Politics & Policy

Read the Rules, Mr. Trump

(Brett Carlsen/Getty)

Donald Trump is right: The system is rigged. It’s rigged in favor of front-runners. That’s why Trump, who is leading the Republican nominating contest, has a larger percentage of delegates (46 percent) than of votes (37 percent). Unsurprisingly, Trump never mentions when the rules have helped him. He much prefers to whine and peddle conspiracy theories when they don’t.

Trump’s latest tantrum is over Colorado, where Ted Cruz just swept all 34 of the state’s available delegates. Trump is calling the results “totally unfair” and on Twitter he asked: “How is it possible that the people of the great State of Colorado never got to vote in the Republican Primary?” If Trump is so concerned about states’ not holding primaries, perhaps he should renounce his victory at Nevada’s caucuses.

Colorado is one of ten states and four territories that opted for caucuses or state conventions over primaries. That does not make it undemocratic. In fact, on March 1, in community centers, gymnasiums, and churches across the state, 60,000 Colorado Republicans attended 2,917 precinct caucuses to elect delegates to the county assemblies and congressional-district conventions that convened during the following weeks. The district conventions send 21 delegates to Cleveland; and at this weekend’s state convention, more than 600 people chosen by the county assemblies competed to be one of Colorado’s 13 statewide delegates. Nothing was “stolen.” This is how Colorado’s delegate-selection process works.

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This information was not concealed from the Trump campaign; the rules have been available online since September. If Trump is upset with the results in the Centennial State, it’s his own fault.

Repeatedly over the last few weeks, Trump has been outmaneuvered by a Cruz campaign that has demonstrated exhaustive knowledge of the delegate-selection process, a vastly superior organization, and unflagging hustle. Cruz operatives were on the ground in Colorado eight months ago, preparing for the March 1 precinct caucuses. By contrast, Trump’s chief of operations in Colorado, hired in March, was in the state for only 48 hours before he was sacked — the casualty of a power struggle between Trump higher-ups — and this weekend’s last-ditch effort to secure at least a handful of delegates was so chaotic that Trump’s team ended up inadvertently directing votes toward Cruz delegates.

#share#But this mayhem should come as no surprise. As Trump himself said in Wisconsin earlier this month, dismissing Cruz’s superior delegate operation in Louisiana: “I don’t care about rules, folks.” That bravado may win applause, but it won’t win a nomination.

Trump is trying to bluster and bully his way to the Republican nomination.

And it shouldn’t. The overall primary process that has evolved includes a variety of different kinds of contests. That respects federalism. It also means that to win the nomination, a candidate has to show demographically and geographically broad support and build an organization that can master the details. Not coincidentally, those things are related to picking a strong general-election nominee and a good president. Trump wouldn’t be either of these, and his failure on the ground in Colorado — and Iowa, and North Dakota, and Louisiana, and Wisconsin, &c. — is yet another indication. Contrary to his endless boasts, he is not a quick learner, he does not run complex organizations well, and he does not hire the best people.

Trump is trying to bluster and bully his way to the Republican nomination. But that strategy — or, more accurately, lack of strategy — will not carry him through November. Cruz is proving himself the only candidate capable of running an effective national campaign, and the only candidate who stands a chance of going toe to toe with Hillary Clinton and the Democratic machine.

The Editors comprise the senior editorial staff of the National Review magazine and website.

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