Trump’s New York Win to Be Tested by Elite’s Choice of Delegates

King of New York: What’s Next For Donald Trump?
  • After one ballot, rivals' supporters could rush to abandon him
  • The candidate looks warily at what he calls a rigged system

Donald Trump’s landslide victory in Tuesday’s New York primary entitled him to almost all of the delegates the state will send to the Republican presidential convention in July, yet few have actually been selected and his grip on the nomination may not be as firm as it seems.

Not until the end of May will the party’s insiders select those who will attend the Cleveland convention, precisely the people that Trump has targeted as “the establishment.” If Trump, who now has 845 delegates, doesn’t get 1,237 to secure the nomination on the first ballot, they would be free to vote for anyone, opening the convention to a free-for-all of deal-making.

Donald Trump after voting on primary day in New York on April 19.
Donald Trump after voting on primary day in New York on April 19.
Photographer: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Many New York party leaders recoil at Trump’s coarse language and attitudes on trade, immigration and counter-terrorism. Even in his home state, the candidate’s power could erode among delegates more loyal to leaders who chose them. That’s the way it should be, says party Chairman Ed Cox.

“You can’t have a deadlock going forward, and that’s what would happen if everyone is completely bound,” Cox said. “That’s why you have a convention. We’ll have the most experienced, dedicated people participating and it’s their ability to negotiate and compromise that a convention is all about.”

Party Outlier

Trump won at least 89 of 95 party delegates in a state whose Republican Party has been noted for its moderation. New York produced Republican Governor Nelson Rockefeller, who advocated liberalized abortion and divorce laws and bond issues for economic development, and U.S. Representative Peter King, who has argued with his party over funding to rebuild the city and treat first responders after 9-11. New York has found itself out of step with a national party aligning itself with evangelicals and Tea Party activists who want to limit abortion and government spending.

The state party’s rules apportion three from each of its 27 congressional districts, with all awarded to whoever wins more than half of the vote there. In districts where no one wins 50 percent, the leading candidate gets two and one goes to the runner-up. The local delegates will be chosen by county political leaders, and another 11 at-large delegates will be chosen at a statewide meeting next month. Cox and two other party leaders are automatically designated.

Rules differ from state to state, yet in almost all it’s party leaders, not the victor, who decide who attends the convention. The system is unacceptable, Trump has argued, because the winning candidate doesn’t have enough say over who represents him. Although 33 of New York’s Republican county chairs endorsed Trump, 29 haven’t.

‘Crooked System’

“It’s a rigged, crooked system that is designed so the bosses can pick who they want,” Trump said Wednesday at a rally in Indianapolis. “It’s rigged for the lobbyists. It’s rigged for the donors. And it’s rigged for the special interests.”

Trump has won support for his argument from Randy Levine, the president of the New York Yankees, who has served on the finance committees of past Republican presidential nominees Mitt Romney, John McCain and George W. Bush.

“The reason we have primaries and caucuses is to give voters a chance to express their will, and voters expect that the party will select delegates in good faith to represent that determination,” said Levine, who also served as a deputy to former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. “I think from everything I know, the party in New York will do the right thing, and select delegates who reflect the outcome of the primary election.”

Capturing Imaginations

Giuliani, who said he would vote for Trump, said the convention should nominate him even if he just comes close to the 1,237 votes needed to win. 

“If he is within 20 or 30 of the nomination, they have to give it to him,” Giuliani said Tuesday during an interview on CNN.

Nassau County Republican Chairman Joseph Mondello, whose 321,000 members are the most of any of the state’s 62 counties, says he agrees with Trump that the system is outdated and unfair, yet he’s not ready to give up the power to select delegates. 

Mondello endorsed Trump because, he says, “he’s captured the imagination of the everyday voter.” At the same time, Mondello rejects Trump’s signature issue of building a wall between the U.S. and Mexico to keep out undocumented immigrants, and he says he wishes Trump would “tone down” the insults.

“Whoever wins should take all the delegates,” Mondello said. “I’d like to see that changed. But the delegates themselves, they need to be chosen by the party faithful and they need to be flexible, because if no one wins after the first ballot, they should have the judgment to choose someone, anyone, who can lead the nation.”

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE