Ever since Donald Trump failed to close the deal at Colorado’s nominating conventions, he’s been wailing about the collapse of our sacred republic. In interview after interview, the Donald has decried the “rigged, crooked system” that prevented a former reality star from dictating the rules of every state Republican Party’s nominating process. But Trump’s histrionics aren’t merely the frustrated ravings of a lifelong brat — they are also a calculated attempt to preempt his overthrow at this summer’s convention.
The Donald’s op-ed in The Wall Street Journal Friday morning makes this ambition clear. The mogul casts Colorado’s decision to allocate delegates via a series of conventions — rather than through a primary vote — as an attempt by scheming elites to insulate their failed policies from popular rebuke. To those who say, “Colorado’s rules had been public knowledge since August, and you had every opportunity to compete within the convention system,” Trump replies:
If the “rules” can be used to block Coloradans from voting on whether they want better trade deals, or stronger borders, or an end to special-interest vote-buying in Congress—well, that’s just the system and we should embrace it …
… The only antidote to decades of ruinous rule by a small handful of elites is a bold infusion of popular will. On every major issue affecting this country, the people are right and the governing elite are wrong. The elites are wrong on taxes, on the size of government, on trade, on immigration, on foreign policy.
Here, Trump deftly recasts a debate about process as a referendum on the status quo: Every subversion of direct democracy in the GOP primary is, in Trump’s telling, a means of ensuring that the Washington Cartel can carry on their losing ways, undeterred by the people’s desire to win again. This is not an argument about 37 delegates in Colorado — if it were, Trump would have stuck to 140 characters. This polemic is all about Cleveland.
Right now Trump is on pace to enter the GOP convention without a majority of delegates but with far more than any other candidate. The trouble for the mogul is that, after the first ballot, most delegates will be able to vote their own will. And because of the incompetence of his delegate-wooing operation, at least 130 of Trump’s pledged delegates are Cruz-lovers at heart. Trump’s op-ed trains Republican voters to see such delegates as traitorous elites, and to view a Cruz nomination as a victory for a corrupt Establishment that despises popular sovereignty.
Mr. Cruz has toured the country bragging about his voterless victory in Colorado. For a man who styles himself as a warrior against the establishment (you wouldn’t know it from his list of donors and endorsers), you’d think he would be demanding a vote for Coloradans. Instead, Mr. Cruz is celebrating their disenfranchisement.
Likewise, Mr. Cruz loudly boasts every time party insiders disenfranchise voters in a congressional district by appointing delegates who will vote the opposite of the expressed will of the people who live in that district.
That’s because Mr. Cruz has no democratic path to the nomination. He has been mathematically eliminated by the voters.
… The great irony of this campaign is that the “Washington cartel” that Mr. Cruz rails against is the very group he is relying upon in his voter-nullification scheme.
There are some conspicuous flaws in Trump’s argument. For one, Cruz is only “mathematically eliminated” if the failure to reach a majority of delegates is disqualifying — a standard that the Donald certainly rejects. For another, to the extent that the Republican race has been undemocratic, it has been undemocratic in Trump’s favor.
But like most of Trump’s arguments, his op-ed’s mendacity has no bearing on its political efficacy. A majority of Republican voters believe that Trump should receive the nomination if he enters the convention with a plurality of delegates. Framing the debate over that principle as a fight for the sanctity of democracy, border walls, and tremendous trade deals will only harden those voters’ resolve. Trump has found a much classier way of threatening his would-be dethroners than promising riots.