Donald Trump is signaling that he's not taking any delegates for granted as he tries to gather the 1,237 required to clinch his party's presidential nomination.
The billionaire Republican front-runner's campaign said Monday it was planning to file a formal complaint with the Republican National Committee contesting how Louisiana will allocate its delegates. In a further sign of the possible battles yet to be fought over delegates, Trump hired veteran strategist Paul Manafort, who helped manage the convention fight for President Gerald Ford during the contested 1976 Republican convention, the New York Times reported.
Barry Bennett, a Trump campaign adviser on delegate strategy, confirmed to Bloomberg Politics that Trump's legal team would soon file its formal complaint over 10 Louisiana delegates. Trump won the March 5 primary in Louisiana with more than 41 percent of the vote, but state rules could end up giving rival Senator Ted Cruz of Texas more delegates.
“We’re going to be very aggressive protecting the integrity of the vote,” Bennett said. “We are not going to tolerate shenanigans and we’ll fight them with every tool we can come up with.”
Trump and Cruz are locked in a delegate battle that will likely last all the way to the Republican National Convention, with Cruz trailing the front-runner by 274 delegates. Monday's formal complaint comes as Cruz stands to gain an additional 10 Louisiana delegates despite the fact that Trump bested him there by a margin of 3 percentage points in the state's March 5 primary.
Both Cruz and Trump came away with 18 pledged delegates from the contest, while Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who has since dropped out of the race, earned five delegates, and five others were uncommitted. Under Republican rules, those 10 delegates are now free to commit to another candidate, and may side with Cruz.
Manafort helped Ford secure the Republican nomination after neither Ford nor Ronald Reagan was able to clear the delegate threshold heading into its convention in Kansas City, Missouri, and went on to work for Reagan and George H.W. Bush.
On Sunday, Trump blasted the rules as “unfair” and threatened to file a lawsuit with the RNC, but Bennett—who is the former campaign manager to Ben Carson's failed presidential bid—announced the change of strategy a day later. Bennett clarified that the filing would be aired within the RNC, which did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Trump's pressuring the RNC comes as many prominent Republicans are hoping to prevent Trump from securing the 1,237 delegates needed to clinch the nomination. This could allow Trump's opponents to stop him at a contested convention in Cleveland this summer.
A Bloomberg Politics national poll conducted this month showed that 63 percent of those who have voted in this year’s Republican primaries and caucuses, or plan to do so, say that whichever candidate has the most delegates—even if he doesn't reach the majority threshold—should be declared the party's nominee.
That sentiment could favor Trump, who has continued to raise questions about the delegate system. In a Monday evening interview on Fox News, he said the delegate system was “a strange system, some people would say not a very honest system.”
Absent allegations of fraud, Trump's threat to sue the RNC seems to be based on the notion that the rules produced an outcome that he doesn’t like, said James Gardner, interim dean of SUNY Buffalo law school.
“Unless the rules discriminate against some protected class—and I would assume that billionaire front-runners would not count as a protected class—then it is difficult to understand on what basis he could legitimately complain,” Gardner said.
It’s unclear what Trump plans to do if the RNC rejects his challenge. Trump might not have a chance of winning in court, but a lawsuit—even the threat of one—can still play an important role in his campaign, said Nate Persily, a professor at Stanford Law School.
“It plays into an outsider narrative about taking on the establishment,” Persily said.