COLORADO SPRINGS — It was here, in a hotel ballroom in this heavily Christian conservative military city, that Colorado’s Republican activists continued chipping away at the foundation of Trump Tower.
At the decidedly un-Trump-esque Doubletree Hotel, where the state Republican Party was holding congressional assemblies, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz vacuumed up all the delegates available in four districts, closing in on winning an outright majority of the 37 delegates who will represent Colorado at this summer’s Republican National Convention.
During crowded and sometimes chaotic meetings in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains, hundreds of Republican activists gave brief speeches about why their GOP brethren should send them to Cleveland. Some warned of a wild convention where anything could happen. Others said they were trying to get there simply to put the brakes on Donald Trump’s rise to a potential nomination.
When the votes came in, it was clear that Colorado’s Trump-stoppers were behind Ted Cruz.
The reality had begun sinking in on Thursday, when the Texas Senator made a clean sweep of three delegates and three alternates from the 7th Congressional District. He’d already won six delegates from districts 1 and 6 the previous weekend. Cruz’s steamroll continued Friday when he swept the delegates in Congressional Districts 2, 3, 4 and 5. Trump was only able to get on the board with alternates, who would act in Cleveland like alternate jurors: they can watch but can’t play unless something happens to a full-fledged delegate.
Cruz’s cleanup of Colorado’s delegates is something his supporters particularly treasure because it will give them influence on the rules committee at the national convention by giving them two votes on the panel.
Delegates were being selected here in Colorado Springs as part of the congressional assembly process in which Republicans will choose 21 out of the 37 delegates before tomorrow’s state convention when they’ll select the rest.
Conservatives swarmed the hotel’s lobby and packed its hallways, where activists manned booths selling “Make America Great Again” hats for Donald Trump and scarves for Cruz. Gun rights groups offered gun giveaways among tables sprawled with swag for the dozen-or-so Republicans running for U.S. Senate. One Cruz supporter sported a T-shirt reading “Hillary for Prison 2016,” and men dressed in colonial-area garb strolled along the grounds with women in dangly elephant-themed accessories and American flag cowboy hats.
The crowd was made up largely of hardcore movement conservative activists — the types who pull up to the hotel doors in a Jeep outfitted with gun turrets, then hold court about the Constitution and obscure Supreme Court decisions to anyone who will listen.
Also tilting the Republican base to the activist right is this year’s unusually large GOP field of U.S. Senate primary candidates. That there’s a Senate candidate for pretty much every stripe of Republican likely galvanized all factions of registered Republicans across the state to show up to this year’s congressional assemblies and the state convention.
In fact, so many Republicans showed up to participate in these four congressional assemblies in the Springs that at least one delegate-selecting assembly had to be held outside in the Doubletree’s courtyard.
The Republican Party in August decided to cancel its March 1 presidential straw poll because new national rules would have bound Colorado’s delegates to whichever candidate won it. Doing so has now given Colorado’s potential delegates increased influence as players in the presidential race, especially as uncertainty abounds about what might happen this summer in Cleveland.
This context made for a chaotic scene during Friday’s delegate-selection process where some who thought they would be on printed ballots couldn’t find their names, or some who are pledged for Trump or Ohio Gov. John Kasich gave speeches to boos.
Two factors made this year’s topsy-turvy congressional assembly process different from years past, said Colorado Republican Party Chairman Steve House.
“One is the quantity of people, and the other is the quantity of new people,” he told The Colorado Independent. “So when you have 30 to 40 percent of the crowd never having done this before, they’re not used to it, they don’t know what the rules are inherently, they’re trying to learn and figure out where they’re supposed to go and what they’re supposed to do. That’s made it longer and more intense.”
In recent weeks, the importance of who these delegates turn out to be — and who they support for president— has come into sharper focus as the national convention appears more and more likely to become a contested, chaotic affair. If Trump doesn’t show up to Cleveland with enough delegates to win the nomination, Colorado’s crew of 37 delegates could help swing the party’s pick toward Cruz.
While Cruz has blotted out the support among delegates for Trump and Kasich, backers of those two candidates still made their case at the assemblies Friday, sometimes to heckles from the crowd.
Patrick Davis, a former official with the National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee and a well-known Republican political consultant, was at the hotel campaigning as a delegate for Trump. (He’s currently running a Super PAC in support of Robert Blaha for U.S. Senate, a candidate who supports Cruz.) After having made plenty of phone calls, taking over as Trump’s Colorado state director just days before, and running a campaign to help a slate of Trump supporters get chosen as delegates, Davis lost out to the Cruz backers in the 5th District.
Perhaps an indication that the writing was on the wall: Trump has decided not to show up to Colorado’s GOP state convention Saturday where Cruz is scheduled to speak.
Outside in the courtyard, standing in front of a crowd of 2nd Congressional District Republicans, Dale Bugby of Eagle County said he’d vote for Kasich on the first ballot in Cleveland but promised to vote for anyone but Trump after that. Bugby acknowledged support for his candidate is low in Colorado. But he thinks if enough support doesn’t coalesce around either Trump or Cruz in the first rounds of balloting during what could be a brokered convention in Cleveland, Kasich could end up a “logical midpoint.”
Colorado establishing itself as Cruz country is not a good look for Trump, the GOP frontrunner who has seen his campaign stumble in recent weeks and lose momentum in the race for the 1,237 delegates he’ll need to win the nomination before the Cleveland convention.
Regina Thomson, the grassroots director for Cruz in Colorado, credited the campaign’s early play here for his overwhelming support at the assemblies.
“It’s simple grassroots organizing,” she said.
[Photo credit: Gage Skidmore via Creative Commons on Flickr]