Cruz sweeps Colorado, fair and square

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Donald J. Trump

How is it possible that the people of the great State of Colorado never got to vote in the Republican Primary? Great anger - totally unfair!

7:28 PM - 10 Apr 2016

Michael Bates ‏

@realDonaldTrump Is it unfair to good kicking teams that field goals are only worth three points?

8:19 PM - 10 Apr 2016

Michael Bates ‏

@realDonaldTrump Grassroots conventions like Colorado's were how a majority of delegates were selected when Reagan won.

8:18 PM - 10 Apr 2016
John Hawkins

What does the fact that Trump's official campaign apparatus is an unorganized, embarrassing train wreck tell you about how he'd govern?

11:13 PM - 7 Apr 2016

Ted Cruz swept the field in Colorado this last week, as Republican grassroots delegates at congressional district caucuses and state conventions elected delegates to the National Convention who are officially unbound, but who have all declared their intention to vote for Cruz.

Jim Geraghty has an accurate and detailed explanation of Colorado's process:

Colorado had primaries until 2003, when Gov. Bill Owens and bipartisan majority in the state legislature eliminated them in presidential contests, contending it was a waste of money and that state parties should pay for them, not taxpayers....

On March 1, Colorado Republicans gathered at 2,917 precinct caucuses to select delegates to the County Assemblies and District Conventions. If you're a Coloradan with a view on the Republican primary, this is when you got to vote. At the County Assemblies, those delegates elect delegates to the Congressional District and State Conventions. (Colorado Republicans pick three delegates and three alternates from each of the seven congressional districts, and then another 13 to represent statewide.)

This is the way representative democracy is supposed to work: Voters choose representatives whom they know and trust to exercise good judgment as they face circumstances that could not have been foreseen.

Geraghty explains that in years past, Colorado conducted a non-binding straw poll on precinct caucus night, but when the 2012 Republican National Convention voted that, for the 2016 race, any such poll would have to bind delegates in some way, Colorado Republicans opted out, voting last August that no presidential preference poll would be conducted at this year's caucuses:

Republican National Committee bylaws do not allow states to hold non-binding preference polls. Any straw poll conducted at the caucus in 2016 would bind delegates to the poll's results, even if a candidate ultimately decides to suspend or withdraw their campaign.

"Eliminating the straw poll means the delegates we send to the national convention in Cleveland will be free to choose the candidate they feel can best put America back on a path to prosperity and security," Chairman Steve House said. "No one wants to see their vote cast for an empty chair, especially not on a stage as big as the national convention's."

(It should be noted that Iowa's caucus-night straw poll was also non-binding in years past. This year it had binding effect, because of the rule change approved at the 2012 national convention. Likewise, Minnesota, DC, Maine, and other states that held caucuses. Most opted to continue the presidential preference vote this year and to allow the vote to bind their delegates. Colorado, North Dakota, and Wyoming are among the few exceptions.)

I suspect Colorado's decision was influenced by the large field of credible candidates. Colorado wanted to have maximum flexibility to respond to changes in the field over time. They didn't want to send delegates to Cleveland bound to a candidate who had dropped out but was refusing to release his delegates. They may also have considered that a state with uncommitted delegates would have more leverage at the convention.

The Republican Party (unlike the Democrats) operates on a federal model, with the national rules providing a broad framework within which state parties have great discretion for choosing their delegates.

The Colorado process is the same one that was used in many more states back when Ronald Reagan was running for the White House. In 1976 and in 1980, Reagan supporters were in the majority at the state's six congressional district conventions and the state convention, While the national delegates were not bound to vote for Reagan in any way, they were elected by their state and district delegate peers precisely because they were declared and credible Reagan fans.

In those days, many primaries were non-binding "beauty contests" -- tests of a candidate's popularity that might influence the choice of the delegates.

This weekend Donald Trump also claimed that Cruz was "stealing" his delegates in states where he won primaries but failed to manage the process of electing loyalists as national delegates. That happened this weekend in Missouri, as Cruz supporters were elected to attend the national convention, although many will be obliged to vote for Trump on the first ballot.

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!

8:47 AM - 10 Apr 2016

In most states, grassroots delegates to congressional district and state conventions pick the live human beings who will attend the National Convention, even if a primary binds those delegates to vote for a particular candidate on the first ballot. (Every state has different rules as to how long a delegate will be bound -- through one ballot, multiple ballots, until the candidate releases his delegates.) Even if a delegate is bound to vote for a particular presidential candidate, he is free in every other vote taken at the convention, including the adoption of rules and the selection of a vice presidential nominee.

No one is getting offered goodies by the Cruz campaign. Most of the people who showed up at the precinct caucuses, got elected to county, district, and state conventions are Cruz supporters, so they elected national convention delegates who also support Cruz.

These delegates to the district and state conventions are mostly long-time grassroots Republicans. Some got involved back when Reagan challenged Gerald Ford in '76. Some became involved in the late '80s at the urging of the Christian Coalition, because they were concerned about abortion and other social issues. Some were energized by listening to Rush and by the 1994 takeover of the House and Senate. Some were stirred to action in response to 9/11. Some were inspired by Ron Paul in 2008 and 2012. The Tea Party brought some into the party. They all got involved to fight for conservative values, individual liberty, and a strong America at home and abroad. They stayed involved, volunteering to knock doors, make phone calls, or man the party booth at the state fair.

These district and state delegates are not big donors. They give of their time and their energy to elect good candidates. They have an investment of time and love. They study the issues and the candidates and draw their own conclusions. They aren't swayed by expensive TV ad campaigns. The fact that this sort of person tends to support Ted Cruz over Donald Trump should tell you something.

Most of these grassroots Republicans who serve as district and state delegates are just as disgusted with Republican leadership in Washington as Trump supporters are. They see Trump as someone who has been part of the problem. They see Cruz as someone who has challenged the establishment, who understands the issues, and who has a practical plan to address them.

Trump supporters can get involved, too, but it requires some commitment.

The anger and confusion about Colorado's process is a consequence of lazy, sloppy reporting about the nominating process. In most years, the idea that delegates are mere points on a scoreboard is a reasonable approximation to reality. In most years, at some point a bandwagon effect kicks in, causing candidates to drop out and later states to back the front-runner by ever-widening margins. That simplified model broke down this year, because Republicans aren't jumping on the bandwagon, because a credible and crafty challenger remains in the race, because it's increasingly likely that no one will have the nomination sewn up before the convention,

When we learn that a process is more complicated than we were led to believe, our response ought to be one of wonder and humility. But in Trumpistan, finding out that your uninformed understanding is incorrect leads to childish rage and blame-shifting.

I like the caucus and convention system of choosing unbound delegates. It means that the nominating process is in the hands of Republicans who were paying attention to politics before yesterday. Primaries put the power of nomination into the hands of voters (many of them not even Republicans) who are swayed by massive TV ad buys and whose perception of the candidates is entirely shaped by mass media.


Melanie Sturm, a conservative columnist who was elected as a national convention delegate at the Colorado Third District caucus, gives her perspective.

Back on February 27, 2016, before the precinct caucuses on March 1, Colorado Republican Chairman Steve House explained the reasons state party leaders opted against a binding presidential preference vote the previous August:

At no time prior to this year has a straw poll bound delegates to specific candidates. Many thought that the 2012 straw poll bound delegates to winner Rick Santorum. In fact it did not....

This year the Republican National Committee requires that if a party conducts a straw poll it must bind delegates to the results.

Some ask why the Colorado GOP doesn't just comply and bind all of our delegates proportionally to the result of a straw poll. There are a number of reasons the executive committee decided against the poll this year and I won't go into all of them.

However, I want to share my most pressing concern with doing a binding preference poll. There is no such thing as a binding preference poll because when you actually award delegates via a poll it's not a poll - it's an election. The results could affect the outcome of the presidential race because this year the race is likely to be very close if not unsettled at the national convention.

So what's wrong with an election? Nothing if you are actually going to run it with all the precautions and security measures of an actual election. In our case we have over 2000 precincts in 64 counties where there is no uniformity of ballots, no uniform credentialing training process, no clarity on who actually counts ballots, no clear answer to who controls the tally sheets, and no uniform transparent process with integrity in the event there needs to be a recount. The prospect of awarding delegates through a straw poll with so many systemic loopholes and fraud risks is an unacceptable gamble given the stakes of this presidential election.

Picking our delegates through a controlled and secure four step process that is open to all registered Republicans is far preferable than an opaque straw poll. Something needs to change going forward but election integrity is still more important to me than any other factor....

Ari Armstrong, a newly registered Republican voter, writes about his experience

A completely fair headline of what happened this year would have been, "Colorado Republicans Select Presidential Delegates the Same Way They Did Last Time." But the reality of the situation is so much more boring that the trumped up version of it.

To return to my experiences with the caucuses: The woman elected in my precinct as a delegate to the state convention ran on an explicitly anti-Trump platform. She made this very clear, and she was elected by the rest of us with this understanding. Claims that the rest of us were somehow "disenfranchised" are ridiculous; we all got to vote for delegates, and everyone in the room had a chance to run to become a delegate (most didn't want to). It truly was a grass-roots process. I was elected as the alternate delegate to the state convention, also on an explicitly anti-Trump platform.

The simple fact is that the Republicans at my precinct caucus mostly disfavored Trump, and evidently that is true of most other precincts as well. Trump lost in Colorado because he's just not very popular here....

Should Colorado give up the caucuses in the future? As noted, I'm not totally sure, but I'd like to rebut one reason for saying we should. The claim basically is that, because people have to attend a meeting and then select delegates to conventions, who then select national delegates, the caucuses are not sufficiently democratic.

It is true that, to participate in the caucuses, you have to do more than mark an "x" on a piece of paper. You actually have to (gasp!) go to a meeting. If you want to become a delegate to a congressional or state convention, where national delegates are picked, you actually have to stand up and make your case to your fellow Republican voters (and pay a convention fee). I'm not convinced this is a problem. Arguably, it is a feature, not a bug.

Here's a story from 2012 about the national rule change that required any caucus straw poll to be binding, which in turn prompted Colorado's decision to cancel their straw poll.

MORE: Here's a good explainer from Jay Cost about the delegate election process and Trump's whinging.

Party conventions are open processes. Delegates to these gatherings are not handpicked by party bosses. They are regular Republicans who participate because they have the time and interest to do so. The Cruz team put in the effort to organize regulars loyal to its candidate; the Trump campaign failed to do so. Consider, for instance, the Colorado convention held earlier this month. Delegates to that convention were chosen at precinct caucuses held on Super Tuesday--and any registered Republican was invited to attend. That the Trump campaign failed to get its supporters to those caucuses is not the fault of the Cruz campaign, the Colorado Republican party, or anybody else except the Trump campaign.

The Republican party does not belong to its presidential candidates in the way that Trump presumes. In important respects, it still belongs to the party regulars who attend these conventions. Starting in the 1970s, the party organization began sharing authority with voters to select the presidential nominee, but sovereignty was never handed over to the electorate lock, stock, and barrel. The delegates to the national convention, chosen mostly by these state and district conventions, have always retained a role--not only to act when the voters fail to reach a consensus, but to conduct regular party business.

This is hardly antidemocratic, by the way. Party organizations such as these are a vital, albeit overlooked part of our nation's democratic machinery. The party regulars at the district, state, and national conventions do the quotidian work of holding the party together between elections: They establish its rules, arbitrate disputes, formulate platforms to present to the voters, and so on. It would be impossible to have a party without these sorts of people doing work the average voter doesn't care about.

And these people are hardly the "establishment" in any meaningful sense of the word. Consider the process in Colorado.... But the process was open to any registered Republican, and more than a thousand people served as delegates at the state convention. There were some big political players involved, naturally, but by and large they were just average people. The same goes for the state conventions in places like Wyoming and North Dakota. These meetings in Cheyenne and Bismarck are in no way beholden to, or the equivalent of, the power players working on K Street.

MORE: Former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli responded assertively to accusations that the Cruz campaign was bribing delegates or twisting arms:

"You know what the goodies we're promising people are?" Cuccinelli asked. Then almost whispering like it was a big secret while partially covering his mouth, Ken Cuccinelli answered his own question.

"They can have their Constitution back. And they can have economic growth and a plan to actually execute it. And a candidate who can go head-to-head and defend it. Donald Trump won't even debate this issues because he can't debate them.

Ted Cruz has a plan to expand freedom, to create opportunity across America with a tax plan that wipes out special interest power. He has a plan to return security to this country. And we have a president where that's desperately needed to be improved."

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on April 11, 2016 7:12 AM.

Merle Haggard, RIP: His role in the western swing revival was the previous entry in this blog.

Langenkamp on Helmerich Park deal: "Grand Juries have been impaneled for less." is the next entry in this blog.

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