April 7, 2016
The Trump campaign is getting more crowded. After almost a year as a small, tight-knit organization, helmed by Corey Lewandowski and providing a limited quantity of voices to the candidate, there are now several more cooks in the kitchen.
Donald Trump had to do this. As it became increasingly clear he could wind up in a contested convention, he realized he needed reinforcements. Not only does Lewandowski lack experience in delegate corralling, the project requires extra labor.
None of these additions have much to do with Lewandowski’s legal issues. If anything, that insulates him slightly as Trump hates to give in. Officially demoting, suspending, or otherwise sidelining the object of media and establishment scorn is a non-starter.
But the nature of the campaign operation is changing quickly. It introduces yet another variable into the contest. Team Trump needs to balance the following:
Winning big in New York
He needs to break 50% at home and win the vast majority of delegates. Breaking through that level gives him all of the statewide delegates and makes it likely he wins the majority of congressional districts too.
They don’t need the new team for this part. If the revised operation is running smoothly, Lewandowski and friends can concentrate on this segment, while the others are focused elsewhere.
If Lewandowski isn’t too distracted with the Florida incident, isn’t too threatened by the presence of several old-school insiders, and doesn’t lose the remaining respect of his underlings because his wings were clipped, it could work to his advantage.
Campaign managers often struggle when they need to track too many things at once, particularly if they don’t have the right lieutenants. If he can handle the ad hoc nature of Trump’s campaign expansion and seeing potential rivals quoted on a regular basis, he’s effectively off the hook on the stuff he’s less comfortable with executing.
Sweeping the April 26 primaries
Pennsylvania is crucial. The majority of delegates (54) are officially uncommitted heading into the convention. The remainder go to the primary winner. Several of those 54 have indicated they’ll support who their district votes for or the overall winner.
Many delegations will favor Cruz. This one sets up well for Kasich. If Trump is best off trying to win on a first ballot, having delegates with the governor is just as bad as having them with Cruz.
The rest of the slate (Connecticut, Rhode Island, Delaware, Maryland) is more favorable than all of the contests to follow, with the exception of West Virginia and New Jersey.
If Trump can win the vast majority of delegates and sweep the states, he still has a chance to get to 1237. Beyond that, he can put Cruz back on the defensive and argue he’s the better nationwide candidate.
Unless Kasich makes a mark on the 26th, odds are extremely high he enters the convention with zero wins outside of Ohio. Even if you think Kasich is kidding himself, Trump doesn’t need another variable.
Fighting for delegate slates
In many states, the campaign can at least influence who gets chosen as a delegate. On a first ballot, this doesn’t matter as much. Most are pledged to a specific candidate based on the primary/caucus results. But on a second ballot, many are freed to vote as they choose.
By a fourth or fifth convention ballot, virtually everyone is a free agent. In the old days, state delegations frequently voted as a unit, with powerful bosses keeping them in line. Not anymore. If Trump did exceptionally well in their state or county, it may keep a delegate in line for a bit, but it’s not the same.
This is why Cruz has invested so much energy in forwarding Ted-friendly choices. If a state delegation is full of people who would prefer Cruz and if he was at least competitive during the primary there, it won’t be easy to keep them from defecting on the earliest possible ballot.
Some states have partially or completely finished this process. Others are starting very soon. It’s the area where the campaign is ar the biggest disadvantage and needs to catch up quickest.
This rush effort will help Lewandowski by keeping potential rivals inside the campaign busy, but can harm him if Trump blames him for the lack of preparation.
Working on undeclared delegates
Campaigns can’t influence the delegate slate everywhere. Some are the equivalent of super delegates on the Democratic side. The GOP has many fewer of these. A Democrat can get more than a third of the way to nomination just by monopolizing super delegates.
They represent just over 10% of what a Republican nominee needs. Some are obligated on the first ballot based on the primary/caucus results in their states.
But they could provide a crucial few extra votes to get Trump just over the hump. Many would prefer Cruz. Even more might wish for Paul Ryan or some other dark horse/white night. Still, these are people open to persuasion. If not filled with hope for Trump, then perhaps with fear for angering his supporters.
If Manafort and friends can win a few over, the new advisors are worth every penny.
Preparing for West Coast primaries
Ted Cruz is going to have an edge in the remaining contests in places like Indiana, Nebraska and South Dakota. That’s not enough to get him to 1237, but it will help him block Trump.
For Trump to make it tough on anyone else, he needs to match strong results on April 26 with follow-up wins a few weeks later in Washington, Oregon and California. It would mean Ted hasn’t rallied the party, hasn’t consolidated the anti-Trump forces.
So far, the campaign has approached each state fairly similarly. Often the approach worked, sometimes it didn’t. The Pacific Coast is a very distinct region. We don’t know how Trump will play.
Polls indicate more acceptance than where Trump has lost, less than in many places where he’s won. California polls are the most common. He consistently leads by 10 points or so. A nice start, but if anti-Trump opponents unify around Cruz or Kasich, not enough.
The team needs to decide if they want to make any changes or just pitch Trump the way they normally do. If New York and April 26 go well, Lewandowski will still have some ability to influence. If not, combined with a possible tough go in Indiana, dissention is likely.
Planning the convention strategy
If this were every GOP convention between 1980 and 2012, the campaign would already find itself planning a coronation. The leader at this stage of the race was always the presumptive nominee. In most cases, all major opponents were already out of the race or on the verge of exiting.
Not this time. They don’t know whether Trump will get to 1237 delegates by the time voting ends. They realize he likely won’t. Even if he gets there, they need to worry about procedural changes to attempt to deny him the nomination anyway.
Even the new arrivals, those like Paul Manafort who was part of the 1976 Ford-Reagan scrum, have limited experience. He did this once, 40 years ago. Few operatives from the 1964 or 1968 conventions are still active.
The media environment has changed ever so slightly since then. Back in ’68, the Nixon campaign was able to lock down crucial Southern delegations. They didn’t need to worry about Twitter. Nobody could pull out a camera phone and post an image of conspiring politicos.
Will Trump crony Roger Stone follow through on his threats to organize street protests? On the one hand, both Trump and Stone seem capable of anything. On the other, Manafort is a crafty old pro. If you look at some of their associations, like Manafort working in the Ukraine, they appear willing to do whatever is needed.
We simply have no clue what this team has up their sleeves and if these guys still have their fastballs. Ted Cruz has planned for this convention for two years minimum. If Lewandowski can continue focusing on his previous core responsibilities and the old guys are on it, the Trump squad is a total wild card for Cruz, the RNC, and any other interested parties to deal with.