WASHINGTON (AFP) — Donald Trump is bent on securing the Republican presidential nomination before the party’s convention in July, but well-organized rival Ted Cruz has been cleverly out-maneuvering him in the all-important delegate battle.
Trump so far has won the most state contests, providing him a comfortable lead in delegates — representatives who ultimately will choose the Republican flag-bearer at the party’s nominating convention in Cleveland.
But Cruz, an ultra-conservative senator from Texas, has been on a poaching mission, reportedly winning over enough Trump delegates to prevent the billionaire property tycoon from prevailing at the July confab if he does not secure the 1,237 delegates needed to win outright.
Trump so far has won 758 pledged delegates, compared to Cruz’s 538 and Ohio Governor John Kasich’s 145, according to a CNN tally, but his pathway to outright victory is narrowing.
He lost badly to Cruz in Wisconsin earlier this month, and now needs 61 percent of remaining delegates to reach 1,237.
The billionaire businessman is likely to bounce back Tuesday when his home state of New York votes, potentially snatching all 95 delegates.
But in a clear sign he is bracing for a tumultuous delegate battle, Trump recently hired Paul Manafort, a seasoned operative who worked the GOP’s contested 1976 convention.
Manafort said Trump has “several ways” of reaching the magic number, including with the 100 or so “unbound” delegates who go to Cleveland.
The front-runner has a poor record of recruiting delegates. His campaign was throttled in Colorado this past weekend, swept by Cruz 34 delegates to zero.
Cruz has been acutely aware that the contest boils down to a delegate battle. In some states, he is seeking to pick off delegates won by Marco Rubio, who dropped out last month.
“If we go to a contested convention, where nobody has the majority, it will be the delegates who were elected by the people who make the final decision,” Cruz said at a Buffalo, New York town hall event Thursday, hinting at his playbook for locking down the nomination.
Congressman Chris Collins, a Trump supporter, said Trump campaign strategists plan to secure enough delegates in the initial round, thereby avoiding the chaos and controversy associated with a contested convention.
Outright victory is vital, he said after meeting Thursday with Trump aides, because he said Republican party leaders appear determined to block the former reality TV star’s path to the nomination.
“All of us are fearful if it came down to that, that the establishment, with Ted Cruz, would work overtime to steal that nomination,” Collins told MSNBC.
“So the best way we do it, we get to 1,237. Game over.”
Several political experts suggest however that Republican elders do not plan to elevate, but rather use Cruz to thwart Trump, so that they can eventually install someone else as the party’s nominee.
“What they’ve been desperate to figure out is some mechanism by which they can change the rules in such a way that in a multi-ballot convention it could possibly result in the nomination of somebody other than Cruz or Trump,” Morton Blackwell, the Republican National Committeeman from Virginia, told AFP.
The influential delegate and conservative activist, who backs Cruz, warned of a “ferocious” battle ahead that could split the party if the Republican establishment tries to steer the nomination to Kasich — or anyone other than the two present front-runners, for that matter.
Current rules allow only those who have won at least eight states to be eligible, a threshold met only by Trump and Cruz.
The more moderate Kasich has argued that his favorability rating is far higher than his rivals, and that — despite having only won his home state of Ohio so far — he is best-positioned to defeat likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
Trump has blasted the convoluted delegate system, which he said runs the risk of leaving millions of voters, especially his supporters, disenfranchised.
“It’s a rigged, disgusting, dirty system,” he said earlier this week.