Following many long hours of waiting, wrangling, and party infighting, Saturday’s quadrennial convention of the Republican Party of Virginia concluded with the controversial election of a slate of at-large delegates to the Republican National Convention favoring Senator Ted Cruz by a margin of 10-3 over GOP frontrunner Donald Trump.
Notably absent from the ranks of the slate’s Trump supporters was Corey Stewart, the Chairman of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors, who also serves as Trump’s campaign chairman in Virginia. Stewart was deliberately excluded as a personal affront to him by his opponents, over the objections of many Cruz supporters and members of Cruz’s Virginia leadership team who understood the wisdom of nominating a bifactional compromise slate which would help unify the party and avoid hurting their candidate’s campaign by avoiding unfavorable news headlines playing right into Trump’s hand.
Some within the Cruz faction called the slate an “olive branch” – leading Stewart to denounce it as a “screw-you branch.”
Regardless of individual opinions towards Trump or Stewart, Saturday’s raw display of power is a politically unwise maneuver which hurt the Cruz campaign by fueling Trump’s media narrative while at the same time amplifying the intensity of a destructive cycle of party infighting which counteracts Republican efforts to retake the White House and protect the nation from the unprecedented corruption and sleaze of Hillary Clinton’s rotten political machine.
In less than 24 hours, election day voting opens in Indiana, where Cruz remains locked in a must-win battle with Trump. For Cruz, the stakes could not be higher: he has been mathematically eliminated from winning the Republican nomination on the first ballot, and must resoundingly carry the support of Hoosier voters if he is to repeat his Wisconsin victory and capture the overwhelming majority of Indiana’s 57 delegates to July’s Republican National Convention.
For Ted Cruz, stopping Donald Trump’s march to 1237 delegates requires victories in Indiana, whose polls close less than 36 hours from now, as well as California, which votes next month.
Cruz has pulled out all the stops in pursuit of these victories, even going so far as announcing Carly Fiorina as his running mate, against the usual practice of waiting, in an effort to improve his standing among both women, as well as Republican primary voters in California, 56.4% of whom preferred Fiorina in a five-way vote when she secured the GOP’s nomination for Senate in 2010.
Though unconventional, Cruz is doing what he must, for all becomes irrelevant if he cannot hold Trump below 1237 bound first-ballot delegates. If he does, Trump will be defeated, and Cruz will almost certainly become the Republican nominee on a second or subsequent ballot.
With Indiana polls closing in less than 36 hours, Saturday’s results from Virginia have continued fueling a media narrative which hurts Cruz. Already, a rash of stories has begun circulating the Internet, proclaiming another convention to have been supposedly “rigged”, much to the detriment of efforts to persuade Indiana voters to back Cruz over Trump.
One recent poll from Indiana which found Cruz trailing Trump by only two points also found that 49.9% of likely primary voters agreed that, “the process of choosing a Republican Presidential nominee is rigged by insider political figures.”
Saturday’s course of events plays right into Donald Trump’s hand, echoing the themes he denounced in his op-ed for the Wall Street Journal published in the wake of Colorado’s “voterless victory” for Cruz.
Therefore, Cruz did not need a disproportionately Cruz-heavy delegate slate in Virginia – certainly not at this time, and certainly not at the expense of the public relations disaster to which it contributes in the period immediately before the voting in Indiana, a contest which could prove to be Cruz’s Waterloo.
Shockingly, the slate could have been an even worse public relations disaster: at the opening of the convention, some Cruz leaders and many of his grassroots supporters were advocating for a clean sweep of Virginia’s 13 at-large RNC delegates – far more than the 10 which Cruz won.
Supporters of the “clean sweep” offered an ultimatum to Trump’s supporters – vote for a 10-3 slate, excluding Corey Stewart, or a 13-0 Cruz slate would be prepared in its stead.
This destructive effort to run up the score of subsequent-ballot delegates does nothing to foster party unity, nothing to help Ted Cruz win Indiana’s primary, and nothing to include Trump supporters in the victory coalition Cruz must build to win Virginia in November should he be nominated. Therefore, it is utterly without constructive purpose.
If a 10-3 delegate slate including Corey Stewart had been passed, Cruz would still be far ahead in second or subsequent convention ballots, as he would if the slate were 9-4, as Trump’s campaign originally proposed, or even if it had been a 6-6 tie.
Due to strong over-performance at various states’ district conventions, as well as statewide conventions past, Cruz could tie Trump in delegate election from here on out and not be any weaker in a contested convention, owing to the margin he already possesses.
What Virginia Republicans witnessed Saturday was little more than an ill-advised exercise of raw power which served to spite the statewide Chairman of the Trump campaign, and in the process, offended the 355,960 voters who cast their ballots for Trump and carried him to victory in Virginia’s presidential preference primary.
By serving as the statewide chairman for the March primary’s top vote winner, Stewart has earned himself a seat at the table. By virtue of his position, he is a relevant political force deserving of respect throughout the process, and by the size of the coalition he leads, his support and involvement will be vitally necessary for Virginia Republicans in the general election – regardless of who wins the Republican nomination.
Even former Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling – no fan of Donald Trump’s – denounced this broken display of raw power and the party infighting it will surely spawn.
“The division and dysfunction in the Republican Party of Virginia continues to deepen,” wrote Bolling, in response to the outcome. “The bitterness between Trump and Cruz supporters that was displayed at this weekend’s GOP convention is the latest chapter in a long and sad saga that has taken the RPV from success to consistent failure, with no end in sight.”
Not all Cruz supporters – or even leaders – were onboard. Regardless of allegiance, many Republicans rejected this slate for the counterproductive idea it was.
For Virginia Republicans, strengthening party unity and reducing infighting must be more than a talking point used to headline rallies, or a conversational platitude shared from activist to activist in casual conversation.
The circular firing squad must stop.
Unifying the party and reducing infighting must be an ongoing process, bringing together the leaders of and supporters from each faction, and giving seats at the table to those who, by virtue of necessity, must be included in any coalition capable of carrying Republican nominees to victory.
With the GOP nomination to be decided by the results from Indiana and California – not from further delegate elections which already largely favor Cruz – the primary goal of Saturday’s convention should have been emerging stronger and more united as a party with a unifying slate that helps tamp down on unhelpful party infighting.
That did not happen on Saturday.
Rather, a heavy-handed process gave rise to everybody hating everybody – from Cruz supporters sparring with fellow Cruz supporters, to Trump supporters feeling shut out as their leader was excluded in an inexcusable personal affront, to mainstream Republicans watching in horror as unity efforts swirled down the drain following more than eight hours of sitting around.
Frustration and exhaustion led many delegates to support the slate as they prepared to drive home. Others remained unaware of the controversy or its implications for Cruz in Indiana.
With the balloting over, Virginia Republicans now face an increased need to unify in opposition to Hillary Clinton this November. Saturday did not help in those efforts.