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`Zombie’ delegates, `free-agent’ delegates, `double agents,’ oh my! Why Donald Trump needs a first-ballot win

Todd
Todd

“Meet the Press” moderator Chuck Todd took on the issue Sunday of why Donald Trump needs to score a first-ballot win at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland this summer.

The reason?

Delegates who may support Trump on the first ballot, but could abandon him after that.

Here’s the transript from the show:

CHUCK TODD:

Donald Trump is in a race to 1,237. It's a number now we're all getting used to and familiar with. And he can't afford to miss hitting that magic number. And here's why. Because there's already an effort underway to stop him on a second ballot at the convention in Cleveland. Right now, Trump has 752 delegates and a 282 delegate lead over Ted Cruz.

In order to hit the magic 1,237 majority number and earn that glide path the nomination, Trump has to win 54 percent of the remaining delegates. And he has some favorable contests coming up, like his home state of New York, which has 95 delegates up for grabs, and a winner-take-all state of New Jersey, where maybe his buddy Chris Christie can help him win those 51 delegates.

But, the race is already on to create sort of delegate double agents. If Trump fails to win that majority on the first ballot these are people who will promise to dump Trump on the second ballot. And then there's an effort underway to mobilize zombie delegates. These are delegates who are pledged to candidates who have dropped out of the race.

They could switch their vote over to someone else in the race, maybe even on the first ballot. Maybe it's Cruz, maybe it's Trump. So to discuss all of this, I'm joined by our resident zombie expert, Ben Ginsberg, Republican delegate guru, who served, of course, as lead counsel to the Bush/Cheney campaign of 2000 and he was Mitt Romney's lawyer in 2012. So the zombie apocalypse will hit Cleveland.

So we have free-agent delegates, we have zombie delegates. I want to talk about the free-agent delegates first, because we have Donald Trump this morning already angry about this. Louisiana, he wins the primary big, he should get a lion's share of the delegates. The Cruz campaign claims they actually are going to have more delegates out of Louisiana, a state they lost, than Trump. How did they do it? Explain.

BEN GINSBERG:

The way they managed to do it is that 44 of the 56 states and territories give the candidates no role in choosing who the delegates will pick.

CHUCK TODD:

Who the individuals are.

BEN GINSBERG:

Who the individuals are. And so a well-organized campaign will go into all these state conventions and state executive committee meetings and manage to get supporters of theirs. They'll be bound on the first ballot to the winner of their state primary, but not for any of the procedural rules issues, and not for the second ballot.

CHUCK TODD:

All right. So they're the double agents. Now, let's talk about zombie delegates. These are the people, and I want to put up a graphic here. There are a group of unbound delegates. We know there were always going to be over about a hundred, we've done the math here, over about a hundred of them, 169 of them come from states that have chosen not to hold a contest, Colorado chief among them. And then there's another 175 of the zombie delegates. These are people, mostly Marco Rubio delegates out of Virginia and Minnesota, but there a handful of Carson, maybe one or two Jeb Bush's. What is their role in all of this?

BEN GINSBERG:

Well, their role in all of this is almost the equivalent of the Democrat superdelegate. In other words, they can be for whatever candidate they want. So, for example, the campaigns will be very aggressive in going to the state convention where these unbound delegates are selected. You're going to have three tests coming right up in the first three weeks. You're going other have Fargo, North Dakota, you're going to have Colorado Springs, Colorado, and then you're going to have Casper, Wyoming.

CHUCK TODD:

There you go.

BEN GINSBERG:

So there are three great places to go to see how it all--

CHUCK TODD:

Absolutely. All right I'm going to specifically here go to Katy and Hallie, because it's the Cruz and Trump campaigns. The Cruz campaign seems to know everything about this process.

HALLIE JACKSON:

They are incredibly well-organized when it comes to sort of this on-the-ground, micro-targeting, data kind of thing when it comes to these delegates. This is something that the campaign did successfully in Iowa, right? Drilled down to know the voters. I would say--

CHUCK TODD:

So they're going to know the delegates likes and dislikes, right?

HALLIE JACKSON:

Exactly, exactly. And certainly those 344, and probably all of them that are going, the campaign has said that they are not just focusing on the races to come, but looking back, at the races that have already happened in order to make sure they lock down these delegate states. This is a real priority for them, watch North Dakota, watch Colorado.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, you also have South Carolina. Meanwhile, Katy, I've got to ask, I know you've d-- they, the Trump campaign doesn't like this narrative that they don't know what they're doing.

KATY TUR:

Absolutely. And so they do have a team in place, about a dozen people, their delegate convention team. And they are going out and they're trying to convince delegates to get on their side. Their internal projections say that they're going to get to 1,400, 1,450.

BEN GINSBERG:

I saw that number.

KATY TUR:

Who knows where they're getting it from, but that's what they're saying. If they don't get that, they believe that they have a real opportunity, especially in that 40-day window between the last primary and the convention to go and woo these unbound delegates by negotiating for whatever they want.

CHUCK TODD:

And there are no rules.

KATY TUR:

And they said this.

CHUCK TODD:

As we know. And he is a negotiator, as we know, Donald Trump.

KATY TUR:

That's it. He's a deal maker.

CHUCK TODD:

But these delegates have a mind of their own. I want to play a quick interview we did with Curly Haugland out of North Dakota, a G.O.P. delegate and sort of a long-time member of the R.N.C. Here's what he said, Ben, and I'd like to get you respond.

(BEGIN TAPE)

CURLY HAUGLAND:

Well, here's another thing that's not very well understood. The priority of rules and authority in the Republican party is the convention first. The convention is the highest authority. And so the convention rules govern everything.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

Ah, the convention rules. And guess what? We don't have convention rules yet, do we?

BEN GINSBERG:

No, we do not.

CHUCK TODD:

That's the point of this that Donald Trump yet doesn't understand.

BEN GINSBERG:

They must be passed by each convention for that convention. There will be a lot of Curly Hauglands out there who have great ideas of their own on what can be done.

CHUCK TODD:

This is going to be madness. I'm going to stop there, sneak in one more break, endgame time in less than a minute. More on the battle for the women's vote, if it is a Trump/Clinton contest.

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