Donald Trump campaigns in Myrtle Beach, S.C., in February. (Photo: Matt Rourke/AP)
Donald Trump continued this week to lose ground to Sen. Ted Cruz in the race for second-ballot delegates, whose votes will matter in a contested convention. In the latest setback, a caucus in one of the seven congressional districts in South Carolina picked delegates who are likely to support Cruz if the national convention goes to multiple ballots.
The process illustrates the complex system by which delegates are actually chosen in many states, which Trump, a political novice without a strong national organization, has been denouncing as rigged against him.
The three Republican delegates from the state’s fourth district are, like all 50 South Carolina delegates, bound by state party rules to vote for Trump on the first ballot, based on his win in the state’s primary in February.
However, if the national convention isn’t settled on the first ballot, it looks likely that many of the 50 delegates from the Palmetto State would desert Trump, who came in first in the primary, but with only 33 percent of the vote. The national convention will go to multiple ballots if Trump does not win at least 1,237 delegates out of the 2,472 available from 50 states, six U.S. territories and the District of Columbia. Currently, Trump has 743 delegates to Cruz’s 545 and 143 for Kasich.
However, South Carolina is not the only place Trump has failed to organize at the state level. He is facing delegate setbacks in Virginia, Arkansas, Colorado, Indiana, South Dakota, North Dakota, Tennessee, Louisiana, Georgia, Iowa, North Carolina, Massachusetts, Nebraska, Wyoming, Washington State, Missouri, and California.
In South Carolina, only 12 of the state’s 50 delegates have been chosen so far, counting the state party chairman, Matt Moore, and the state’s two members of the Republican National Committee, Glenn McCall and Cindy Costa, who serve automatically. Over the next few weeks, the remaining four congressional districts will caucus to choose three delegates each. Then on May 7, 870 delegates to the state convention will chose an additional 26 national convention delegates.
Of the 12 picked so far, only one — Jerry Rovner of Georgetown County — is considered likely to keep voting for Trump beyond the first ballot. State insiders believe the other 11 will desert the New Yorker once they are no longer bound. And they say that’s likely to be true for many or most of the delegates yet to be named.
The 870 state delegates were chosen a year ago at county conventions, which were preceded by county precinct meetings. A little over 3,000 people participated in the process of picking the 870 state delegates.
“The majority of the people at the state convention are not Trump people,” said Tony Denny, who is a delegate to the state convention and has been a national delegate to the last three conventions.
Denny, who served as rules chairman of the state party for four years, said that Trump supporters are “trying to get organized” but added: “I don’t get the sense there’s any big Trump movement underway.”
Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz greets supporters in Seneca, S.C., in February. (Photo: Paul Sancya/AP)
On Saturday, Trump lost five of six delegate slots to Cruz in two other congressional districts — the third and the seventh — in the Palmetto State. Four other congressional districts — the first, second, fifth and sixth — have yet to hold their nominating conventions.
Trump won the South Carolina primary vote on Feb. 20, with 33 percent of the vote, to 22 percent for Sen. Marco Rubio, 22 percent for Cruz, 8 percent for former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, 8 percent for Ohio Gov. John Kasich and 7 percent for retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson. Combining Trump’s share with the votes for Carson — who has dropped out and endorsed Trump — only gets to 40 percent; the remaining three-fifths of the Republican electorate either supported a candidate who is still running, or whose base doesn’t seem to overlap much with the New Yorker.
And so far, Rovner is the only delegate openly committed to staying with Trump past the first ballot, though he added that “if it gets down to the point where we have to unify, I will unify. I’m not going to be an idiot.”
Rovner expressed outrage that other delegates would switch their support away from Trump on multiple ballots.
“These people, they’re hypocrites,” he said, noting that many delegates who are for Cruz or Kasich on a second ballot often complain to him that their representatives in Congress don’t listen to their constituents.
Rovner rejected the idea that there was a conspiracy against Trump, or that delegates were being siphoned away by corruption. The United States, he said passionately, is “a republic, not a democracy.” But he added that if Trump doesn’t get all of South Carolina’s 50 delegates to stick with him, then voters who supported Trump will be sent a message that their vote doesn’t matter.
“The system is not rigged,” he said. But Rovner said that Democrats who “crossed over” to vote for Trump in the Republican primary “don’t get represented at all by either party.”
“The only people who can be delegates are those who work within the system. I feel a higher calling to represent those people who don’t participate because they’re too busy or choose not to,” Rovner said.