Donald Trump’s campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, was cleaning up one political mess in Florida when he walked himself into another, launching an error-filled attack on the state’s GOP chairman and revealing his camp’s internal goal for delegate accumulation.
Appearing on Fox News Sunday in a segment titled “Can the Trump campaign move past distractions?” Lewandowski was asked about a prosecutor’s decision last week to not bring the Trump aide to court on a battery charge stemming from a run-in with a reporter in the state. But in response, Lewandowski pivoted to criticize the state’s Republican party and its process for selecting convention delegates.
He accused Republican Party of Florida Chairman Blaise Ingoglia of being overtly biased against Trump, prompting an angry call from Ingoglia to the campaign, sources tell POLITICO.
“The chairman of the party of Florida, who is an avid and outward supporter of Marco Rubio, gets to appoint 30 of those delegates,” Lewandowski said. “Now, I understand those are the rules but Donald Trump won. … And now, you’ve got a person who is supporting Marco Rubio who gets to appoint 30 of the 99 delegates.”
Lewandowski’s comments were wrong on three counts: Ingoglia remained neutral before and after the state’s March 15 GOP primary; the chairman doesn’t “appoint” any delegates; and the chairman is in charge of recommending 15 — not “30 of the 99” — delegates to the state executive committee.
Lewandowski also incorrectly said Trump won Florida’s March 15 winner-take-all primary “by 23 points over all of his competitors.” Trump’s margin over second-place Rubio was 19 percentage points.
“We have no idea what Mr. Lewandowski is talking about,” Wadi Gaitan, the state GOP spokesman, said in a written statement. “The State Party and our Chairman have been consistently clear that we have and will continue to remain neutral during this process. It is unfortunate that Mr. Lewandowski went on national TV and misled viewers with inaccurate statements both on process and substance.”
Ingoglia did not return calls or text messages for comment. Trump campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks did not return a call, email or text for comment. Lewandowski also did not respond to a request for comment.
Some in Trump’s orbit grumbled that Lewandowski was needlessly alienating Ingoglia, who had been having “productive talks” with Trump’s team concerning the potential appointment of some friendly Florida delegates. The campaign has submitted a list of preferred delegates to Ingoglia, who’s in charge of recommending 15 candidates to the state party’s executive committee for approval at its May meeting.
His performance on Fox News also rattled some staffers inside the campaign who are frustrated that Lewandowski’s combative nature broke through on national television.
“Corey goes on national TV to talk about how he didn’t really commit battery on a woman — a terrible topic for the campaign to have out there — and then he makes it even worse by getting his facts wrong and pissing off the chairman in Florida when he didn’t need to,” one Republican inside the campaign said.
The source said some in Trump’s orbit were also miffed that Lewandowski predicted that “by the end of this month and the next two weeks, Donald Trump will add an additional 200 delegates to his total.”
“That’s a number we hope for,” the source said. “We’re trying to set expectations at 180, and he just blew through that — a complete amateur.”
Said another Republican familiar with the conversations: “It made no sense. He wasn’t asked about Florida at all. He could have singled out West Virginia, or Colorado or Indiana. All of their rules and processes are terrible. Instead, he went right after Florida and the chairman. And the guy wasn’t pleased.”
Florida is a firewall of sorts for Trump. The state’s 99 delegates are bound to vote for the winner for three consecutive ballots at a contested Republican National Convention. But after that, if there is still no nominee chosen, the delegates can vote for whomever they prefer.
Florida’s system is also decentralized, with 81 delegates picked by local parties to represent each of the state’s 27 congressional districts. The state’s Republican executive committee picks 15 more. And the remaining three delegates are Ingoglia, and the state’s national committeeman and committeewoman.
Trump backers have complained that the process has been unfair to the candidate in Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties. But the local committees say they selected candidates based on their service to their local parties, their promise to follow the rules and their ability to pay their own way to the convention.
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