Paul Manafort is Trump's freshly-hired organizational QB, whose late-game arrival finds him tasked with straightening out the Republican frontrunner's shambolic, bush league delegate operation. He may be new to the team, but Manafort has already hit his Trumpian rhetorical stride, accusing the Cruz campaign of "Gestapo tactics" and "abuse" over his first week on the job. The latter comment came last night on Hannity, where the experienced political hand vowed to "compile evidence" against Team Cruz in order to challenge the seating of some of his delegates. It remains to be seen what if anything they'll turn up, but Manafort's comments suggest that actually winning those challenges may not really be the point:
Even if they don't prevail in their promised appeals to the RNC or the convention's credentials committee, their goal is to 'expose' the Cruz campaign's exploitation of Trump supporters' enthusiastic "amateurness." But what Manafort characterizes as "abuse" is, in many case, simply the good, solid, detailed, granular political work at which the Cruz organization excels. Within the context of a complex presidential campaign, grassroots supporters and activists often need strong guidance from professional campaigns -- guidance that the Trump camp has been largely derelict in providing. Rather than owning up to their internal disarray and litany of unforced errors, Trump and friends are shouting about corruption, whipping their followers into a frenzy while misleading and using some of their most devoted (if under-informed) fans. Speaking of distortionary hype, Drudge has been breathlessly promoting one RNC rules committee official's suggestion that Trump might clinch the nomination with just 1,100 delegates. It turns out he meant effectively clinch. Non story:
Just got off phone w/ RNC Randy Evans: the 1237 number is NOT flexible, only that if Trump is close, can wrangle enough unbound delegates— Caitlin Huey-Burns (@CHueyBurnsRCP) April 13, 2016
So the fundamental question remains unchanged: Can Trump get to 1,237 before the convention? And if not, how likely is he to emerge as the victor if he fails to win on the opening ballot? Not very, the Washington Post concludes, based on a detailed delegate analysis:
Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz is close to ensuring that Donald Trump cannot win the GOP nomination on a second ballot at the party’s July convention in Cleveland, scooping up scores of delegates who have pledged to vote for him instead of the front-runner if given the chance. The push by Cruz means that it is more essential than ever for Trump to clinch the nomination by winning a majority of delegates to avoid a contested and drawn-out convention fight, which Trump seems almost certain to lose...Trump’s path to amassing the 1,237 delegates he needs to win outright has only gotten narrower after losing to Cruz in Wisconsin and other recent contests, and would require him to perform better in the remaining states than he has to this point. In addition, based on the delegate selections made by states and territories, Cruz is poised to pick up at least 130 more votes on a second ballot, according to a Washington Post analysis. That tally surpasses 170 delegates under less conservative assumptions — a number that could make it impossible for Trump to emerge victorious.
While there will be many important twists and turns on the road ahead, the most crucial remaining battleground is California's June 7 (closed -- i.e., no Democrats or independents) primary, in which a huge trove of delegates will be awarded based on complicated allocation rules. Polls show a relatively competitive race statewide, but the whole ballgame is about locking down Congressional Districts -- which requires robust organization. How are things looking for Trump in the Golden State as the clock ticks down to what may become a determinative contest? Yahoo News reports:
As we saw in Colorado — and North Dakota, and Louisiana, and elsewhere — Team Cruz is much, much better than Team Trump at understanding and taking advantage of each state’s distinctive primary or caucus rules to maximize its delegate tally. But in California — the last and largest primary on the calendar — Cruz’s strategic superiority won’t just help the Texan pick up a few extra delegates. It could actually prove to be the difference between Trump clinching the nomination outright or falling short at the 11th hour, which would trigger a contested convention. No wonder Cruz took a break Monday from campaigning in New York to visit Irvine and San Diego on his most extensive Golden State swing to date...the state’s primary is a little quirky — and all those quirks favor the senator from Texas...The Cruz campaign has been organizing in California for a year. They have thousands of volunteers statewide. And an estimated 65 percent of primary participants are expected to vote early by mail — a process that begins in three weeks. “We’re going to talk to all of these people personally,” Schroeder said...Also helping Cruz is the fact that the campaigns have to pick their own delegates — 169 of them, plus 169 alternates. The process of identifying six committed Cruz supporters in every single congressional district — including districts where Republicans haven’t really campaigned in decades — wasn’t easy. It took Schroeder five months. But now he’s finished — and the Trump campaign, which just hired a state political director today, is only getting started.
Several eye-openers. Team Cruz has been setting up its operation (or "rigging the corrupt, abusive game" as the Trump people would whine) for a solid year, over which time Cruz's state captain has painstakingly tracked down and signed up committed Cruz delegates and alternates in all 53 Congressional Districts. He says the process took him nearly half a year to complete. Trump, by contrast, hired his California director yesterday, three weeks out from the start of early voting. I'll leave you with my conversation with Alan Colmes about the war of words over delegates on America's Newsroom earlier: