In Pennsylvania, Unbound Delegates Remain Wary of Donald Trump - The New York Times
New York Times
28th April 2016
PHILADELPHIA — Mary Ann Meloy, one of the 54 Republican delegates elected in Pennsylvania on Tuesday as free agents to the Republican National Convention, said she would find it very hard to vote for Donald J. Trump. Ms.
Meloy had a sister with cerebral palsy. And Mr. Trump’s disparaging treatment of people with disabilities, she said, “made me want to jump through the television screen.
” Because of the unusual latitude the Pennsylvania Republican Party gives to the delegates like Ms. Meloy who are not required to support any candidate, Mr. Trump’s crushing victory in the state on Tuesday is more complicated than it may appear.
“The bottom line is that being an uncommitted delegate gives you the ability to take all the facts into consideration,” said Ms. Meloy, who lives in Harmar Township outside Pittsburgh and got her start in politics volunteering for Richard M. Nixon in 1968.
“Certainly the will of the people in your district — there’s a lot to be said for that. ” But, she continued: “We have a representative form of government. Not a democracy.
A representative democracy. ” Mr. Trump won Pennsylvania with nearly 57 percent of the vote.
He carried every county, including Ms. Meloy’s, and even won large urban ones with diverse and highly educated populations like Philadelphia, the kind of territory that he has often found inhospitable to his rancorous brand of politics. Yet in the trench warfare fight for the Republican presidential nomination — the smaller, less understood delegate races that could prove far more pivotal to Mr.
Trump’s campaign — the situation remains fluid. He appeared to have won about 40 of Pennsylvania’s 54 unbound delegates, along with another 17 awarded to him outright as the statewide winner. The remaining 14 delegates have either expressed no preference or said they would not vote for Mr.
Trump. Should Mr. Trump fall short of receiving a majority of the delegates he needs to secure the nomination before the convention — an outcome that seems less likely after Tuesday but still looms as a possible spoiler — a small number of unbound delegates could make all the difference.
From a former congressman turned lobbyist in Erie to a gastroenterologist in Philadelphia, the uncommitted, unbound delegates chosen in Pennsylvania’s 18 congressional districts to represent the state at the national convention in July were examples of just how unpredictable and counterintuitive the nominating process can be. Completely untethered from the public opinion, the delegates who are unbound under state party rules could find themselves grappling with a number of concerns in a contested convention, both political and personal, many of which have nothing to do with the preferences of the voters who elected them. Together, Pennsylvania’s 54 unbound delegates will form the largest group of free agents when Republicans meet in Cleveland in July.
And if the vote is close, the nominee could rise or fall on the Pennsylvania Republican Party’s experiment with political free will. Many newly elected Trump delegates find this maddening. “How do you justify not voting for him at the convention? What rationale could people possibly have?” asked Lynne Ryan, who lives in New Castle, in the state’s northwest corner along the Ohio border.
“But people will find a reason. Trust me. ” Ms.
Ryan, a topsoil farmer and flight attendant, campaigned as a committed Trump supporter. But at least one of the other delegates elected from her area, Phil English, a former congressman, has been wary of Mr. Trump.
In few states are the quirks of the American party system as evident as in Pennsylvania, which delivered only 17 of its 71 delegates outright to the winner of its primary, Mr. Trump. The remaining 54 delegates were elected blindly by voters in each of the state’s 18 congressional districts.
The only way voters knew if they were voting for a delegate who supported their favored presidential candidate was if they went to the trouble of educating themselves. That information was not printed on the ballot. And in some cases it was not knowable at all, because many delegate candidates ran saying they would not commit to any candidate now.
“The campaign is fluid,” said Bob Bozzuto, executive director of the Pennsylvania Republican Party, recounting his conversations with delegate candidates recently who have said they wanted to leave themselves some flexibility. “We talk to some who have been recruited by a campaign and say ‘I’m going to vote for the candidate I’m signed up to vote for,’” he said. “You have some others,” he added, “who say, ‘the time between April 26 and July 18 might cause me to have some conversations, and I’ll see what happens.
’” Determining how many Pennsylvania delegates are solidly for Mr. Trump, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas or Gov. John Kasich of Ohio is complicated, given that personal preferences can shift so quickly.
The New York Times interviewed delegates, analyzed lists of the campaigns’ preferred delegate candidates and relied on media reports to arrive at its totals. But Mr. Trump hopes to prevail on the unbound delegates by sheer force.
He has been making an impassioned case that he deserves the nomination because he has a wide leads in the popular vote, and should not be denied the nomination if he falls just short of a majority at the convention. His underperformance in some states to Mr. Cruz has left him short of that majority, and on Tuesday, the Texas senator appeared to pick up only a few delegates in Pennsylvania.
The Times’s analysis counted only three. By framing his possible loss as a denial of popular will and a power grab by the establishment, Mr. Trump has frustrated efforts by Republicans who have tried to hold him back and push the convention into multiple rounds of balloting, an outcome that could very well result in the nomination of someone more palatable to party loyalists.
But the overwhelming margin of Mr. Trump’s win in Pennsylvania shows that delegates buck the results at their own peril. Some were slowly coming to this realization.
“I want to do the right thing,” said Mr. English, a former congressman who was elected as a delegate on Tuesday representing the northwestern corner of the state. He said he has reservations about Mr.
Trump’s ability to unite the party and wants to spend more time thinking about his decision. But he said he ultimately could not foreclose voting for Mr. Trump given how well he did in his district.
“The expectation had been that Trump would be staying below 50 percent. That clearly is not the dynamic that’s out there,” he said, adding, “That’s loomed very large in my thought process. ” In Pennsylvania, long relegated to the role of political footnote in the nominating process because it holds its primary so late in the cycle, a victory has not been important to Republicans since 1980, when George Bush’s victory in the state revived his campaign against Ronald Reagan.
But this year Pennsylvania Republicans could find themselves the center of a contested convention, much as they were in 1976 when Mr. Reagan made an bid to overcome President Gerald R. Ford by naming Richard Schweiker, a Pennsylvania senator, as his running mate.
The move did not, however, impress Pennsylvania delegates, or many other delegates for that matter. Mr. Reagan lost on the first ballot.
“These delegates are all trying to dance,” said Representative Charlie Dent, a Republican who represents the Lehigh Valley. “On the one hand they say they want to support the district. But they all have their own preferences.
And they will come under tremendous pressure from all the candidates. And not just the candidates but party leaders and elected officials. ” Seth Kaufer, a Philadelphia gastroenterologist elected as a delegate on Tuesday, said he has already met personally with Mr.
Cruz and Carly Fiorina, who worked on the Texas senator’s delegate outreach team before becoming his running mate on Wednesday. He also met Mr. Kasich.
The one candidate he has not met is Mr. Trump. For now, Dr.
Kaufer said, he is waiting to decide which one to support at the convention in Cleveland. Hearing from Mr. Trump’s team — or their highly motivated supporters — now seems all but certain, whether Dr.
Kaufer welcomes it or not. Mr. Trump carried Philadelphia County with almost 60 percent of the vote.
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