By Jim Ellis
April 13, 2016 — Donald Trump’s flap over the Colorado delegation’s action this past Saturday reveals his campaign’s biggest weakness. While he has performed better than any other Republican candidate in attracting votes in the primary/caucus process to date, the Trump organization has paid scant attention to delegate selection mechanics in the various states. Now, the omission is beginning to cost him.
Trump is crying foul because the Colorado Republican Party met in convention instead of scheduling a primary or caucus, but theirs was not a random, or unheard of act. In fact, North Dakota used the same procedure the previous weekend without raising the Trump campaign’s ire.
“Though [Trump] has placed first more often than any other Republican candidate in primaries and a few caucuses, he has still garnered support from just 37 percent of voters casting ballots in a primary or caucus, far from obtaining majority status.”
Colorado Republicans have always employed a nominating convention. Prior to the 1980s, the only ballot access a candidate for any partisan office had was to obtain at least 20 percent of the convention vote. For the past 25-plus years, however, candidates can opt to bypass the convention and directly qualify exclusively through the signature petition process.
Therefore, for Trump to suggest that the Colorado GOP somehow “cheated” the state’s Republican voters, and indirectly himself, because they did not hold a primary or caucus is simply an inaccurate stance. The state’s nomination history and party rules were clear to all.
Early in the process, Colorado, along with three other states and a trio of territories (Colorado, North Dakota, Wyoming, part of Pennsylvania, American Samoa, the US Virgin Islands and Guam), decided they would attend the Republican National Convention as unbound delegations. This means their delegates will be free agents throughout the convention balloting.
Irrespective as to whom Colorado Republican voters might have selected in a primary or caucus, no delegate would have been bound to such a voting outcome. Thus, once the state leadership decided the delegation would be unbound, a public vote would have been virtually meaningless under the state party rules.
Understanding the process and using the rules to their advantage, Sen. Ted Cruz’s campaign may have scored a coup in apparently committing all 37 of the states delegates to support the Texas lawmaker. Under Colorado Republican Party rules, delegates may publicly bind themselves, which several have done, but none are not required to do so.
The Cruz ground operation has also been responsible for electing delegates ostensibly loyal to their candidate in North Dakota, Wyoming, Tennessee, South Carolina, Louisiana, and part of Virginia. This, in spite of the fact that most or all of the delegates are bound to cast a first-ballot vote for Trump. Betting that Trump won’t obtain 1,237 votes on the first roll call, the Cruz campaign believes a significant number of the New York real estate mogul’s will peel away from him on subsequent ballots.
Therefore, if Trump does not secure a first-ballot victory, his strength on further roll calls will likely subside. And, once a candidate starts losing support in a convention it may well be impossible for him to reverse such a downward spiral.
With important eastern states voting in April, Trump needs decisive wins and a large delegate take to reverse the trends from the past several weeks. He must commit 55 percent of the outstanding delegates to achieve a first-ballot victory (Cruz requires 80 percent). Though he has placed first more often than any other Republican candidate in primaries and a few caucuses, he has still garnered support from just 37 percent of voters casting ballots in a primary or caucus, far from obtaining majority status.