Why you should care
Because this is a behind-the-scenes look at how the presidential sausage gets made.
“Death Threats” — that was the subject line of a recent email from the Ted Cruz campaign. “Instead of playing by the rules,” it read, Donald Trump and his allies have decided to “harass our delegates.” The email goes on, asking supporters to donate to a so-called delegate defense fund to protect their own crew of Cruzers. The drama continued when, later that night, another email hit inboxes: “SERIOUS Death Threats,” with an announcement that Cruz’s team had created a hotline to “receive tips” on bullying Trumpeters. The author’s signature at the bottom? Ken Cuccinelli.
As national delegate director, Cuccinelli — former attorney general of Virginia — is waging the campaign behind the campaign. Should Trump, who didn’t respond to a request to comment for this article, fail to wrap up the nomination before the GOP convention in July, a pivotal battle for delegates will ensue to decide who becomes the Republican nominee on the second, third or even fourth ballots. “The likelihood of a competitive convention is still very, very high,” Cuccinelli tells OZY. So far, Cruz has led this shadow race, thanks in part to Cuccinelli, who has been in charge since March and discusses his plan for the election’s home stretch.
OZY: What’s part of the sausage-making when it comes to your strategy around delegates?
Ken Cuccinelli: What it really looks like is coordinating 56 different convention processes, plus the national ones. If you can’t master this, you have no business saying that you can be president of the United States.
Not only has the Trump campaign been wonder whiners, they’ve been quite incompetent in this competition. How does anyone think that any candidate can win a general election with almost zero ground game? Look at the last two elections. Republicans have gotten our clocks cleaned on the ground, and we know it. If you want to get your clock cleaned a third time, you’ve got a candidate in this race: It’s Donald Trump.
OZY: What are you doing specifically in California ahead of the June 7 primary there?
K.C.: The delegate situation is different there than in other places. There are almost 200 delegates in a state where it would take divine intervention to go Republican in the general election. It’s so big, you treat it like several campaigns. If you’re campaigning in San Francisco, nobody in Los Angeles or San Diego sees you. L.A. County has more people in it than Virginia. Having Carly Fiorina running as vice president helps: She’s not just bringing her person, but her leverage, influence and networks.
We select our delegates there by congressional district. Since February, we’ve vetted delegates and alternates. While you and I are speaking, we’re competing in two congressional districts in North Carolina to win all six delegates and six alternates. But in California, there’s no competition for that — you have to fill your own slate. And that sounds like a simple matter, but it’s really not. With 169 delegates — excluding three state party leaders — and then 169 alternates, that’s a lot of people to vet.
These are the same party officials who Trump, if he becomes the nominee, will demand carry him to victory in their state in November and he will no doubt give them a tongue lashing for not doing the work his campaign is incapable of doing.
OZY: How do you make sure they aren’t just delegates for Cruz in name only?
K.C.: [Laughs] CRINOS — Cruz in Name Only? First of all, their own history: Fakers don’t usually go door-to-door for hours at a time or donate or do all of those things. The easiest question is, “Were they doing it before their name came up as a delegate?” And what are their references?
OZY: What are some wild tactics you can use to pull off a victory?
K.C.: No comment.
K.C.: The techniques and the tactics are very similar to the regular campaign, but you’ve got a lot more rules. It’s not just “Everybody go in and vote.” In Massachusetts, any enrolled Republican can participate in their caucuses. It’s the closet thing to a redo in the country. So we have local people making calls and convincing them that Ted is not only worthy of their support, but also worthy of their time on a Saturday. That’s true in North Carolina — just plain old recruitment.
We had a situation in Nevada where we were trying to keep things running smoothly, we were trying to point out the stakes and keep the process as clean and transparent as possible. As far as I can tell, nobody else is doing that. Nobody is trying to hold people accountable in terms of obeying their own rules — and that includes the RNC.
OZY: What was the thought process behind the delegate defense fund and hotline? And are they alarmist?
K.C.: Ask Steve House, the chairman of the Colorado GOP, who has been getting death threats from Trump people, if we’re being alarmist. I was at the RNC last week and more than one of them, without being asked, commented on this kind of language being directed at them as party officials.
These are the same party officials who Trump, if he becomes nominee, will demand carry him to victory in their state in November and he will no doubt give them a tongue lashing for not doing the work his campaign is incapable of doing.
OZY: Some have said that if Trump gets within 100 delegates of the 1,237 required to wrap up the nomination, he should be the nominee, even if he doesn’t win on the first ballot. What’s a fair threshold that he should have to reach?
K.C.: There is a threshold: 1,237. If Trump comes in with 1,236 on that first ballot, we’re going to try to beat him.
Here’s your inside hint: Don’t bet against us.