- The Washington Times - Monday, April 11, 2016

DENVER — Billionaire Donald Trump unloaded Monday on the Colorado GOP for what he called a “rigged” system after being swept at last weekend’s convention, but the attack also drew attention to his biggest weakness: his sloppy ground game.

His Colorado campaign was steamrolled by Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, even though Republicans point out that this year’s rules — in which hundreds of delegate candidates elected at the March 1 caucuses run for 34 slots at the state convention — have been known since August.

The Colorado outcome was no outlier. In the last two weeks, Mr. Trump has suffered setbacks in six other states — Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Michigan, North Dakota and South Carolina — as the Cruz campaign nibbles at the front-runner’s delegate count at state conventions.

If Mr. Trump fails to accrue the needed majority of 1,237 delegates before the Republican National Convention, he can chalk it up to those sorts of lapses, said Denver-based political analyst Floyd Ciruli.

“Trump’s problem is that I think he believed his pure popularity and celebrity would translate into delegates, and it doesn’t,” said Mr. Ciruli. “It has been evident for weeks that Trump simply did not understand the process. He never had anybody here until quite late, whereas Cruz figured this out last year and was obviously on the ground and ready to go.”

Mr. Trump did use the Colorado outcome to fire up his backers by blasting the state GOP for its “crooked” and “totally unfair” process. He received a boost from the influential Drudge Report, which accused the state GOP of handing Mr. Cruz a “voterless victory.”

Trump supporters responded by announcing they would hold a rally to protest the convention outcome Friday outside Colorado Republican Party headquarters in Greenwood Village.

The Colorado Republican Party handed Mr. Trump ammunition with a Sunday post on Twitter that said, “We did it. #NeverTrump.”

The party quickly deleted the Tweet and said in a statement, “The last tweet was the result of unauthorized access to our account and in no way represents the opinion of the party. We are investigating.”

Colorado Republicans countered that they did hold a vote, but did so at the March caucuses to select delegates to the state convention, just as states such as Iowa have done. Any registered Republican could attend those caucuses.

“The simple fact is that the Republicans at my precinct caucus mostly disfavored Trump, and evidently that is true of most other precincts as well,” Ari Armstrong, who was elected as a pro-Cruz alternate delegate at the convention, wrote in an article at the website Complete Colorado. “Trump lost in Colorado because he’s just not very popular here.”

In August, however, the Colorado GOP decided not to hold a caucus preference poll after the 2012 shenanigans of presidential candidate Ron Paul supporters. Mr. Paul wound up with 25 percent of the convention delegates even though he captured less than 12 percent of the poll vote.

That may have been a mistake, according to Mr. Ciruli.

“The Republicans here made themselves vulnerable to this charge by not having any kind of a preference vote. Caucuses are hard enough to understand to start with,” he said.

“By not having a preference poll, that led exactly to the charge we have today, which is that the process was manipulated and that it’s all insiders,” he said. “[But] the rules were known, and Trump could have at least gotten into the game. He sort of missed the whole memo.”

Cruz backers in Colorado declared that Mr. Trump had only himself to blame for the shutout.

The Trump campaign looked disorganized at the weekend caucus in Colorado Springs, according to reports, committing such unforced errors as issuing brochures without a complete list of Trump delegates.

Meanwhile, the Cruz camp won praise for its convention operation. Mr. Cruz also made an appearance and spoke Saturday at the convention, while Mr. Trump and Ohio Gov. John Kasich did not.

“Trump is whining and making stuff up,” said former Republican state Sen. Shawn Mitchell, a Cruz supporter. “Politics doesn’t get more grass-roots than Colorado’s caucuses and assemblies. The only thing rigged about the process is that hard work and organizing help get your supporters elected as delegates. Ted Cruz figured that out. Donald the apprentice did not.”

That lack of a Trump convention presence wasn’t unique to Colorado, say analysts.

“On Saturday, for example, there were 145 events around the country that were choosing delegates, state conventions, precincts, local and so on, and Cruz had 95 staffers working them, and Trump had fewer than 10, and Kasich didn’t have any,” said Republican political strategist Dick Morris in a podcast. “That kind of lower-level work is important.”

Asked whether it was fair to say that he’s just getting out-organized by Mr. Cruz, Mr. Trump said Monday on “Fox & Friends”: “No, because I’ve got millions more votes.”

In response, Cruz campaign spokeswoman Catherine Frazier said they’ve earned their success by working hard to build a superior organization, and are working within the process and established rules.

“It’s no surprise that Trump is lashing out with falsehoods to distract from his failures this weekend, as he has throughout this campaign,” she said.

The Trump camp could wind up with more bad news at next weekend’s Wyoming convention, which follows rules similar to those in Colorado, but the rest of the month looks brighter, with a host of Eastern primaries and no caucuses in sight.

Mr. Trump is expected to cruise to victory at the April 19 primary in New York and could run the table on April 26 with primary votes in Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island.

With 743 delegates, Mr. Trump has a 198-delegate cushion over Mr. Cruz. As the Texas conservative chips away at the lead, however, it looks like Mr. Trump may need every one of those votes to prevail on the first ballot at the July 18-21 Republican National Convention in Cleveland.

Most delegates are pledged to a candidate for the first vote, but many of those will become unpledged if no candidate wins and the convention is forced to hold a second ballot.

“If he doesn’t get to 1,237, he will not win on a second ballot. The vast majority of these people are party regulars — and I mean everywhere, not just in Colorado,” Mr. Ciruli says. “And they don’t like Trump.”

• Valerie Richardson can be reached at vrichardson@washingtontimes.com.

• David Sherfinski can be reached at dsherfinski@washingtontimes.com.

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