Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump’s concerns that he may lose the GOP nomination in a contested convention this summer have brought new focus to Louisiana’s 46 delegates.
Trump and his top campaign advisers have said that they will challenge the delegate distribution here, following reports that U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, who took second place in Louisiana’s primary, could get more Louisiana votes at the GOP convention in Cleveland this July because delegates who are not bound to either of the two candidates are more likely to swing in Cruz’s favor.
“There’s a process to deal with this,” Barry Bennett, a senior adviser for the Trump campaign told MSNBC on Monday of the effort to “decertify” some of the Louisiana delegates. “I don’t know how long it will take the attorneys to draft it up, but we have time.”
On Sunday, Trump sent word from his Twitter feed that a “lawsuit (is) coming” over Louisiana’s delegate selection process.
“Just to show you how unfair Republican primary politics can be, I won the State of Louisiana and get less delegates than Cruz,” he tweeted.
Trump’s Louisiana state director Ryan Lambert referred questions about the potential challenge to national campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks, who didn’t respond to The Advocate’s request for further details.
Bennett, appearing on MSNBC, clarified that the campaign’s challenge would take the form of a “decertification process” through the Republican National Committee.
“That is the lawsuit that he talked about,” Bennett said, adding that he had been meeting with attorneys most of Monday morning to figure out the next step.
The RNC didn’t respond to an emailed request from The Advocate for comment Monday.
At issue is 10 delegates seemingly up for grabs in Louisiana and whether Cruz-backing Louisiana delegates who have been named to three important convention committees will try to sway the process to favor their candidate.
In Louisiana, like many states, Trump is seen as a candidate backed by a loosely affiliated group of outsiders, while Cruz’s structure is more organized and in tune with the party process.
Trump took 41.4 percent of the vote in Louisiana’s March 5 primary, and Cruz won 37.8 percent.
Under the state party’s tabulation, both Trump and Cruz won 18 delegates in the election, and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio won five Louisiana delegates. Rubio has since dropped out of the race, leaving his delegates up for grabs.
Trump’s supporters argue that Rubio, who got 11 percent of the primary vote, should not have been awarded delegates, which the party awarded based on votes he received in five of the state’s six congressional districts.
Each district had three delegates, so in those five districts, Trump, Cruz and Rubio equally received one delegate, even though Rubio had far fewer votes in those districts than the other two candidates.
Trump’s backers worry the former Rubio delegates will now side with Cruz, who has won support from several past Rubio backers.
“I’m sure they will get all of those,” said Trump Louisiana co-chairman Woody Jenkins, who first raised questions surrounding the delegate distribution in the days following the election. “I don’t think they should have any.”
The state’s five uncommitted delegates also are wild cards that Trump supporters believe will swing to Cruz.
“That’s crazy because Trump carried the state,” Jenkins said.
Jason Doré, executive director of the Louisiana GOP, said the state party had not heard directly from the Trump campaign about its concerns as of Monday afternoon.
Doré said that the state party has no control over how unbound delegates vote, under GOP rules.
“We have no legal authority to tell these delegates how to vote,” he said. “The notion that’s been put out there that Donald Trump isn’t getting his due delegates is just not true.”
He said Trump’s campaign can try to woo the former Rubio delegates or the unbound delegates to its side.
“What they do is outside of our control,” he said.
Trump’s campaign also has raised concern over whether Cruz’s Louisiana supporters will play a more significant role at the convention than those backing Trump.
The Louisiana delegate slate elected two members each to special committees that will handle rules, credentials and the party platform at the national convention. Those positions could become important in a contested convention. Delegates are bound during the first round of voting only but can support whomever they want if there is a second ballot. Those committees will help set the stage for that process if it is needed.
Five of the six committee members from Louisiana are openly backing Cruz’s campaign.
“Those committees can rewrite the rules and do whatever they want to,” Jenkins said. “Unfortunately in politics, so often these decisions are made on a political basis.”
Bennett claimed during his television appearance that Trump backers were not invited to the meeting at which those committee members were elected.
Jenkins said he was there, but he described the format as a “standing meeting” where participants took part in an unorganized pack “in the corner of the room.” He said he also thought the state party should have better publicized the meeting so more Trump supporters could attend.
Doré said GOP rules set the timeline for that election, which took place after the state convention on March 12.