The weekend was another delegate bloodbath for Donald Trump.
In Georgia. In Wyoming. In South Carolina. In Kansas. In Florida. Ted Cruz put on a clinic, mobilizing his GOP activist base to capture at least 50 delegates on Saturday while Trump came away with about a dozen in another bruising defeat that undermines his chances to become the Republican presidential nominee.
If Trump fails to clinch the nomination by the end of primary season on June 7, the nomination will likely be decided at a contested convention in July. And Cruz, after picking up scores of loyal delegates who he expects will stick with him if the convention takes multiple votes to resolve, is radiating confidence about his ability to prevail in that scenario.
Days like Saturday explain why.
Local and statewide Republican Party organizations around the country held about about 20 conventions and caucuses to elect national delegates, with more than 90 slots up for grabs in a shadow primary process that Trump has blasted as “rigged” against him. The contests, open only to registered Republican voters — and in some cases, only to party insiders — identify individuals to fill delegate slots earned by candidates in state primaries and caucuses. Who these delegates are is crucial: Though party rules require them to vote according to the will of their states’ voters at first, most would be able to vote freely if the convention deadlocks and requires multiple rounds of balloting to pick a nominee.
So far, Cruz has dominated these delegate selection battles, even in states whose primaries Trump won handily. Though Trump won all 50 delegates in South Carolina in a Feb. 20 primary, for example, many are poised to abandon him for Cruz on a second ballot. And now, in Georgia, where Trump crushed his rivals and earned 42 of 76 delegates on primary day, dozens are set to abandon him for Cruz as soon as they can.
On Saturday, the Texas senator won 32 of 42 delegate slots available in Georgia, according to former Rep. Jack Kingston, a Cruz supporter. And John Kasich, who finished last in that primary, scored a delegate as well — state Sen. Bill Cowsert — the Ohio governor’s campaign confirmed.
In the 11th Congressional District, which includes parts of the Atlanta metropolitan area, former Rep. Bob Barr and former district chairman Scott Johnson, both Cruz supporters, were elected delegates along with current district chairman Brad Carver, who told Politico he’s neutral in the process. Debbie Dooley, an outspoken Trump supporter from the 7th Congressional District who had run a vocal campaign for delegate, was defeated, despite being nominated for the slot by insiders from the district. Her position was challenged by Cruz backers on the floor of the district convention — and she was ousted.
Cruz backers believe Republicans at the GOP District Conventions should be able to overrule voters by mob rule,” she wrote on Facebook.
Trump backers were so frustrated they stormed out of the meeting carrying the American flag out with them, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Greg Bluestein reported. But the results were similar across the state.
“My gut feeling is that the majority of the people that have been a part of the party, in the 3rd District, the majority of those are Cruz supporters,” said Dale Jackson, who won one of three delegate slots in Georgia’s 3rd Congressional District, where he is chairman, and declined to say what he would do after a first ballot.
In Georgia’s 5th Congressional District, a more moderate area won easily by Marco Rubio in the March 1 primary, Cruz supporters had been organizing intensively, said David Burge, the former congressional district chairman from the area. Dave Baker, a longtime Republican activist from the district who was open about his support for Cruz, was ultimately tapped as a delegate from the district, along with John Bush, the current district chairman, and Jill Chambers, a former state representative backing Trump, according to Burge.
One bright spot for Trump: In Georgia’s 2nd Congressional District, Brandon Phillips — Trump’s Georgia state director — was elected to the delegate slate. In that district, which Trump won resoundingly on March 1, two of the delegates will plan to stick with Trump through multiple rounds of balloting and a third will stay with Cruz to reflect the “will of the district — barring some grand compromise,” said district chairman Joseph Brannan, also a delegate from that southwestern Georgia district.
But the rest of the day went terribly for Trump. In Wyoming, Cruz scored all 14 delegates on the ballot at a state convention, giving him 23 of the state’s 29 slots overall. Earlier Saturday, Trump ripped the Wyoming contest on “Fox & Friends” and said he didn’t bother to compete there because decisions were being made by “the bosses.”
“I don’t want to waste millions of dollars going out to Wyoming many months before to wine and dine and to essentially pay off all these people because a lot of it’s a payoff,” he said. “You understand that, they treat them, they take them to dinner, they get them hotels. I mean, the whole thing’s a big payoff, has nothing to do with democracy.”
Cruz had already won nine of the 12 delegates who had been allocated in Wyoming, where he has been organizing for months. He rolled out a state leadership team in February, and his local team and national staffers have been aggressively courting delegate candidates. The senator himself addressed the state convention there Saturday morning, holding up a copy of the slate of delegates supporting him and urging the crowd to back that slate in order to stop Trump. (“This is how elections are won in America,” Cruz said in a statement that seemed aimed at rebutting Trump’s complaints about the system.)
Cruz was the only candidate who bothered showing up. Trump was supposed to be represented by former vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin, but she pulled out of a speaking slot earlier in the week without explanation. And Kasich was plugged by Butch Otter, the little-known governor of Idaho.
Cruz also won a quieter victory in South Carolina, where he nabbed all three delegates available in the state’s 1st Congressional District. Duffy Lewis, one of the winners, told Politico last month that she believed Cruz deserved a delegate vote from her district, since Rubio dropped out. “I’m convinced Ted Cruz would’ve taken Charleston County and many other districts. I just know my county.”
It was another blow to Trump in South Carolina, where last week he lost five of six delegate slots in two congressional districts despite winning the state handily on Feb. 20.
Trump also appeared to struggle in Florida, where he earned all 99 delegates in a winner-take-all primary last month. Party leaders met quietly and spent hours handpicking delegates. Fuming Trump supporters said the result left them underrepresented.
The Saturday streak continued for Cruz in the Midwest, where he won two of three delegates in Kansas’ 1st Congressional District. Cruz appeared poised to pad his delegate count in Oklahoma, North Carolina and Virginia, where reports indicated he swept the delegates available in the 10th Congressional District.
Trump still has a clear shot at winning the nomination outright: If he can dominate primaries in New York, the Northeast and California over the coming weeks, he has a narrow chance to secure a majority of delegates without a contested convention. But if he can’t cobble together the 1,237 delegates he needs on a first ballot, most delegates — elected in separate contests by Republican voters and party insiders — are free to vote as they choose.
And so far at least, they seem to be choosing Ted Cruz.
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