Trump’s Appeal Divides Tea Party Loyalties in Crucial States

US presidential hopeful Donald Trump was criticised last week after describing the 1989 Tiananmen Square demonstration in Beijing as a "riot"
© AFP/File Rhona Wise

(Reuters) — Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump has effectively split the conservative Tea Party movement, as his fiery campaign draws in followers of the group who had been expected to line up behind Ted Cruz, a more consistent champion of small government.

As the Republican race moves to the crucial battlegrounds of Ohio and Florida among three other states on Tuesday, Tea Party support promises to help Trump’s campaign offset its relative lack of on-the-ground organization compared to Texas Senator Cruz, his closest rival nationally.

Having loyal Tea Party supporters could also help him fend off moves to block his nomination at the Republican National Convention in July if he falls short of the threshold of 1,237 delegates that would guarantee him the party’s candidacy.

A Reuters review of Trump’s list of 66 Ohio delegates — who would represent him at the nominating convention if he wins the primary and provide crucial support in the event of a contested convention — found that 28 are Tea Party leaders, members or are otherwise linked to the movement, including officials who have been featured speakers at Tea Party events.