Trump’s Winning Colorado Gambit
Colorado held its delegate convention last weekend. When the sweet smelling smoke cleared from Colorado Springs, Ted Cruz walked away with all 34 delegates. A real Rocky Mountain High for Ted’s campaign. Not so much for Colorado Republicans who felt robbed of their voices and votes by a convoluted delegate allocation process put in place last August by the Colorado GOP.
Accusations are flying across the airwaves. Donald Trump saying “Great anger – totally unfair.” Ted Cruz answering by calling out the Drudge Report for its convention coverage, “The attack site for the Donald Trump campaign.” What’s really going on here?
Is this the GOP establishment stealing delegates on behalf of Ted Cruz? Or a true grassroots effort by the Colorado GOP in support of their candidate? Did Cruz bend the rules, doing something illegal or unethical or did he simply understand the rules and use them to his advantage? Is this another example of Trump and his campaign flying on pomp and personality, being either uninformed or too lazy to learn about the nuanced Colorado delegate selection process? Or is all of this a calculated gambit by the Trump campaign to parlay the Colorado delegate loss into a first ballot nomination in Cleveland?
I believe this was a calculated move on the part of the Trump campaign, to skip Colorado and now make hay over the delegate selection process. Knowing and believing are two different things. Since I am not on Mr. Trump’s morning call list after he phones in to Fox and Friends and Morning Joe, I have no inside knowledge, only some healthy speculation.
The first scenario is that Trump was blindsided by the Colorado caucuses. Colorado has always been a caucus state but last August changed the rules requiring the state’s delegates support the candidate that wins the caucus vote. The result was Colorado forfeiting a role in the early nominating process. And leaving Republican voters without a voice in who the state ultimately supports at the national convention. The Denver Post Editorial Board felt this move to be a Colorado GOP blunder.
This rule change was made last summer, at a time when Donald Trump was gaining popularity by telling America if he was elected, “We’ll have so much winning, you’ll get bored with winning.” Or how his trade deals would be so much better than anything we have now. Or how he would surround himself with the best people. So how could he misinterpret or overlook the Colorado delegate rules? Is this his idea of “winning”?
Trump also hired Paul Manafort a few weeks ago. “Manafort is a ‘master’ of delegate counting and convention strategy, according to those who have worked with and against him.” Wouldn’t he understand the Colorado delegate allocation process better than anyone?
Yet Donald stayed away from Colorado, cancelling his appearance at the Colorado GOP convention. Leaving the door wide open for Ted Cruz, with his encyclopedic knowledge of campaign processes and minutiae, to waltz in and capture all the delegates. Not steal, capture. Cruz used the rules to his advantage much as Trump has used bankruptcy laws to reorganize several of his struggling businesses.
On the surface this makes no sense. Trump is a smart guy. His new campaign guy is a delegate guru. How could he make such a blunder? Especially after losing handily in Wisconsin, his fourth loss in a row. His Wisconsin loss shifted the primary momentum to Cruz, according to beltway pundits.
The second scenario is that Trump’s Colorado loss is no mistake but instead a carefully planned gambit to regain the momentum and use the loss to his advantage.
After Wisconsin, it seemed Trump lost his mojo. Reaching 1237 delegates before the convention is less and less likely. Not that Cruz will reach the magic number either. But Cruz has another plan in mind, capturing enough delegates to win a second or third round victory. Never mind that the GOP establishment has other plans in mind if neither Cruz nor Trump win on the first ballot.
So why wouldn’t Trump fight for every delegate, especially since his odds of winning the nomination are currently only 56 percent? Simple. He is trading Colorado’s 34 delegates for 95 in New York and many more in Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey.
Even if Trump attended the Colorado GOP convention, he might have picked up a few delegates, but given some of the hardball efforts to stifle Trump supporters, it’s unlikely Trump would have won more than a handful. What he did win was the chance to deliver a populist message, one that has served him well thus far, that Colorado voters "had their vote taken away from them by the phony politicians." He is on the news shows and on Twitter promoting his outsider status, fighting against the establishment and elites who “rigged” the delegate selection process.
This is a message many voters, especially those inclined to support Trump, agree with. Play by the rules, pay your taxes, support your political party and get bupkis in return.
What a brilliant way to regain his electoral momentum, a week before the big New York primary. Give Ted his Colorado victory while building on the probability of a huge win in New York. Current polls show Trump with anywhere from 51 to 60 percent of the vote in New York. GOP kingpin Karl Rove believes, “Trump will get 90 of 95 delegates in New York.” Not to mention neighboring northeast states where a big NY win could translate into a bonanza in these delegate rich states.
Trump showing up and competing in Colorado would have made his “rigged” meme much less effective. Instead he is back on offense, dancing with the populist lady who brought him to the big party. As the Donald himself said, “Sometimes your best investments are the ones you don’t make.”
Brian C Joondeph, MD, MPS, a Denver based retina surgeon, radio personality, and writer. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.