I’ve been saying repeatedly since last fall that the Donald Trump candidacy is a klieg light being turned on America. And the Colorado GOP delegate selection this past weekend proves it once again.
Hardly anyone outside the hierarchy of the Colorado Republican Party thought about this business much between August 2015, when they canceled the presidential straw poll for the state party convention, and today. It’s the sort of administrative action that doesn’t garner a lot of headlines.
Here’s what observers said at the time (emphasis added):
Executive members of the state’s GOP committee decided in a unanimous vote last week to eliminate the presidential straw poll [at the state party convention, which was] first held by the state party in 2008, according to the Denver Post.
While the results of the poll were previously non-binding — meaning delegates elected to the state’s convention were not required to support whichever candidate came out on top — a new rule adopted by the Republican National Committee would force delegates from Colorado to support the leading candidate in their state at the RNC convention next July.
Sure, it’s a good bet that the Colorado GOP mucky-mucks are happy that this decision in August put them in a position to block Trump voters in April. But in August, their decision criteria would have been less focused. Nobody in America foresaw then that Trump would be the vote and delegate leader in April 2016. The Colorado party’s objective was to keep its options open. Since the RNC would require the state delegates to support whoever won their straw poll, the Coloradans decided not to hold the straw poll at their state convention this year. The delegates would be assigned based on state party rules, from delegate selections in the county conventions.
Ted Cruz and his staff bothered to understand what the Colorado GOP was doing. They showed up and lobbied for delegates in the venue appointed by the state party apparatus.
There’s nothing untoward about this; the party can run its primary fight the way it wants to. It’s only in retrospect that some observers see the move as an attempt to keep Colorado delegates from being assigned by Trump voters.
It is incendiary, in hindsight. Basically, the RNC’s little rule change in 2015, which effectively killed presidential straw polls in the 2016 primary season, turned into a flash grenade because of the voters’ growing concern that the party isn’t interested in their opinion, unless it aligns with the party’s.
Of course, it didn’t help that someone purporting to be in the Colorado GOP tweeted out “We did it. #nevertrump” after all of the state’s 34 delegates were assigned to Cruz.
But even if no one had tweeted that, the delegate sweep was quite obviously a skewed outcome. It’s not possible that it accurately represents the distribution of Colorado Republican voters’ support for the remaining presidential candidates.
All other points aside, this outcome makes a case for why many Trump voters would understandably feel justified in divesting their interests from the Republican Party. There are actually plenty of Cruz voters, too, who would “get” that basic point – and Cruz voters may be in for their own surprises in Cleveland. The prospects of both Trump and Cruz are at the mercy of the rule-setters, come July.
(Cruz has been the non-Trump guy in the race for the last few weeks. But if the Colorado convention had been held in late February, it is 100% guaranteed that the state party hierarchy would have favored Marco Rubio . My guess: because the party had its finger on the scale, Cruz would have garnered no more than 10% of the Colorado delegates.)
Trump and his voters are coming in for disdainful lectures today, with Trump complaining about the process. And some of the lecturing is justified. There’s nothing unfair about having to do your homework, which is what Cruz did to position himself for the Colorado delegate selection.
But we’ll never know if Trump could have changed the outcome with a better ground game. I don’t think he could have changed it much. Frankly, it’s obvious from the Cruz delegate sweep that the Colorado GOP was, in fact, determined to exclude Trump.
To say that voters should have to work their way up through a political party that is hostile to them, in order to exert influence, is to put the fortunes of the party ahead of the voters’ urgent concerns. That may be warranted if the republic happens to be enjoying a pastoral lull in its political conditions: all things equal, no clear and present danger to the people’s liberties, the Constitution, or the American way of life.
But 2016 is not that year. The GOP can certainly do things according to its rules without being accused of cheating. In 2016, however, relying on the rules to silence worried, dissatisfied voters is evidence of misplaced priorities.
I’m as glad about Cruz’s delegate win as the next Cruz voter, but I’m concerned that the GOP has miscalculated on this one. I’m especially concerned that it has learned the wrong “lesson.” The Colorado outcome may be a preview of the rules-wielding, delegate-by-delegate hardball the establishment intends to play this summer.
And sure, that’s within the rules. Is it wise, forward-looking, strategically and morally heroic? No. It’s defensive and rearward-looking. It would be a desperate, all-out attempt to hang on to a status quo that carries no-longer-bearable costs for millions of Americans. If the party leverages rules, to block both Trump and Cruz in Cleveland, it will have miscalculated in a way I don’t foresee any recovery from.