WASHINGTON — A devastating result at a weekend meeting shows why Donald Trump could lose the Republican presidential nomination by being out-organized by his rivals.
At an assembly in Colorado he lost every single one of the 34 delegates selected to represent the state at the summer nominating convention — he was crushed in a similar vote a few days earlier in North Dakota.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a rally at JetSmart Aviation Services on Sunday, April 10, 2016, in Rochester, N.Y. (Photo: Mike Groll/AP)
Trump fumed about it. He's won far more primaries, has more votes than anyone, and he argues these things should decide the nomination.
"The people of Colorado had their vote taken away from them by the phony politicians," Trump tweeted Sunday.
"Biggest story in politics. This will not be allowed!"
The people of Colorado had their vote taken away from them by the phony politicians. Biggest story in politics. This will not be allowed!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 11, 2016
The reason Trump lost those delegates was that he was out-voted at district- and then state-level meetings. Neither of those two states had primaries this year. What they had were conventions.
And that's precisely the kind of contest that will decide the Republican nominee. The party is preparing for multiple rounds of on-the-floor balloting, should the front-runner fail to win a majority on the first try.
Trump's blustery tweets notwithstanding, he's acknowledged his predicament. He's quietly rejigged his campaign team, to bring in people with stronger knowledge of convention procedures.
Cruz getting ready for floor fight
His rag-tag, outsider team was caught off-guard by the historically complex scenario now unfolding.
Meanwhile, his rival Ted Cruz has spent months organizing for the first floor fight in decades. His allies have flooded local meetings to ensure friendly faces get sent to the convention.
One participant in the Colorado gathering recalled the process starting in her local precinct meeting weeks ago, where she counted about 36 Cruz supporters and six for Trump.
It's not just the quantity, she said — but the quality of Cruz's team.
"The organization for months has been on the Cruz side," said Laura Carno, a conservative author and Colorado campaign organizer who supported the Texas senator.
"These are the people I've worked with in previous campaigns who are good... Cruz snapped up all of the really good people — ...the good, experienced, well-known, connected people. I don't mean connected as in powerful. I mean connected as in, this isn't their first delegate rodeo."
Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks at the Colorado Republican State Convention, in Colorado Springs, Colo., Saturday, April 9, 2016. (Photo: Brennan Linsley/AP)
She got a message from Cruz reminding her to attend her initial precinct meeting. She got elected to the state gathering. And there last weekend, she estimated that 90 per cent of attendees at the Colorado Springs arena supported Cruz.
The senator's team handed out orange T-shirts — coincidentally, the colour of the beloved Denver Broncos. Carno got a text message explaining which of the 400-plus names on the ballot were Cruz supporters.
Trump's campaign, meanwhile, complained that some entries were missing on the ballot for Trump delegates. The names were missing, according to news reports, because the delegates had failed to pay the necessary fee.
The state campaign manager for Trump hadn't caught it — that's because he'd just been hired mid-week, after the previous state manager was fired.
Infighting on Trump campaign
There's been infighting on the Trump campaign amid the staff shakeup, according to reports.
The most senior addition is a Washington lobbyist who first worked on a presidential campaign in 1976, when Ronald Reagan challenged sitting president Gerald Ford in the last contested Republican convention.
Paul Manafort concedes his new boss has had to switch gears.
"Yes, there's a transition. It's a natural transition," Manafort told NBC's "Meet The Press."
"Trump was doing very well on a model that made sense. But now as the campaign's gotten to the end stages, a more traditional campaign has to take place. Trump recognizes that and is now reaching out — not just with me but with others."
The biggest risk
The biggest risk for Trump won't unfold on the convention floor in Cleveland; it's being decided now, in votes across the country. Primary voters merely decide how many delegates each candidate gets, in most states.
They don't decide who these delegates are.
The names get picked at county-and-state meetings. If Trump gets out-organized there, he'll enter the convention with the worst kind of delegate: the kind plotting to betray him. If he keeps putting up performances like he did in Colorado, he'll have to deal with the dreaded Trojan horse delegate.
These are people who roll in as delegates for one candidate. But they'll turn on him at the earliest available opportunity, on the second or third ballot depending on their state rules. Trump currently leads by about 230 delegates.
He's aware some are sharpening that metaphorical knife.
"I win a state in votes and then get non-representative delegates because they are offered all sorts of goodies by Cruz campaign," he tweeted.
I win a state in votes and then get non-representative delegates because they are offered all sorts of goodies by Cruz campaign. Bad system!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 10, 2016
There's one way Trump can avoid all this.
He can dominate New York on April 19; do the same in Pennsylvania and Maryland on April 19; on June 7 outperform expectations in California and hold off Cruz in Montana; and win on the first ballot with a clear majority of 1,237 delegates.
Manafort insisted on "Meet The Press" that's what will happen. A moment later, the show host ran through a couple of different scenarios: the uber-optimistic one, and the likelier one.
The latter showed Trump about 70 delegates short, facing a complicated floor fight.