Tennessee Republican Party leaders approved a delegate slate on Saturday over the heated objections of Donald Trump’s campaign, which is accusing the state’s insiders of supplanting several supporters with anti-Trump forces.
At a tense meeting of the state party’s executive committee, police removed pro-Trump protesters, and an already heightened sense of confrontation was exacerbated when Trump’s national director of social media tweeted out the personal cellphone number of the state party chairman, Ryan Haynes.
“It was a bad day for the Republican Party in this state,” said Trump supporter Mark Winslow, who said he had been removed from a list of delegates agreed upon by Trump’s state director and Haynes on Wednesday, reclassified as an alternate and then removed altogether.
Trump’s backers maintain Haynes engineered the removal of several Trump supporters from a list of at-large Tennessee delegates and replaced them with Republicans likely to support Trump’s rivals at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland — if the nomination fight takes more than two ballots to resolve. Tennessee’s delegates to the convention are bound to the results of the state primary — which Trump won — for the first two ballots.
Haynes rejected claims he had done anything improper and insisted there had been no agreement with the Trump campaign on an initial list of delegates. Rather, he said, Tennessee’s GOP rules give the party the ultimate authority to name delegates, and any guidance from the campaigns is purely advisory.
Haynes also noted that Trump is guaranteed a precise amount of delegate support on the first two ballots at the national convention.
“They had 33 delegates yesterday. They have 33 delegates today,” he said following the vote. “Those individuals by state law will be bound by two rounds of voting to vote for that candidate.”
Winslow said it would be up to the campaign to decide whether to challenge delegates before the RNC’s credentialing committee. A spokeswoman for the Trump campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment following Saturday’s vote.
Trump may not take the defeat quietly. He recently reacted angrily to similar maneuvering by Ted Cruz’s campaign that allowed it peel off some of his delegates in Louisiana — and his campaign filed a formal challenge to the results there. Trump has previously linked his support for the GOP to whether he considers himself to be treated fairly by the party establishment. GOP leaders are worried that efforts to outmaneuver him in the delegate hunt could feed his supporters’ grievances.
“It’s the events of today in Tennessee which justify Mr. Trump saying he has not been treated fair by the Republican Party,” said conservative commentator Scottie Nell Hughes, a Trump campaign surrogate whose husband, Chris Hughes, is among the Trump Tennessee delegates elected directly by voters.
The controversy erupted on Friday when Haynes produced a delegate slate that Trump’s campaign said differed from one they had settled on earlier in the week.
“We won the votes,” Darren Morris, Trump’s Tennessee state director, wrote in a missive late Friday night. “They are trying to steal them. I can’t believe I am writing this. But the Tennessee Republican Party wants to steal your vote TOMORROW.”
Party leaders, alarmed by an intensifying backlash throughout the night, hired extra security for the event — and even briefly considered canceling it altogether.
Dozens of pro-Trump protesters gathered outside the meeting venue, and when some appeared on a balcony looking into the room where the meeting took place, police were called to remove them from the property.
During the meeting, Trump’s social media director, Dan Scavino, encouraged supporters nationwide to contact the state party chairman directly. “CALL THE TENNESSEE CHAIRMAIN [sic], RYAN HAYNES,” he tweeted, including Haynes’ cellphone number. “Let him know you support the TRUMP delegates!”
Morris’ anger stemmed from what he said was a deal that Trump’s campaign had struck with party leaders on Wednesday to fill the remaining at-large slots with Trump’s favored delegates.
Haynes said Morris exploded earlier in the week when the party informed the campaign it would receive only six of its seven delegate choices at Saturday’s meeting.
“They informed us that they did not care about party procedures. They don’t care about the Republican Party,” Haynes said.
Haynes added that on Friday, the list of delegates changed again and only four of Trump’s original seven requests were included, prompting Morris’ scathing call to supporters.
“The State Party Chairman, Ryan Haynes, agreed to that ON WEDNESDAY,” Morris wrote. “Those pulling his puppet strings changed his mind and now apparently he wants to appoint delegates representing candidates who don’t support Donald Trump and WHO DID NOT RECEIVE ANY ALLOCATED DELEGATES on March 1.”
Brent Leatherwood, executive director of the Tennessee Republican Party, said there was never such a deal and accused the Trump campaign of speaking “dismissively” of one of the party’s “female members.”
“Instead of stirring up strife and grossly mischaracterizing the conversation that took place between Mr. Morris and Chairman Haynes, let’s set the record straight. There was never an agreement, especially after the Trump campaign spoke dismissively about the Party process and one of our female members,” Leatherwood said in a statement.
Morris urged supporters to crash the party’s 10 a.m. Saturday executive committee meeting by arriving a half-hour in advance. “There is a small group of Tennessee establishment insiders pulling a fast one. DON’T LET THIS HAPPEN,” he wrote.
Trump, Ted Cruz and John Kasich are competing not only in primaries and caucuses across the country but also to name the actual individuals who will serve as delegates because, should Trump fall short of the 1,237 delegates he needs to secure the GOP nomination on the first ballot, those individuals will ultimately select the nominee.
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