It’s been over a month since the Tennessee GOP primary, which took place on March 1st, so one might imagine that the wrangling over their participation in the national convention in Cleveland would be well in our rear view mirror. One would be wrong.

The final tallies produced Trump as the winner in that primary with roughly 39% of the vote, with both Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio also beating the state’s 20% threshold to qualify for delegates. That translates to a total of 33 delegates for Trump, 16 for Cruz and 9 for Rubio. Easy enough, right? Well.. not quite. Those are the numbers, but at the end of the voting we didn’t know all the names. The delegates assigned from each congressional district (3 each) were selected by the voters and they are all presumably dedicated to their candidates. But because of the strange way Tennessee (along with most of the other states) breaks up their delegate allocation, they only accounts for roughly 30 of them. The remaining 28 delegates, allocated based on the state-wide vote, are divided into two groups of 14 each. By the state party rules, those names are selected as follows: (emphasis added)

(See edit following excerpt)

The 28 (10 at-large, 18 bonus) At-Large delegates are bound to Presidential candidates based on the results of the primary. Half are elected in the primary and half are appointed by the Executive Committee with the consent of the respective Presidential campaigns. When determining “half” divide the total number of At-Large plus bonus delegates by 2. If there are fractional delegates, round up the number of delegates appointed by the Executive Committee and round down the number of delegates determined by the Primary. [Article IX. Rule C. Section 2.]

EDIT: (Jazz) One day later, I was contacted by Taylor Ferrell of the Tennessee GOP who informed me that the Greenpapers web site was not updated with the latest version of the state rules. They were updated after the last presidential cycle with a key change. As supplied by Taylor, the edited section reads as follows. You will note that they carefully removed the word “consent” and replaced it with “advice.”

Rule C. Section 2. The remaining number of Delegates, as determined by the rules of the Republican National Committee, shall be allocated as follows: Half shall be elected from the State at large on the ballot in said Presidential Preference Primary. The remaining number of Delegates, including any odd number or delegate positions not filled through election due to a lack of qualified candidates, shall be appointed from the State at large by the Executive Committee, with the advice of the respective Presidential campaigns. A corresponding number of Alternates to such Delegates shall be appointed from the State at large in the same manner, separately from the selection of Alternates to elected Delegates under Section 3 below. At large Delegates and Alternates shall be bona fide Republicans, and bona fide residents of and legally registered voters in Tennessee.

So 14 of the names were determined by the primary election… all well and good. But then we come to the final 14 who are “appointed by the Executive Committee with the consent of the respective Presidential campaigns.” Those appointments took place yesterday. Trump, as the winner, was supposed to get seven of those delegates and his campaign submitted names for each slot. But when it came time for the final selection, things took a turn and the Trump people are not happy. Some of the names they submitted disappeared and were replaced by folks who are being described as distinctly “anti-Trump.” (The Tennessean)

“A few of those names are still on there,” [Trump campaign state director Darren] Morris said. “Most of them are not. Most of them are very anti-Trump people. In fact, I’ve been told a few of them are very much anti-Trump and they’re there to do the bidding of the RNC.”

Morris said two of the pro-Trump at-large delegates supported by the campaign, but now taken off the list, are Republican state Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, and Mark Winslow, former chief of staff of the Tennessee Republican Party. Both men were delegate candidates in the March 1 primary. Morris said Ketron is now slated to be an alternate delegate and that Winslow is no longer even on the list.

EDIT: The Tennessee GOP informs us that Senator Ketron is now on the list of delegates. I assume this means not an alternate.
For a selection process that was supposed to take place with the “consent” of the candidates, that sounds a bit off tone. I checked with some of the locals and got similar responses to these which were tweeted by state senator Frank Nicely.

The standard line coming out of Tennessee seems to be that “all the rules were followed” and they are reminding everyone that Tennessee requires the delegates to vote for the candidate they are bound to on the first two ballots, so what’s the problem, right? Well, we’ve already heard that everyone is preparing for a convention which could go far deeper than that, with as many as a half dozen ballots possible. In fact the RNC is making detailed preparations for just such a possibility. So what kind of position will Donald Trump be in if, on the second or third ballot, a bunch of his delegates turn out to be people who are just waiting for the chance to bail out and support someone else during the horse trading which is predicted to take place?

Let’s face it… even if this is all “according to the rules” this just looks bad. And it gives Trump’s voters all the excuse they need to claim that the game is rigged and bail out on the general election or even look at a third party run which will assure victory for the Democrats. We’ve already got Roger Stone promising “Days of Rage” in Cleveland over the perception of dirty dealing.

A former adviser for GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump said Friday he is planning massive “days of rage” protests outside the Republican convention in Cleveland if the party tries to “steal” the nomination away from Mr. Trump.

Roger Stone, who left the Trump campaign in August, tweeted several times Friday evening about his plans, announcing a “Stop the Steal March on Cleveland” and calling on supporters to get to the city for the convention in July.

This apparently is a situation which isn’t unique to Tennessee. There are hot spots around the country where the byzantine convention rules are in the spotlight. This weekend’s convention in North Dakota is already being described as a process of freezing out Donald Trump after the voters were given no voice in delegate selection. Colorado and Pennsylvania are already under similar scrutiny.

And all of this is only the warm-up act to when the GOP rules committee meets prior to the convention in Cleveland. The media is focusing a spotlight on that process and will be watching like a hawk to see if the rules are shifted at the 11th hour in a way which makes it easier to shut The Donald out after a couple of ballots.

It’s too late to talk about reforming the system this year because the cards are largely dealt already. But given the state of both the party and the nation as a whole these days, it’s not at all difficult to imagine these sorts of close, contentious races taking place in 2020 and beyond. There’s got to be some way to clean up the process and avoid a repeat of this soap opera. We can leave Trump, Cruz and all the rest out of the question and admit (I hope) that everyone who chooses to run should at least know the rules they are competing under before the game begins. In the meantime, I remain very concerned that the sort of tricks we’re seeing in Tennessee and other states will simply fuel the fires of resentment among a significant portion of Republican primary voters and create an easy glide path for the Democrats. None of this was much of an issue when we had relatively clear winners in place before heading to the convention, but those days may be at an end. Even if we’re “following the rules” in each case, it’s time to admit that the rules smell to high heaven and will continue to cause problems unless they can be cleaned up significantly.

trump-schlonged