Indiana hasn’t cast its ballots for president yet, but Donald Trump is already losing.
Republican Party insiders in the state will select 27 delegates to the national convention on Saturday, and Trump is assured to be nearly shut out of support, according to interviews with a dozen party leaders and officials involved in the delegate selection process. Anti-Trump sentiment runs hot among GOP leadership in Indiana, and it’s driving a virulent rejection of the mogul among likely delegates.
“If Satan had the lead on him and was one delegate away from being nominated as our candidate, and Donald Trump was the alternative, I might vote for Donald Trump,” said Craig Dunn, a local GOP leader who is running to represent Indiana’s 4th Congressional District at the national convention in Cleveland. “I’ve always wanted to own a casino, but he couldn’t give me a casino and have me vote for him.”
Indiana GOP insiders are working to engineer slates of delegates — three from each of nine congressional districts — that will turn their backs on Trump at a contested convention in July. Another 27 will be elected at a state committee meeting next week.
Indiana’s delegates will be bound to the results of the state’s May 3 primary on the first vote in Cleveland, and Trump is expected to be competitive in that contest. (There is no current public polling of the state, but several GOP leaders suggested he’d be competitive in at least a couple of the state’s nine Congressional districts.) But if Trump fails to clinch the nomination, they’ll be free to vote their conscience — and that means a rapid rejection of Trump. The state’s Republican national committeeman, John Hammond, has vocally called to reject Trump as well.
That would mark just another blow to Trump’s chances, should the convention go to a second ballot as expected. Though he’s won more votes and state primaries than rivals Ted Cruz and John Kasich, Trump has failed spectacularly to win separate delegate selection battles to his better-organized rivals. Though in most cases, he’s lost because of Cruz’s superior organization, Indiana appears to be a break from the norm. Most of the hostility to Trump there is homegrown.
“I believe we need a candidate that is likable, and I believe we need a candidate that is electable. And at this point, I have not seen any evidence for a general election that Donald Trump is electable,” said Kyle Babcock, a veteran Indiana GOP insider who’s on the 3rd Congressional District delegate slate. Babcock said Trump is his third choice among the three remaining candidates. He’s leaning toward Kasich, he said, because he prizes electability and reclaiming the White House in November.
Pete Seat, an Indiana GOP consultant whose firm was recently retained by the Kasich campaign, said he would be “shocked” if there were more than a handful of Trump supporters in Indiana’s delegation.
“Donald Trump doesn’t represent what I want my party to represent,” said Tom John, chairman of the Indiana GOP’s 7th Congressional District organization. John is running to be a statewide delegate when the party meets next Wednesday to select a separate set of 27 “at-large” delegates. John said the three delegates from his district are also unlikely to favor Trump.
Dunn, from the 4th District, is technically a delegate candidate, but he’s already guaranteed a slot in Cleveland. He’s the GOP’s district chairman and one of only three applicants for its three seats. All delegate applicants around the state were due to file paperwork by March 15, a deadline that several Indiana GOP insiders said went unnoticed in a handful of districts. But it’s the post-application process that explains why Trump is virtually guaranteed to lose delegate battles.
Local GOP district leaders have picked slates of favored candidates from among the applicants that will be considered at Saturday’s caucuses — tiny meetings of county leaders that typically ratify the names with which they’re presented. Applicants must promise to furnish $2,000 to participate after they’re selected, a requirement that tilts the process away from newcomers and outsiders. Among the delegate applicants who made it on to recommended slates: several district GOP leaders, State Treasurer Kelly Mitchell, Secretary of State Connie Lawson, Congresswoman Susan Brooks, Carmel, Indiana, Mayor James Brainard and Portage, Indiana, Mayor James Snyder.
“One of my criteria for filtering out folks was whether or not they support Donald Trump,” said one district GOP leader. “I didn’t care whether they supported Ted Cruz or John Kasich.”
Several delegate candidates said they’re even likely to support an effort to draft their former governor, Mitch Daniels, as an alternative candidate before giving Trump a look.
“I am supporting the Draft Mitch Daniels for President at the convention,” said Nick Barbknecht, a candidate for alternate from the state’s 2nd District, who is also the district GOP vice chairman. Dunn and John agreed that they’d support a Daniels candidacy if it emerged.
Trump’s Indiana chairman, Rex Early, a former state party chairman who just signed on to Trump’s team last weekend, said he hasn’t explored the delegate process enough to see how it will unfold. He said he intends to pursue a slot as an at-large delegate next week, and other GOP leaders said he’s an example of a self-identified Trump backer who could make it through the process, given his stature within the state party.
Informed of the local district’s anti-Trump lean, Early described it as “news to me.”
“I’m sure Trump’s going to have some delegates out there,” he said, adding that he hasn’t spoken to Trump’s district backers to see if they have the pulse of the delegate process. “We’re going to do something, but the Trump people are supposedly coming in this weekend. We’ll have a sit-down and see where we are, they can fill me in on what they’ve done.”
Barbknecht said that like Early, there are sure to be a few other Trump backers that squeak through the process because they’re the rare breed that are also longtime party insiders.
“There’s a couple Trump delegates here and there just by virtue of they’re powerful donors or powerful elected officials who happen to be Trump supporters — and no one would otherwise preclude them from being delegates,” he said.
Reached by POLITICO, Hammond, the Indiana national committeeman, hesitated to repeat his previous criticism of the New York mogul. He agreed that Trump may struggle to win support among Indiana’s delegates, but he said that sentiment will change rapidly if it looks like Trump can win in November — or if he’s able to personally persuade delegates.
“Donald Trump would likely have a steep hill to climb in persuading delegates to him, depending on who’s selected between now and next Wednesday,” said Hammond. “It doesn’t mean people aren’t persuadable. The most important factor for any delegate would be, is this a person who can win back the White House.”
He added, that there’s a strong emphasis on conducting a “fair” delegate selection process for all three campaigns. “Hoosier Republicans are going to aim to be fair and they will,” he said.
One potential bastion of Trump support is in the state’s 1st Congressional District, where local party leaders say the mogul has shown more strength than in the rest of the state. There, the district GOP Chairman Chuck Williams declined to name the three delegates on the caucus slate but said one was an avowed Trump supporter and he’s not sure of the allegiance of the other two. The district saw 30 applicants for delegate slots, which he said were about evenly split between Trump and Cruz, with a couple stray applicants for Kasich.
“Donald Trump has his share of support in our district,” he said.
But Williams, who’s running to be an alternate, added that he, too, is on a mission to draft Daniels at the convention.
“We need to start it nationally,” he said.
Mark Wynn, chairman of the 6th Congressional District GOP, said his district received a flurry of last-minute delegate applications before the March 15 deadline, an apparent effort by Trump allies to insert supporters in the delegation. But Wynn said he hadn’t checked with any delegate aspirants about their leanings in the primary and that the district’s slate, like all the others, would consistof longtime party hands.
Wynn joins several district chairmen in remaining publicly neutral among the three candidates. The 5th District’s Kyle Hupfer and the 8th District’s C. Rick Martin are also on their local delegate slates and declined to rule out any of the three candidates.
John, the 7th District chairman, said pro-Trump forces attempted to mobilize grass-roots delegate candidates with an email blast encouraging supporters to run. Though he said it resulted in a “handful of people who were sort of unknown to the local party” filing papers, John said none were added to the party’s slate. Instead, the local party recommended district Vice Chair Jennifer Ping, Indianapolis businessman and state Senate candidate Jefferson Shreve, and 34-year state Sen. Pat Miller.
Contacted by POLITICO, a terse Miller agreed that she was not in the Trump camp and had an abrupt response when asked who she’d back instead.
“I’m supporting Tom Selleck,” she said and quickly hung up.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly indicated that Mark Wynn, the 6th District chairman, intended to become a delegate to the national convention.
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