How Trump’s Potemkin delegates could wreak havoc in Cleveland

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Good morning Austin:

Meet Harry Herford Jr. of Delhi, Louisiana.

Herford was a leader of the Ron Paul forces in Louisiana four years ago, and here he is falling, or being felled, at the Louisiana Republican State Convention on June 2, 2012.

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Herford’s dramatic demise is of more than parochial or historic interest, because it offers a preview of what we might be in for at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in July, both in terms of the rules that were the source of conflict in Shreveport, and the potential for casualties.

From a story I wrote for the New Orleans Times Picayune  four years ago:

Paul won barely 6 percent of the vote in the state’s March 24 primary in which nearly 190,000 voters participated, but won four of the six congressional districts in the state’s April caucuses, which drew fewer than 10,000 people.

The primary netted Rick Santorum, who got nearly half the vote, 10 delegates to the national convention, and Romney, who got 27 percent, five delegates, with another five uncommitted.

But when Paul delegates swept through the caucuses, that guaranteed him 12 of the state’s 46 national convention delegates and, as important, gave his forces 111 of the 180 delegates to the state convention. There, the actual national convention delegates, including those whose presidential preference was determined by the primary result, would be chosen.

That meant, if majority ruled, Paul had the numbers to pick up not just the five uncommitted delegates from the primary, but also to determine who would fill the 10 Santorum and five Romney delegate slots, giving Paul effective control of 32 of the 46 delegates to Tampa, even if those Santorum and Romney delegates might still be obligated to vote for those candidates on the first ballot.

State party officials were not inclined to let that happen, issuing supplemental rules on the eve of the convention to keep the Paul forces from wresting more than the 17 delegates which, in their view, was their due, and requiring that the Romney and Santorum delegates be certified by their respective campaigns.

They also hired, through the management of the Shreveport Convention Center, nine off-duty Shreveport City police officers, backed by several on-duty plainclothes Louisiana State Troopers — all this amid what the party’s sergeant-at-arms, Louis Gurvich, said was a “rumor that the Ron Paul campaign had retained a militia, which we thought was a horribly bad idea.” In the end the “militia,” a handful of what were described as menacing-looking men in security garb, were turned away by convention organizers.

“We would not let them use these Bolshevik tactics to strong-arm and muscle their way into control of our convention,” said Jeff Giles, who chaired the Credential Committee.

The result was a riotous scene in Shreveport in which police removed two officials of the Paul insurgency, arresting one. In short order, one convention became two as the Paul delegates turned their chairs around and conducted their convention facing one way, while the state party and its loyalists conducted their parallel convention facing the other.

Let’s pause here for a bit of doggerel I remember from summer camp:

One dark day in the middle of the night,
two dead men got up to fight.
Back to back they faced each other,
Drew their swords and shot each other.
If you don’t believe the story’s true
Ask the blind man, he saw it too

Raise the stakes, multiply by infinity, and you will get an idea of what might ensue at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland.

Resuming my story from 2012.

And so there are now two competing Louisiana delegations to the Republican National Convention, one with the imprimatur of the state party and another chosen by Paul supporters.

It will now be up to the national Republican Party’s Contest Committee to determine which is the legitimate delegation, a decision that can be appealed to the full Republican National Committee and finally to the convention’s Credential Committee, which will meet the week before the August convention in Tampa, and where this dispute now seems likely headed.

“We followed the rules to the letter and then some, we’ll win in the Committee on Contests,” said Charlie Davis, the leader of Paul’s Louisiana effort, who would chair the delegation if they prevail.

But that hardly seems likely, said Timmy Teepell, the former top aide to Gov. Bobby Jindal, who backs the legitimacy of the state party slate. Teepell is now a national GOP consultant.

Teepell notes that the Louisiana GOP is the state affiliate of the national party, and neither the national party leadership nor the Romney campaign, which will control the convention, have the slightest interest in emboldening the Paul forces.

Indeed, part of the reason the Paul campaign may have been so intent on wresting a majority of the Louisiana delegation is that Paul needs to have control of five state delegations to have his name placed in nomination at the convention.

Villere said Louisiana would have made four states and “we messed up the national plan with their not getting Louisiana.”

Villere said he believes the “organized chaos” in Shreveport was choreographed and rehearsed in advance.

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“These antics were pre-planned, practiced and intent on making a circus out of the convention,” Louisiana Republican National Committeewoman Ruth Ulrich wrote in a missive to the other members of the RNC in the aftermath of the battle of Shreveport.

Party officials believe everything was staged, down to the fall to the ground of Henry Herford of Delhi, the Paul delegates’ first choice as their convention chair, as police attempted to remove him from the hall. He was charged with “entering and remaining after being forbidden.”

Ridiculous, said Herford, a member of Louisiana Republican State Central Committee.

“Why would a man who weighs 260 pounds try to be a stunt man?” asked Herford, who fell on his artificial hip.

“I am right on up here hurting,” said Herford, who said he has already incurred $5,000 in hospital bills and “they’re going to have to pay for it.”

The national Paul campaign seized on the “attack” on Herford, but put a positive gloss on the final result, claiming incorrectly that Romney’s state chairman, Scott Sewell, had blessed their slate.

“Why is the Paul campaign reporting that I said I would do everything I could to ratify your slate in Tampa when I said no such thing?” Sewell asked Davis in an email Monday. “I reached out to your delegates to encourage them to stay with the nominee and to let them know we needed and wanted their help in the fall campaign against our common enemy.”

In his reply, Davis assured Sewell, “we have an incredibly professional delegation headed to Tampa as of now. I was able to keep off any RP folks that could have been an embarrassment on the floor,” while adding some establishment names.

Davis said that the Paul delegates went to Shreveport with pure hearts and copies of Roberts Rules of Order, “not ever once thinking that there might be political violence.”

“What we’re asking for is an apology from the Executive Committee, that things got out of hand and it wasn’t the Ron Paul delegates’ fault,” Davis said.

In a six-page letter, replete with biblical injunctions, Ellen Davis, Charlie’s wife, wrote the party leadership, “I appeal to you as a sister in Christ, to admit your wrongdoings so that we can begin healing and reconciliation.”

“If there’s any apologizing, it should be them apologizing for destroying the convention,” said Villere.

With Paul’s son Rand, a senator from Kentucky, endorsing Romney at week’s end, Teepell said it could be that the national Paul campaign now will be less inclined to kick up a fuss in Tampa, a la the Louisiana challenge.

But Villere fears it might be too late.

I think Ron Paul has lost control of his own delegates,” Villere said.

Notice at the moment that Harry Herford fell on his artificial hip, the party regulars were trying to keep the Ron Paul forces from gaining a plurality of the delegates in five states, that would enable them to mess up Romney’s convention, not because Ron Paul threatened to steal the nomination from Romney but because the very nomination of some nettlesome other candidate in Tampa would have ruined the vapid coronation that, at least in recent decades, the national conventions of both parties has devolved into.

Even after the battle of Shreveport effectively denied Paul control of a state delegation, the Romney forces, in writing the rules of the 2012 convention – as each convention’s delegates write new rules for each convention to operate under – significantly raised the bar for having a candidate’s name placed in nomination to make sure there was no chance Ron Paul would meet the threshold, by requiring, under Rule 40(b), that the candidate have the support of a majority of delegates – instead of simply a plurality – in eight states instead of five.

Here is rule 40(b):

40(b) Each candidate for nomination for President of the United States and Vice President of the United States shall demonstrate the support of a majority of the delegates from each of eight (8) or more states, severally, prior to the presentation of the name of that candidate for nomination. Notwithstanding any other provisions of these rules or any rule of the House of Representatives, to demonstrate the support required of this paragraph a certificate evidencing the affirmative written support of the required number of permanently seated delegates from each of the eight (8) or more states shall have been submitted to the secretary of the convention not later than one (1) hour prior to the placing of the names of candidates for nomination pursuant to this rule and the established order of business.

Louisiana Republicans subsequently changed their rules as well for the 2016 cycle by having all the delegates obligated through the primary, instead of through a hybrid primary-caucus system, which had enabled the more strategic and intensely motivated Paul forces to game the system, and also by requiring that the actual delegates chosen to represent each candidate be bona fide supporters of that candidate.

New York Tmes

New York Times

At the subsequent March 11 Republican State Convention, at which, as far as I know, nobody fell or was felled, the delegates were distributed as follows, per the Louisiana Republican Party:

The 2016 Louisiana Republican State Convention met on Saturday in Baton Rouge and elected 43 delegates to represent the state in Cleveland, Ohio at the Republican National Convention.

Louisiana receives 46 votes at the national convention. Under party rules, Louisiana’s delegates were awarded to presidential candidates proportionally, based upon the votes they received in the March 5 Presidential Preference Primary. Donald Trump and Ted Cruz earned 18 delegates each. Five delegates were allocated to Marco Rubio and five are uncommitted.  Three of the uncommitted delegates are automatic delegates as they are Louisiana’s Republican National Committee members.

Following the state convention, the Louisiana delegation met and elected officers and committee members. LAGOP Chairman Roger Villere, Jr. was elected Chairman of the Delegation. Public Service Commissioner and Donald Trump State Chairman, Eric Skrmetta was chosen as Vice-Chairman. Jason Doré will serve as Treasurer and Collin Buisson will serve as the Delegation Secretary.

A subsequent story by Reid J. Epstein in the Wall Street Journal, provoked considerable consternation from Trump – and crowing in the Cruz camp:

Donald Trump beat Sen. Ted Cruz earlier this month in Louisiana’s Republican presidential primary by 3.6 percentage points, but the Texan may wind up with as many as 10 more delegates from the state than the businessman.

Mr. Cruz’s supporters also seized five of Louisiana’s six slots on the three powerful committees that will write the rules and platform at the Republican National Convention and mediate disputes over delegates’ eligibility this summer in Cleveland.

The little-noticed inside maneuvering that led to this outcome in Louisiana is another dramatic illustration of the inside game that could have an outsize influence on the bitter race for the GOP nomination.

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The Trump campaign’s first problem is in the overall delegate count from Louisiana. Messrs. Trump and Cruz each won 18 delegates apiece based on the Louisiana results in the primary on March 5. But the five delegates awarded to Florida Sen. Marco Rubio are now free agents because he ended his campaign, and Louisiana Republicans expect them to swing behind Mr. Cruz.

Meanwhile, the state’s five unbound delegates—who are free to back the candidates of their choice—also are more likely to back Mr. Cruz than Mr. Trump, according to GOP officials in the state.

Trump cried foul.

The system is not a good system, when you take Louisiana. I went to Louisiana. I campaigned there. I won the state. Now the numbers came out and I had less delegates than Cruz. Now that’s not the American way You know I won Louisiana. Big victory, but because of arcane rules and a lot of nonsense frankly, I end up getting a few less delegates than Cruz. That’s not the way the system is supposed to work.

Time has not healed Trump’s Louisiana wound.

Here he was on Face the Nation Sunday.

DICKERSON: Let me talk about another meeting you had in Washington with the Republican National Committee.

TRUMP: Yes.

DICKERSON: Did they treat you fairly? Are they treating you fairly?

TRUMP: Well, I would rather let you know in about six months from now. I don’t know. I mean…

DICKERSON: Well, you said they haven’t been treating you. Where are you on that question?

TRUMP: I think Reince is a very nice person. I get along with him, but I’m going to have to tell you, I think what is unfair is, I won the state of Louisiana.

I went, I made speeches, I had that last evening in a hangar where you had thousands of people. It was incredible, and a big airplane hangar, a Boeing hangar. And I said, this is unbelievable. And I wasn’t expected to win Louisiana, and I won Louisiana, right? I won lot of states.

I won, I think, 22 states. And I won Louisiana, and I got less delegates than the guy who lost.

DICKERSON: But isn’t that proof that the people who took the delegates are beating you at the game?

TRUMP: No. No. No. That’s not…

(CROSSTALK)

DICKERSON: Wouldn’t Donald Trump do that?

TRUMP: No. That’s not America.

DICKERSON: You wouldn’t play every angle to win?

TRUMP: When I win the state, I’m not supposed to get less delegates than somebody that got beat.

DICKERSON: But as a businessman, you play every angle you can within the law.

TRUMP: No, but that’s not America. Sure. Sure.

DICKERSON: And he’s playing every — Cruz is playing every angle within the law.

TRUMP: But it’s not America.

You go in, and you win, and you get less delegates. OK? Now, I just won Missouri. That just came out. And there was a whole thing going on there, too.

But let me just tell you something. When I go in and win the state of Louisiana and I get less delegates, that’s not the way the system is supposed to work.

DICKERSON: Are you saying it’s unfair or it’s illegal?

TRUMP: Well, I think it could be illegal, if you want to know the truth. And that’s my question.

(CROSSTALK)

DICKERSON: Because the pros say, he just beat you. They just say Cruz beat you at that.

TRUMP: No, no. Give me a break.

Let me just — I go in. He campaigned, I campaigned. I got the votes, and then I get less delegates?

DICKERSON: There was reporting, at this meeting at the RNC, that you seemed a little upset with your own team’s delegate operation, that they’re not in this fight as much as they should be. Is that right?

TRUMP: That’s false reporting, other than I mentioned that Louisiana, which really bothers me, because the people of Louisiana were amazing to me.

I was not expected to win Louisiana. And I did look at my people. I said, well, wait a minute, folks. You know, we should have maybe done better, except I also said, I won the state, and I think there’s a real legal consequence to winning a state and not getting as many delegates. That’s nonsense. And you know what? Everyone agrees with me. Everyone agrees with me.

DICKERSON: Well, a lot of people in the game who know this game, who play it…

TRUMP: I don’t care about the game. I care about the people. And when you go in and win a state, and then you don’t get the delegates?

DICKERSON: One of the things you’re saying…

TRUMP: Now, I got some. I go some. I got many, but I didn’t get the number that I should be entitled to.

DICKERSON: Your argument about the presidency is, you will come into a new system, learn about it fast, and win like nobody has ever won before. With this delegate fight, it’s a new system, you got to get up to speed on it. Do you feel like you’re going to win like never before, because Ted Cruz just took these delegates in Louisiana?

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: John, you’re talking about one state. Excuse me. Excuse me.

DICKERSON: Yes. It’s one state, but…

TRUMP: Ted Cruz was going to win Alabama and Arkansas and Mississippi, and he was going to win Kentucky, and he was going to win all of these states. I won them all. So, let’s not get carried away what we don’t know what we’re doing. I have won 22 states. He’s won six or five or seven.

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: I have won 22 states. So, let’s not get carried away with we don’t know what we’re doing.

The one state that I told you about was Louisiana. But I have won a tremendous — now, on top that, I have almost 300 more delegates than him. So, I think I know something about what I’m doing. And more importantly in a true sense, from a democracy sense, I have millions of votes more than anybody else. Millions. Millions.

That should mean something, too. I know in the system, it doesn’t mean anything. But I have millions more votes than Ted Cruz.

OK, I understand Trump’s anguish. He holds a rally in a big airplane hangar, a Boeing hangar,  wins the primary – albeit by a much smaller margin than anticipated – and doesn’t get more delegates than Cruz.

But, on closer inspection, Louisiana is not a worst-case scenario for Trump. Not hardly.

The primary result was sufficiently close that the proportional formula – Doré said it was the same formula used by Iowa in apportioning delegates from its caucuses – resulted in an even split of the delegates, with no bonus for coming in first. (See a more detailed mathematical explanation here from The Hayride.)

As for the five Rubio delegates, well, as I wrote in Sunday’s paper, four of the five say they are remaining well and truly uncommitted until the convention. (I don’t know the fifth Rubio delegate’s intention.)

Leslie Tassin, one of five Rubio delegates from Louisiana, will be among those unbound and uncommitted. Under the Louisiana party’s rules, Rubio’s suspension of his campaign releases his five delegates.

Reports to the contrary, Tassin said he and three of the other Rubio delegate haven’t been wooed to the Cruz camp and will remain uncommitted until the convention.

“I haven’t gotten one call from a Cruz person to ask me to vote for him,” said Tassin, a retired state employee from Baton Rouge.

Nor has he heard from the Trump campaign, except for a public threat from Trump to sue the state party, in part because of his false impression about Tassin’s and his compatriots’ disposition.

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“Before that I was leaning more toward Trump,” said Tassin, who said he would like to know before the convention each candidates’ choice for vice president.

And of the five remaining uncommitted delegates, three are automatic delegates – the party chair and the state committeeman and committeewoman –  and only one has announced a preference, and that is Ross Little, the Republican committeeman, who co-chaired Cruz’s campaign in Louisiana.

But in Louisiana, at least Trump knows that Trump delegates will actually show up at the convention hoping to nominate him and not arrive with the intention of subverting his candidacy.

From Sunday’s story:

When the presidential roll is called at the Republican National Convention in July, the chairman of the Texas delegation — undoubtedly Gov. Greg Abbott — will announce that Texas casts 104 votes for Cruz, 48 for Trump and three for U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio. But the actual, flesh-and-blood delegates will almost certainly all be Cruz loyalists who will all be able to vote with Cruz on critical procedural votes that might determine the outcome before the presidential roll is ever called, and, should the convention in Cleveland go to a third ballot or beyond, be free, all 155 of them, to cast their lot with Cruz.

Texas isn’t the only state where Trump is likely be represented by dual allegiance delegates, who are required to vote for Trump but are otherwise determined to undermine his candidacy.

Even in such states as South Carolina and Florida, where Trump won every delegate, and Georgia and Virginia, where Trump finished first and Cruz third, the delegations to the national convention are likely to be replete with a combination of Cruz loyalists and party regulars who won their tickets to Cleveland through delegate selection processes that are entirely separate and distinct from the party’s preference primaries and caucuses that determined to which candidate those delegates are pledged to vote, depending on each state party’s rules, through the first, second or third ballots.

It got worse for Trump over the weekend.

From and , in the Tennessean

Donald Trump’s campaign for president is accusing the Tennessee Republican Party of “doing the bidding” of the national GOP establishment in a calculated attempt to “steal” pro-Trump delegates and stop them from being a part of  Tennessee’s GOP delegation.

It’s part of a national effort by GOP party leaders, the Trump campaign has alleged, to stop the Republican frontrunner from becoming the nominee.

A Tennessee party official disputes that allegation, instead accusing Trump’s camp of distorting the truth while noting Trump will still receive all delegates won from the state.

Darren Morris, state director of Trump’s campaign in Tennessee, told The Tennessean the Trump campaign and Tennessee Republican Party chairman Ryan Hayes had agreed Wednesday on the names of seven of the 14 at-large delegates that, under party rules, are to be appointed by the state party. Delegates will ultimately decide the party’s nominee at the Republican National Convention this summer.

But Morris said that an updated delegate list he reviewed late this week is now wiped clean of several of those names and instead features individuals who he described as “anti-Trump.”

“They’re picking anti-Trump people,” Morris said. “They’re picking establishment picks who don’t support Donald Trump, and it’s just the same effort that they’re conducting all over the country to steal a vote here, steal a delegate there, to affect the outcome of the convention in July and take the nomination away from Donald Trump.

And from Shane Goldmacher at Politico on the North Dakota convention over the weekend.

FARGO, N.D. — Ted Cruz’s preferred candidates won the vast majority of convention delegates available in North Dakota over the weekend, taking 18 of 25 slots in the state in another show of organizational strength over Donald Trump.

It’s still not clear how loyal all of Cruz’s slate will be if the Republican nomination heads to a contested convention in Cleveland, as several included on it told POLITICO they were only leaning toward Cruz, or simply opposed to Trump.

But the result was bad news for Trump, who may need unbound delegates like those in North Dakota to lift him above the 1,237 delegate threshold to secure the GOP nomination this summer on the initial ballot. Only one of the 25 delegates selected Sunday has publicly signaled he might back Trump.

“This is a catastrophic outcome for the Trump campaign in North Dakota,” said Jason Miller, a senior adviser to Cruz. “Just when you thought the Donald’s horrible, very bad, no good week couldn’t get any worse, it just did.”

The North Dakota delegation has been heavily sought after because they are free agents from the first ballot in Cleveland, able to support Cruz, Trump or John Kasich. State rules do not, however, require to name the candidate they support before being elected — leaving their votes in question up until the convention in July.

In other words, Trump should stop fretting about Louisiana and start fretting about almost everywhere else, where Cruz is Ron Pauling him. And yet, even as Cruz is playing the Ron Paul game against Trump, he is playing the Romney card against Kasich, calling for maintaining the higher 40(b)  threshold of majorities in eight states.

The unifying principle here is what works.

Meanwhile, Trump was all in over the weekend for squeezing Kasich out – as soon as possible.

From CNN:

Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump called for rival John Kasich to pull out of the race because he mathematically cannot capture enough delegates to win the nomination before the national convention.

“Kasich shouldn’t be allowed to run. Honestly, Kasich should not be allowed to run,” Trump told reporters Sunday while visiting a diner in Milwaukee, adding, “He hurts Trump much more than he hurts (Ted) Cruz.”
And from the Trump campaign’s Barry Bennett in Sunday’s story:

Bennett said the stealth delegates are of less concern, “now that Cruz came out for no change in 40(b)” a reference to a rule from the last convention designed to thwart former U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, by requiring that, in order to have his or her name put in nomination, a candidate has to have the support of a majority — and not just a plurality — of the delegates from eight states. Previously, the requirement was a plurality of delegates from five states.

“They wrote this rule to keep outsiders out,” Bennett said, and now that same rule can be used by Trump and Cruz to keep the insiders out.

Each convention has a new rules committee that writes rules for that convention, and Bennett said, “We’re for keeping 40(b) as it is. Then it’s impossible for Kasich, (Mitt) Romney, (Paul) Ryan — take your pick of your favorite establishment guy — it’s impossible for them to even be a candidate. The only way is to suspend the rules, which would require a two-thirds vote, and with Trump and Cruz controlling 90 percent of the delegates, it’s not going to happen.”

But Bennett said it’s a risky strategy for Cruz because, as of now, he only has the majority of delegates in five states — Kansas, Maine, Idaho, Utah and Texas — leaving him three short.

“He can do it, but it’s a two-bank shot,” Bennett said.

But, maybe he can add North Dakota to that column, leaving him two short.

And, the way things are going, it is possible that Cruz may be able to muster a majority of delegates  even from a state like South Carolina. where he didn’t win a single delegate, to put his name in nomination. Before it’s over, Trump could be scrambling to make sure he has enough through-and-through Trump delegates to get his eight states.

And this is what could be so diabolically dispiriting for Trump about these Potemkin delegates, with potentially volatile results.

From Sunday’s story:

Former Midland Mayor Ernie Angelo, an avid Cruz supporter who is still deciding whether to seek a delegate slot in Cleveland or go fishing in Colorado, said he fears that Trump is fomenting a potentially far uglier scene in Cleveland if he is denied the nomination in July.

But he understands the concern about the Trojan horse delegates.

“I, along with three or four other people, in 1976 wrote the rules for our delegate selection process, very clearly tailored to make it that the appropriate candidate that owned that delegate would have 100 percent control,” Angelo said.

He fought for years to keep that rule, but ultimately lost.

“They have, quote unquote, democratized the process to where a candidate who wins the primary has no control over who goes on his behalf,” Angelo said. “I fought that for years because I didn’t think that was right. Now, for the first time, it is going to matter. It’s a bad rule. But the rule’s the rule.

“To see my candidate take advantage of it is kind of ironic,” he said.

But think about how disorienting and disconcerting it is going to be to Trump and those voted for him If Trump arrives at in Cleveland with, say, 1,137 instead of the requisite 1,237 delegates, but it turns out that 200 or 300 or 400 or 500 of those delegates are rooting against him and actively working to undermine him – and that the delegation from South Carolina – home to Trump’s signal triumph – joins in nominating Cruz.

This could quickly turn into the convention from Holy Harry Herford Hell.

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And this, at the very moment that, what Trump, coming off his worst-ever week, really needs is a big hug.

From Maureen Dowd in Sunday’s New York Times:

WASHINGTON — YOU could hear how hard it was for Donald Trump to say the words.

“Yeah, it was a mistake,” he said, sounding a bit chastened. “If I had to do it again, I wouldn’t have sent it.”

I was telling him he lost my sister’s vote when he retweeted a seriously unflattering photo of the pretty Heidi Cruz next to a glam shot of his wife, Melania.

He repeated his contention that he didn’t view the Heidi shot “necessarily as negative.” But I stopped him, saying it was clearly meant to be nasty.

Trump also got into his schoolyard excuse of “he did it first” and “that wasn’t nice,” insisting that Ted Cruz wrote the words on the digital ad put up by an anti-Trump group aimed at Utah Mormons; it showed Melania in a 2000 British GQ shot posing provocatively and suggested that it was not First Ladylike. Cruz denies any involvement.

Truth be told, Trump said he “didn’t love the photo” of Melania. “I think she’s taken better pictures,” he said, also protesting: “It wasn’t a nude photo, either. It wasn’t nude!”

It’s ridiculous how many mistakes Trump has made in rapid order to alienate women when he was already on thin ice with them — and this in a year when the Republicans will likely have to run against a woman.

He did a huge favor for Hillary, who had been reeling from losing young women to a 74-year-old guy and from a dearth of feminist excitement. And for Cruz, who started promoting himself as Gloria Steinem, despite his more regressive positions on abortion and other women’s issues.

Wouldn’t it have been better, I asked, if Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski had simply called the reporter Michelle Fields and apologized for yanking her arm?

“You’re right, but from what I understand it wouldn’t have mattered,” Trump said.

In an MSNBC interview with Chris Matthews, the formerly pro-choice Trump somehow managed to end up to the right of the National Right to Life Committee when he said that for women, but not men, “there has to be some form of punishment” if a President Trump makes abortion illegal.

Trump quickly recanted and even told CBS’s John Dickerson that “the laws are set. And I think we have to leave it that way.”

But then came the most honest and revealing quote of all

Has he missed the moment to moderate, to unite, to be less belligerent, to brush up on his knowledge about important issues?

“I guess because of the fact that I immediately went to No. 1 and I said, why don’t I just keep the same thing going?” he mused. “I’ve come this far in life. I’ve had great success. I’ve done it my way.”

Hold that thought, and add to that this Open Letter to Trump Voters from His Top Strategist-Turned-Defector issued last week from Stephanie Cegielski.

Even Trump’s most trusted advisors didn’t expect him to fare this well.

Almost a year ago, recruited for my public relations and public policy expertise, I sat in Trump Tower being told that the goal was to get The Donald to poll in double digits and come in second in delegate count. That was it.

The Trump camp would have been satisfied to see him polling at 12% and taking second place to a candidate who might hold 50%. His candidacy was a protest candidacy.

It pains me to say, but he is the presidential equivalent of Sanjaya on American Idol. President Trump would be President Sanjaya in terms of legitimacy and authority.

And I am now taking full responsibility for helping create this monster — and reaching out directly to those voters who, like me, wanted Trump to be the real deal.

My support for Trump began probably like yours did. Similar to so many other Americans, I was tired of the rhetoric in Washington. Negativity and stubbornness were at an all-time high, and the presidential prospects didn’t look promising.

In 2015, I fell in love with the idea of the protest candidate who was not bought by corporations. A man who sat in a Manhattan high-rise he had built, making waves as a straight talker with a business background, full of successes and failures, who wanted America to return to greatness.

I was sold.

Last summer, I signed on as the Communications Director of the Make America Great Again Super PAC.

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It wasn’t long before every day I awoke to a buzzing phone and a shaking head because Trump had said something politically incorrect the night before. I have been around politics long enough to know that the other side will pounce on any and every opportunity to smear a candidate.

But something surprising and absolutely unexpected happened. Every other candidate misestimated the anger and outrage of the “silent majority” of Americans who are not a part of the liberal elite. So with each statement came a jump in the polls. Just when I thought we were finished, The Donald gained more popularity.

I don’t think even Trump thought he would get this far. And I don’t even know that he wanted to, which is perhaps the scariest prospect of all.

He certainly was never prepared or equipped to go all the way to the White House, but his ego has now taken over the driver’s seat, and nothing else matters. The Donald does not fail. The Donald does not have any weakness. The Donald is his own biggest enemy.

OK. This all makes sense to me now.

 

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When Trump came down that escalator last June 16 and announced his candidacy with all his outrageous talk about Mexican rapists, he was not looking to win, but merely to stake out some politically incorrect out-of-bounds territory that would excite a fraction of the Republican base, and establish him as a provocative candidate with an intense but limited appeal.

And, if you’re only running as a protest candidate, why should you have to know what the nuclear triad is, or assemble a foreign policy team, or really develop a full-fledged campaign operation? And, when every outrageous impulse yields fantastic results, how is Trump supposed to know when to stop obeying his every  instinct?

It is not his fault that he caught fire, that he soared in the polls, that, as he told Maureen Dowd, he immediately went to No. 1, and that as esteemed a political intellect as Ted Cruz extolled his virtues as a candidate.

NBC’s a month after Trump’s announcement:

Presidential candidate Ted Cruz said Wednesday that he’s “a big fan of Donald Trump” ahead of a meeting with the real-estate tycoon and fellow 2016 contender.

“I’ve sat down and visited with Donald multiple times before he was a candidate,” Cruz told NBC News. “I’m happy to sit down and visit with him now after he’s a candidate for president. Indeed, I’ve gotten together with quite a few of the 2106 presidential candidates who are friends of mine, I intend to continue to do so.”

Cruz will meet with Trump later Wednesday in New York City.

Trump has been heavily criticized for his statements painting Mexican immigrants as “rapists” and “criminals.” But the Texas senator said that he is “grateful” that Trump has highlighted the issue of illegal immigration.

“I think Donald Trump is bringing a bold, brash voice to this Presidential race,” Cruz said. “One of the reasons you’re seeing so many 2016 candidates go out of their way to smack Donald Trump is they don’t like a politician that speaks directly about the challenges of illegal immigration.”

And Cruz said he’s been vocal “for a lot of years” on the same policy positions that Trump has pushed regarding undocumented immigrants.

“I for one, am grateful that Donald Trump is highlighting these issues. They are critical issues. They’re issues I’ve been fighting for a lot of years to enforce the law, to stop illegal immigration, to stop the Obama Administration’s practice of releasing criminal illegal aliens into the population.” 

Much has been made of the fact that Trump’s recent statements or misstatements on abortion and punishing women is a bad parody of a Republican pro-life position. But wasn’t his immigration policy – building a big, beautiful wall, making Mexico pay for it, banning Muslim immigration – a similarly crude parody of Republican immigration policy?

From the Hill:

Ted Cruz lashed out at Donald Trump on Wednesday for saying that women who get abortions illegally should be punished.

“Once again Donald Trump has demonstrated that he hasn’t seriously thought through the issues, and he’ll say anything just to get attention,” Cruz said in a statement.

“On the important issue of the sanctity of life, what’s far too often neglected is that being pro-life is not simply about the unborn child; it’s also about the mother — and creating a culture that respects her and embraces life.

Of course we shouldn’t be talking about punishing women; we should affirm their dignity and the incredible gift they have to bring life into the world,” he added.

But when, in February, Cruz announced his Pro-Lifers for Cruz coalition, among the co-chairs was Troy Newman, president of Operation Rescue.

From Right-Wing Watch:

Stunningly, in its short biography of Newman, the Cruz campaign mentions that he is the author of a book called “Their Blood Cries Out”:

Troy Newman is the president of Operation Rescue, one of the leading pro-life Christian activist organizations in the nation and a founding board member for the Center for Medial Progress. He has been involved in the pro-life community for over 20 years, starting in 1991 as the Operation Rescue West president. He is also a published author, having written Their Blood Cries Out and his most recent book Abortion Free.

We have reviewed both “Abortion Free” and “Their Blood Cries Out” here at Right Wing Watch. In “Their Blood Cries Out,” written in 2000 and revised in 2003, Newman lays out the case for churches to oppose abortion rights, saying that by failing to follow what he says is the biblical response to abortion — executing abortion providers and treating women who have abortions as “murderers” — the country is mired in “bloodguilt” and is awaiting the judgment of God. In the meantime, Newman writes, the U.S. has experienced “warnings” from God about legal abortion, including the HIV/AIDS epidemic and the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

More recently, Newman has alleged that the drought in California is a result of that state’s liberal abortion laws:

Newman has recently gained prominence in the anti-choice movement thanks to his role in starting the Center for Medical Progress, the group behind a series of videos attacking Planned Parenthood. (The group’s leader, David Daleiden, is currently facing a felony indictment related to his attempt to infiltrate the health care provider.) Newman has said that the goal of the project was to “destroy” Planned Parenthood, part of his long campaign of harassment and intimidation against the group and other abortion providers.

Although he renounces extrajudicial violence against abortion providers, Newman has argued that the murderer of an abortion provider in Florida should have been able to argue that the act was justifiable homicide meant to “save the lives of the pre-born babies that were scheduled to be killed by abortion that day.” When another abortion provider died of leukemia, Newman put out a press release rejoicing in his death. Newman’s second-in-command at Operation Rescue is Cheryl Sullenger, who spent time in federal prison in the 1980s for conspiring to bomb an abortion clinic.

 

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