakota delegate, Curly Haughland, began boasting to the media. Haughland is salivating at the prospect of a brokered convention. He told CNBC:
The media has created the perception that the voters choose the nomination.
The rules are still designed to have a political party choose its nominee at a convention. That’s just the way it is. I can’t help it. Don’t hate me because I love the rules.
The Democrats run their conventions the same way with superdelegates. All 719 are equally unbound.
It’s a wonder primaries and caucuses continue if the voters don’t actually choose the nominee. That said, the delegates perform the function for the primaries that the Electoral College does in the general election.
This is the first election year in living memory that anyone in the US, never mind the world, has paid any real attention to the primaries. That is because the two outsider candidates, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, have captured the public’s imagination. Both could be victims of superdelegate and unbound votes at their respective conventions this summer.
The last brokered Democratic National Convention (DNC) took place in 1952. The Republicans had a contested convention in 1976 which produced Gerald Ford as the nominee over Ronald Reagan.
Earlier this month, Trump personally hired Paul Manafort to be his Convention Manager. Corey Lewandowski is still managing his campaign, but Manafort’s name will be the one we will see mentioned more often between now and July. Despite GOPe reassurances, getting close but not reaching the magic number of 1,237 delegates might prevent Trump from securing the nomination on the first vote.
Ted Cruz has been busy shaving Trump’s delegate numbers here and there. Every little helps. On Sunday, April 10, Manafort accused Cruz of using ‘Gestapo tactics’ at the Colorado state convention where he won 34 of 37 delegates. (The remaining three are unallocated at this point.) That said, even he was forced to acknowledge that the Trump campaign had no presence in the state.
Trump chose Manafort to manage his delegate debacle, because, in 1976, he was the one who managed to help Gerald Ford win the Republican nomination at the convention. He worked on Ronald Reagan’s subsequent campaigns then, afterwards, for both Bushes and, less successfully, for Bob Dole.
Another issue is money. Cruz is getting a lot of PAC money. While being self-financing contributes yuuugely to Trump’s popularity, PACs have considerable power and influence. This also holds true for the Democrats.
Wendell Potter, author of Nation on the Take, told The Guardian yesterday that the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, which allows corporate interests to fund and influence political campaigns, is dangerous because of the related unaccountability and anonymity:
That ruling and others, which said that Super Pacs [independent groups that collect donations in support of candidates] can receive unlimited contributions from individuals and corporations and labour unions, opened the floodgates of money into politics. And these groups are unaccountable. They don’t have to disclose their donors. They have come to influence voters’ decisions and policy decisions in ways that didn’t exist previously. We now have little knowledge about who is trying to influence public policy and elections. That needs to be changed.
The Conservative Treehouse has an excellent illustration of this with regard to Ted Cruz’s campaign funding and staff.
Combine PACs with the way delegates are chosen and influenced and you will conclude that the Great Republic’s primary as well as the convention systems are unrepresentative of the voters’ wishes.
In 2008, Obama’s people and some DNC officials put undue pressure, including the threat of violence, on Hillary Clinton’s delegates to switch their votes. Writer-director Gigi Gaston interviewed intimidated Clinton delegates for her documentary We Will Not Be Silenced. From that convention, the PUMA movement — Party Unity My Ass — was born. Most PUMAs left the Democratic Party to support Republican presidential candidates John McCain that year and Mitt Romney in 2012. Others voted for Green Party candidates.
As for the Republicans, their rules expire the night before the convention begins. Anything could happen when proceedings start the next day.
The author of Fortune’s Thoughts has excellent posts on how the GOP delegate system works. Her family has been involved in politics for a long time. Her post, ‘The “Delegate Stealing” Frenzy, Part 2’ explains a lot. It’s a must-read.
Essentially, the people invited to the party’s state conventions are insiders. An ordinary person can get there, too, but will have to volunteer a lot, attend party meetings regularly and get to know the precinct people. The precinct people are generally the ones who vote for delegates at state level. As one would expect, a newcomer has little chance of being chosen, but remaining active in the party may get him (or her) there in subsequent years. Furthermore, candidates’ campaign people can woo potential delegates with dinners or chats over a cup of coffee that make them feel special.
When it comes to delegates’ votes, Ted Cruz understands what Donald Trump is only starting to realise. Cruz succeeded in winning Colorado’s nine delegates because he and his campaign team wooed them. That is likely to have taken place in Louisiana and South Carolina, too, as Trump is deeply concerned whether he will have those votes in July. That is how the game is played, hence his urgency in getting Manafort on board.
At the convention in Cleveland in July, campaign teams will ramp up their courting of delegates. It’s all about glad-handing and arranging business deals that personally benefit the delegates. The author of the aforementioned delegate frenzy post explains that her aunt was a delegate at the 1976 GOP convention, the one that Manafort successfully manoeuvred in Gerald Ford’s favour. The aunt supported Ronald Reagan and was not swayed, even though she was offered lifetime maintenance for her car, a mink shrug and a month-long all-inclusive luxury holiday in Hawaii as well as $1,000 for shopping.
Even though the lady did not vote for Ford, she still ended up winning on a personal level. She made important business contacts at the convention, and deals with them continued until she and her husband sold their company, a dairy, many years later.
The only way this system can be cleaned up is at the precinct level. That is unlikely to happen because it’s so lucrative. Everyone benefits from it personally. No one is going to give that up.
As for Trump’s chances, they continue to be pretty solid, but Cruz is doing his best to deprive him of delegates here and there. Kasich’s in as a spoiler and can accomplish the same thing on a smaller scale. He is also no doubt jockeying for a vice presidential spot.
Although New York looks like a shoo-in for Trump, insiders suggest that Manafort has told him to focus fully on his home state. Trump had planned to hold a rally in California last Friday but suddenly cancelled. Meanwhile, Cruz will be on the hustings in that delegate-rich state today, April 11, holding two rallies. He has been campaigning there since last summer.
With all the negative campaign advertising that aired in Wisconsin, Trump will also have to start buying his own ads. Wisconsin might have been an outlier, but he cannot afford to take any chances going forward.
I’ll have more on Manafort in a future post.