EXCLUSIVE — The Long War: GOP Campaigns Brace For Potential Brokered Convention After Protracted Delegate Fight

Republican Convention 2008 AP

Several GOP presidential campaigns are openly contemplating the increasingly likely possibility that a 2016 nominee won’t be selected before the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in late July. If no candidate secures enough delegates by the time of the convention, then what would happen is what’s called a “brokered convention”—at which time things could get truly interesting.

“We believe there are only two candidates who could possibly tie things up before the Convention (Trump and Carson), otherwise, we don’t see how a brokered convention can be avoided,” Doug Watts, Dr. Ben Carson’s communications director, said in an email.

“It’s hard to say,” Donald Trump’s campaign manager Corey Lewandowski told Breitbart News when reached by phone on Wednesday afternoon. Lewandowski was asked if there could end up being a brokered convention in 2016.

I think what you see right now, you’ve got one candidate in the field who is the clear and definitive frontrunner not just in national polls but in the four early states. And if you look at the publicly available polling data in states like Texas, like Oklahoma where Mr. Trump continues to win, and you look at those states on the 15th which are winner-take-all, states like Florida where Mr. Trump is winning, states like Missouri where Mr. Trump is winning, states like Ohio where Mr. Trump is winning, is there a scenario where there could be a brokered convention? Of course there is. But I think at the end of the day right now is you have someone who is so dominant in the race that has established a very significant field operation and, you know, who has clearly outperformed the expectations of the media and the pundits at every single turn, it’s hard to say if you can believe anything the political elite or the mainstream media have to say anymore.

“Who could predict?!” Tim Miller, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s communications director, added when asked if there’s likely to be a brokered convention in 2016.

“We don’t expect a brokered convention, but will be ready if that’s where it goes,” Alex Conant, the communications director for Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), told Breitbart News on Wednesday.

“Anything’s possible, but we’re going to be the nominee in Cleveland,” Rick Tyler, the spokesman for Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), said when asked about a brokered convention. “We’ll end up in Cleveland with enough delegates, that’s our goal.”

“I think it’s really unlikely,” Tyler added later in a phone interview. “It’s really unlikely. It could—and we speculate on that every year. But it’s really unlikely.”

Even with Trump’s dominance so far, with the calendar and map set up the way it is, every state that has a primary or caucus before March 15 splits their delegates proportionally among the several top finishers. That means, for instance, Iowa’s 30 delegates won’t all go to the winner of the Iowa caucuses; they’ll instead be split among the top earners in the state. Same goes for New Hampshire’s 23 delegates, South Carolina’s 50 delegates, Nevada’s 30 delegates, Alabama’s 50 delegates, Alaska’s 28, Arkansas’ 40, Georgia’s 76, Massachusetts’ 42, Minnesota’s 38, Oklahoma’s 43, Tennessee’s 58, Texas’s 155, Vermont’s 16, Virginia’s 49, Wyoming’s 29, Kansas’s 40, Kentucky’s 45, Louisiana’s 47, Maine’s 23, Puerto Rico’s 23, Hawaii’s 19, Idaho’s 32, Michigan’s 59, Mississippi’s 40, Guam’s 9, and the 19 delegates in Washington, D.C.

That means 1,113 delegates are awarded on a proportional basis before any winner-take-all state even comes up. That’s almost half of the 2,472 total delegates awarded and nearly enough to equal what’s necessary to win the GOP nomination, 1,237 delegates.

As such, some candidates may skip along picking up small pockets of delegates over the first few weeks of voting, gathering up a few hundred and holding them until the convention. At a brokered convention, some real dealmaking could happen on the floor. Deals could include who would be on the ticket, reforms to the party platform, cabinet position, and so much more.

What’s more, several candidates may not truly be ruled out until the very end of the race, since they might collect those small pockets of delegates early on, then take some of the winner-take-all states later in the game to reach the magic 1,237 delegates. With so many strong candidates in the field, and so much interesting and out of the ordinary stuff happening in this particular cycle, what most people say is that anything is possible.

It isn’t until March 15, when Florida and several other states hold GOP contests, that states can begin awarding their delegates on a “winner-take-all” basis—giving all delegates to the candidate who wins the popular vote in that state’s primary or caucus. Florida’s GOP awards 99 delegates to its primary’s winner, and it’s in fact one of only a handful of truly winner-take-all primary states for delegates. The other pure winner-take-all states are Arizona, Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Ohio, New Jersey, Delaware, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Northern Mariana Islands.

Arizona has 58 delegates, Montana 27, South Dakota 29, Nebraska 36, Ohio 66, New Jersey 51, Delaware 16, the Virgin Islands 9, and the Marianas 9. That means, in total, only 400 delegates come from states that are truly winner-take-all. Several other states, like California with 172 delegates or Pennsylvania with 71 delegates or Illinois with 69 delegates and more, are what the Republican National Committee (RNC) calls “hybrid” states—meaning they offer delegates in a way that combines the proportional and winner-take-all methods.

After March 15, several states—including Utah with 40 delegates, New York with 95 delegates, Rhode Island with 19 delegates, Oregon with 28 delegates, Washington state with 44 delegates, and New Mexico with 24 delegates—follow the same proportional process as those who hit the polls before March 15. And then there are even states like North Dakota, Wyoming, and Colorado which won’t be holding primaries or caucuses, but candidates can pick up delegates at their state conventions.

“I think there’s certainly a distinct possibility of this [a brokered convention],” Matt Beynon, the communications director for former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, told Breitbart News. He went on:

The way the calendar is set up, there’s such a large chunk of the calendar where there’s apparently a lot of states that appear more interested in going early and relinquishing the power they would have had as winner-take-all states. You now have a situation where there’s so much proportional delegates being allocated that you could win a state and you could only get one or two more delegates than the person who comes in second place or third place. There were instances four years ago in some of the proportional states where for instance Romney beat Santorum but they almost got the same numbers of delegates. This year, you’re going to have a ton of instances like that.

One such instance was Mississippi in 2012. Santorum won the state’s popular vote, but only earned 13 delegates from that victory. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney—who came in second and third, respectively, in Mississippi’s popular vote—each pulled 12 delegates from their performances there. Similar proportional apportionment of delegates from every state that votes before March 15—and many that vote after then—could lead to a very divided battle down the road.

Several very politically connected observers expect that 2016 may end up in a brokered GOP convention as well.

“I hope so,” former Republican National Committee (RNC) chairman Michael Steele said in a phone interview on Wednesday when asked if 2016’s GOP convention will be brokered. He continued:

Because I want us to go—I’ve been saying this for many years now—it’s important that the party go through the process that the base of this party, the activists who will show up 4,000 strong, the delegates to the convention, feel they actually have a say in the process and that [it] is not the sort of wrote, scripted outcome. Now, I get all of the perils that go with that [a brokered convention]. I certainly do. I just think that what the base has been saying, 50 percent of them considering all the top three candidates or two candidates are at the moment is that they want something different. They’re trying to get the party to pay attention to its core concerns. They are not down with big government Republicanism, they’re not down with a feckless Republican Congress, they’re not down with a political leadership that has its fingers to the wind and is not anchored in core principles and values. So this is in one sense a lashing out, what you see, but in another sense it’s core activists saying ‘enough, stop this, we want a say.’ So I think there is something cathartic, important and refreshing about the prospects of going into the convention that it’s not a runaway for one candidate, that they’re actually going to have to negotiate and talk about who we are, what we value and how we present that to the country.

Steele predicted that Donald Trump—the billionaire and current GOP frontrunner—will remain strong and in the front of the pack heading into 2016, along with “two or three other people.” He said:

Who they are will change between now and the first caucus votes in February. But that process will unfold itself in a way that by the time you get mid way through, meaning March 15, you’re going to have a better sense of who are the candidates who can likely carry the banner into the convention hall in June. Now, the other part of that is you’ve got a process that really almost dictates this outcome [a brokered convention] because roughly 55 percent of all the convention delegates will be chosen by March 15 so if you’ve got a process which is proportional delegate selection which is every candidate will get a piece of those delegates in every primary and caucus between the first of February and the 15th of March, yeah somebody is going to be able to amass 70 or 80 or 100 or 200 delegates and sit there and hold them. If I’m going into the convention with 200 or 300 delegates in my pocket and I’ve been polling 6 percent or 5 percent or even 3 percent in the national polls up to this point, the frontrunners will come to me and say ‘hey, those 200 delegates make a difference for me, let’s talk.’ That’s the brokering process that I think you’re going to see potentially unfold.

Many more are predicting that a similar outcome of a brokered convention is likely, or at least possible.

“The nomination fight appears to be headed into June and CA to put someone over the magic number of delegates….” Scott Reed, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s political director, said in an email to Breitbart News. “But a protracted two candidate fight could keep both under the winning threshold and make Cleveland a historic, brokered convention.”

Stuart Stevens, the top political aide to the GOP’s last nominee, Mitt Romney, back in 2012, told Breitbart News he thinks it’s unlikely but certainly possible.

“I would come down on the ‘it probably won’t happen because it rarely does’ camp but that’s not particularly persuasive logic. Strange year,” Stevens said in an email.

Previously, on Hugh Hewitt’s radio program in late September, Stevens laid out how he and Romney have discussed the possibility that a brokered convention could happen in 2016—but not that Romney would somehow emerge as the “consensus candidate” out of such a convention, as some have suggested. Under that scenario—which again, Stevens confirmed to both Hewitt and Breitbart News he hasn’t discussed with Romney—the thinking goes that if the party is split heading into the convention, the various candidates and all their delegates would anoint Romney on the floor of the convention. Since Romney isn’t running for president in 2016 despite all the donor class pleading, that’s unlikely to happen. Stevens said:

We have just talked about it in a sense these numbers are more inclined to indicate that you could have a brokered convention this cycle more so than we’ve seen since ’76, the last one we had,” Stevens said. “I tend to think it is not going to happen because it doesn’t happen very often, but that’s probably not a very good reason. If you have one candidate who wins each of the first four primaries, that is a real ‘Hunger Games’ scenario, where no one emerges as dominant and this thing could drag on and no one could get to the delegates number you need to win.

Ronald Reagan biographer Craig Shirley told Breitbart News he thinks “It’s always a possibility, especially when you’ve got so many candidates giving up the vote.”

“Cruz is coming in, Trump is hanging in there and seems to be gathering momentum, Carson seems to have slowed a little bit but he’s very much still in the game and then you’ve got the $100 million of Jeb Bush to think about,” Shirley said in a phone interview on Wednesday. “So I think in a political year when everyone said it would be conventional—it’s turned out to be anything but with the rise of Trump and the rise of Carson—so I think a brokered convention is entirely possible. It would be the first time since 1976.”

Shirley’s right that a brokered convention hasn’t happened since 1976 when Ronald Reagan nearly toppled the sitting president Gerald Ford—who took office in the first place thanks to President Richard Nixon’s and Vice President Spiro Agnew’s resignations over the Watergate scandal—in the primaries. Reagan’s strong support led to a brokered convention, but Ford prevailed coming out of it as the nominee—eventually losing the general election to Democrat Jimmy Carter. Reagan would come back four years later to win the nomination outright well before the 1980 convention, wrapping it up fairly early in the process—though George H.W. Bush, his eventual vice president, did protract the fight for a few extra unnecessary states.

Shirley, who wrote about the 1976 campaign in his 2005 book Reagan’s Revolution: The Untold Story of the Campaign That Started It All, added that the establishment only succeeded in taking down Reagan in the 1976 brokered convention because Ford—the sitting president—“controlled all the levers of power.”

“He was the incumbent, so he used everything at his disposal—he used state dinners at the White House, he used Air Force One, he used private receptions at the White House, he used the military to invite, during the bicentennial there was a big fireworks show in New York City on July 4, 1976, and Ford was there and he invited a bunch of uncommitted delegates to sit with him and watch the fireworks show,” Shirley said.

“It was still a brokered convention, and that’s how Ford was able to seize the nomination from Ronald Reagan,” Shirley added. “Without being president, I doubt Ford would have been able to get the nomination. Although he was the incumbent, an unelected incumbent.”

This time around, though, there is no incumbent president—even though Ford was not elected, but an incumbent who assumed the office after a series of unfortunate circumstances—by which the establishment can keep conservatives at bay. Shirley said:

There’s no doubt conservatives would have a better shot walking in [to a brokered convention in 2016 than they did in 1976]. There’s no doubt the establishment favors Jeb Bush, the Republican National Committee and elements of the media favor Jeb Bush, but the establishment doesn’t have the grip on the party that they used to. They still control the party committees but they don’t control the heart and mind and soul of the Republican Party anymore. That’s now in the hands of Reaganites—and conservative media, talk shows and websites like Breitbart. The conservative media and conservative individuals and conservative spokesmen are the new party bosses.

That being said, though, Shirley warns: “The lesson from 1976, though, is never trust the establishment because they will do whatever they have to do to hold onto or acquire power.”

If the GOP convention is brokered, the RNC says they’ll be ready for it–though they aren’t expecting such a scenario. “While we fully expect that Republican voters will choose a Republican nominee prior to the convention in Cleveland next July, we are always prepared for a variety of scenarios,” Sean Spicer, the RNC’s communications chief, said in an email to Breitbart News.

In addition, a highly-connected GOP source close to the RNC told Breitbart News that those in the building, within the past couple months, have come to the realization finally that this is a distinct possibility this coming year.

“They came to terms with the possibility a month and a half or two months ago,” the GOP source with direct knowledge of the RNC’s internal discussions said. “I don’t know if there was a come-to-Jesus moment, but there was a shift in attitude.”

Some others, like Conservative Review senior editor Daniel Horowitz, say a brokered convention isn’t likely.

“Because there is uncertainty in the field and because voters are looking for a clear candidate to rally behind, I think Iowa will be more important than it has ever been,” Horowitz said in an email. “If Cruz or Trump wind up winning Iowa, either one will be a strong favorite to ride the momentum into the early states and secure enough support outright without a brokered convention.”

Richard Viguerie’s ConservativeHQ editor George Rasley, who attended every GOP convention from 1976 to 2008 and served as 1996 lead advance man for nominee Bob Dole at the Convention Hall in San Diego, told Breitbart News it’s unlikely a brokered convention awaits.

Rasley said in an email:

Right now the only people who are seriously contemplating a ‘brokered convention’ are the insiders of the Republican political class who see that as the only path to maintain their power. Their candidates; Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie and John Kasich are all tanking and will be hammered in the coming 2016 primaries because conservative voters in Real America outside the Beltway want America governed according to the conservative principles those candidates all oppose.

Rasley also argues that new rules from the RNC passed in 2012 at the urging of GOP establishment lawyer Ben Ginsberg—who was Romney’s lead attorney and did this as part of an effort to protect Romney from intra-party squabbles—hurt the possibility of a brokered convention. Rasley cited two articles—one he wrote and another written by Viguerie—to back up the case.

“Due to the Rules changes the Romney people demanded in 2012, a ‘brokered convention’ is significantly more difficult because delegates are now more firmly than ever bound to vote for the winner of their state’s primary,” Rasley told Breitbart News. “By bullying Tea Party and Ron Paul supporters in 2012 the Republican establishment effectively screwed themselves for 2016 now that they are likely to be in the minority.”

Jeffrey Lord, Ronald Reagan’s associate political director at the White House in the late 1980s, is in Rasley’s and Horowitz’s camp. He thinks 2016 is going to be more like 1980 and less like 1976 in that he thinks a conservative is going to storm past an establishment Republican to win the nomination decisively—but the establishment wing is going to put up a big fight. Lord said in an email:

The last time there was anything close to a brokered convention was 1976. I was there, and the fight between Reagan and Ford was dramatic. Ford had used every last inducement available to a sitting president – one undecided delegate had even been invited to the Ford State Dinner for Queen Elizabeth. Things had not gone well for Reagan in the beginning, suffering a string of defeats. With the help of Senator Jesse Helms that losing streak came to an abrupt halt in North Carolina. From there on out it was a furious fight. Supposed Reagan ally Clarke Reed,the National Committeeman from Mississippi, deserted Reagan – he scented a Ford win and was quickly accused by angry Reaganites of merely wanting to be with the winner. After Reagan lost – by a mere 117 votes – he spoke to the California delegation. In walked Reed- crying – and saying he had made a terrible mistake. Reagan aide Lyn Nofziger would later say Reed was as welcome as ‘a pig at a debutante ball.’ It was tense. Can this happen again? At this point I would say no. I think this may be more like the 1980 Reagan-Bush fight. With the lesser candidates (in 1980 that turned out to be people like Bob Dole and Howard Baker) fading early and a fight between two ‘frontrunners’ moving forward until May or so, when one candidate clinches or is so close it isn’t worth the loser’s time and money – not to mention a possible VP nomination – to go on.

Lord’s way of viewing this seems to be the line of thinking that, more than anyone else, Cruz’s team is following. Tyler, Cruz’s spokesman, said in a phone interview:

If we can do well in the first few states, and then in the March 1 states—most of the March 1 states are in the South where you have a 60 plus percent Evangelical vote from Georgia all the way over to Texas, and we’re doing tremendously well with Evangelicals now. If we do well in Iowa and South Carolina, and we get the momentum, then the others are likely going to drop out because we’ve got the money and the organization to go the distance and they don’t. If you’re not accumulating delegates, it doesn’t matter how much money you have. I think it will come down to one conservative candidate—and we’ve already consolidated that—and one establishment candidate.”

What Tyler is essentially predicting is that his boss, Cruz, heads into an all-out brawl with Rubio in the home stretch. The beginnings of that have already been taking shape. Even so, with Trump still on top of the field—and Carson hanging around out there—it might not be so cut and dry.

“But I’ll admit Trump is a little bit of a wild card,” Tyler said.

Those aforementioned Ginsberg-led rules changes from 2012 could end up prolonging the process rather than protecting the party from an expensive and long internal battle, as they were seemingly originally intended to do. A 2014 article from U.S News and World Report’s Dave Catanese walked through the serious effects of those 2012 rules changes Ginsberg spearheaded.

Catanese described two rules changes that were designed to help the establishment consolidate power in Washington, D.C., before noting that a third less-noticed change could have more of an impact. Catanese wrote that “There was a third overlooked change that could potentially have the biggest, most dramatic effect on the 2016 primary fight and some RNC members believe it could render irrelevant the concerted, well-laid efforts to shorten the nomination contest.”

“Officially, it’s Rule 40 in the RNC handbook and it states that any candidate for president ‘shall demonstrate the support of a majority of the delegates from each of eight (8) or more states’ before their name is presented for nomination at the national convention,” Catanese wrote, before walking through how this could severely backfire on the Washington establishment. Catanese quoted several RNC committee members as unaware of what they actually ended up doing at the time and perhaps severely screwing up. Those RNC members also noted how they may try to engage in a last minute rules change right before the GOP convention, something that wouldn’t likely be possible and would cause someone like Trump to renege and go third party.”

Steele, the ex-RNC chairman, told Breitbart News:

While all this fixation is on who wins Iowa, at the end of the day we know it really doesn’t matter. In this cycle, it doesn’t matter. It hasn’t for some time, but nobody wants to acknowledge that. But the reality of this is it doesn’t because the way the system is designed—everyone who is playing and there are a lot of states in that first month and a half, everyone is going to have a piece of the game, skin in the game, get delegates out of that, that will be there for them when we go to winner-take-all states starting on the 16th of March. This is the most dynamic this has been in over a generation and it has caused angina to the establishment GOP and it has I think emboldened the grassroots of the party and I think both of those things are good.

To be at the table at the end of the game heading into the convention whether it’s brokered or not, Steele says, candidates need to have an organized structure around the country. Steele said when asked what candidates need to do to be at the table in a brokered convention or be on top heading into the convention:

A couple of things, number one a ground game. Clearly, Ted Cruz has done very effectively much to the surprise of many people—but not to those who have been paying attention to what he’s been doing. I’ve been saying for months, ‘watch Ted Cruz.’ He’s the most methodical and the most consistent player on the field. And he’s not falling into the trap of responding to or focusing on the bright shiny object that is Donald Trump.

Steele also said that despite Bush’s lagging poll numbers, “A lot of people have underestimated” him. “He learned, but he learned a little late, not to focus on the bright shiny object but to have his team focus on real conservatives on the ground in the key early states to put together an organization that he’s going to need to get out and vote,” Steele said.

Nonetheless, no matter what goes down, most of the campaigns with longevity are preparing strategies based on delegate apportionment rather than just on winning states.

Lewandowski, Trump’s campaign manager, told Breitbart News:

We have said that Mr. Trump is going to the convention. We’ve made that decision. We’ve said that publicly. We are going to the convention. If you see what we did, we’ve hired more staff in Florida this week, we’ve hired more staff in Virginia this week, we’ve hired more staff in North Carolina this week, more staff in Massachusetts this week. Those are places where traditionally they wouldn’t be working rather than just sticking in the first two or three states. The reason we have the privilege of doing that is we don’t have a resource limitation when it comes to money. With Mr. Trump self-funding his campaign we have an unlimited money supply. What is very, very important for other people in this race to understand is that if they hit Donald Trump and they attack him, he will attack them 10 times harder and he has unlimited resources to do that.”

“The Carson campaign for months has been executing a carefully designed program for ballot access in all 56 jurisdictions, while recruiting full delegate slates where required,” Watts, Carson’s communications director, said. “To date, we have full delegate slates ( with alternates) in several states, and will have everything in place to take our campaign forward to the convention.”

“We are building an organization that is laying the groundwork to compete and win delegates in each state,” Jeb Bush spokesman Tim Miller told Breitbart News. “We are equipped to compete long into the Spring. Our focus and attention will be aided by targeting that identifies opportunities to acquire enough delegates to secure the nomination.”

Miller said that Bush’s campaign “demonstrate[s] organizational strength by methodically succeeding in the ballot access process and are already on the ballot in nearly half the states,” noting that he’s already qualified for the ballot in 22 states—Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Arizona, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Nevada, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Vermont and Virginia—and is in the process of qualifying for Ohio, Washington, D.C., the Northern Mariana Islands and the U.S. Virgin Islands. “The filing windows in the remaining states have not yet opened, or require the SOS to take action by generating a list of ‘nationally recognized’ candidates, or there is no ballot access procedure because there is no presidential preference vote,” Miller said.

Bush’s team also has field organizers—hundreds of them—everywhere across the country, so what that means is he’s got a long-term strategic plan and can pick up delegates until late in the process. With a new advertising campaign from the pro-Bush Super PAC—which technically can’t coordinate with the campaign—this week targeting California, that’s a sign that Bush is playing to win in the long, long term. California is one of the last states to vote in the GOP primary on June 7, and its 169 delegates are “winner-take-all.”

Steve Munisteri, the former chairman of the Texas Republican Party who’s now with the Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) campaign, previously told the National Review there’s a possibility of a brokered convention.

“If one candidate wins one winner-take-all [state] and a couple other candidates win other winner-take-all [states], you can see a scenario where it’s possible that nobody would have 50 percent of the delegates going into the convention,” Munisteri said back in May. “The key strategy for us is to focus on the immediate states while at the same time being prepared to react quickly to the later states.”

Sergio Gor, Paul’s spokesman, added in a Wednesday email to Breitbart News that Paul is prepared for a long fight.

“Senator Paul intends to compete in all 50 states and the territories,” Gor said. “We believe we are uniquely positioned to do well in many of the early states and caucuses, a combination of liberty voters, students, tea party constituents, constitutional conservatives, independents and regular Republican voters will turn out to support Senator Paul. Additionally, our on ground organization will be unmatched by most.”

Conant, Rubio’s spokesman, added that the Florida senator’s campaign has a long term strategy in place for delegate collection that could go all the way until the end of voting if needed.

“We have a delegate plan that takes into account proportionality by at-large and by Congressional districts,” Conant said in an email. “Our plan goes to California in June if necessary.”

Cruz’s team is playing the long game too.

“We have over a thousand team leaders, and we have over 120,000 volunteers,” Tyler said. “We have already filed in 40 states. We’re ahead of everybody else in qualifying to get on the ballot. That speaks to who can organize and get on the ballot—that’s the first real test of who’s got organization and who’s got the money to get on the ballot and who can fill slates, if you look at Alabama, we and three others filled a full slate and nobody else did.”

Rubio’s, Cruz’s, and Santorum’s campaigns both point to Alabama’s primaries—where candidates have already put forward their delegate slates publicly—and only four candidates put forward slates that are “full,” or enough to cover at least 50 delegates. Alabama has 50 delegates and those delegates are awarded on a proportional basis, so it’s highly unlikely that any one candidate would win all 50 delegates, but having 50 or more delegates ready to roll is an organizational structure sign. The only four candidates to file more than 50 delegates in Alabama were Cruz, Carson, Trump, and Rubio. Two remaining candidates—Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, whose campaign staffs didn’t respond to a request to comment in this story—didn’t file any delegates whatsoever.

Tyler said:

If you can’t get 49 people in one state to represent you as a delegate, then that speaks volumes. We are organized far and away beyond any other candidate. We’re the only candidate who’s named a chairman in all 171 early state counties. We named congressional district chairmen in every congressional district up until the March 15 primary, not including the March 15 primary but up until the March 15 primary. Now we’re onto the next wave of states organizing those. We’re rolling through the states organizing better than anybody else. You can see the people who have a one-state strategy. We don’t. We don’t just have an early-state strategy. We have a medium term strategy and we have a long term strategy. We have a county chair in every single county in New Jersey. Ask Chris Christie if he has that. We’re going to roll out over a hundred team leaders in New Jersey after Thanksgiving.

In addition to Graham and Christie, the only other then-candidate who filed for the ballot but didn’t file any delegates for their slate was Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. Days after that detail came out, Jindal dropped out of the race despite his surge in Iowa polling.

Candidates like Santorum and Bush, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, and more who filed delegates but not a full slate, are expecting to win some there but not much more than they filed. Huckabee’s campaign hasn’t commented by press time, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s and former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina’s campaigns declined to discuss strategic decisions for this article.

But everyone who’s anyone is playing the long, long game in what’s become an increasingly national primary focused on winning enough delegates around the country to secure the nomination rather than on busting out of a crowded field in a couple early states.

Beynon, Santorum’s spokesman, said:

Say Huckabee or Santorum wins Iowa. Which is a distinct possibility since even though the media doesn’t want to talk about it 88 percent of Iowa caucus-goers are undecided. So say Huckabee or Santorum wins Iowa—Ted Cruz isn’t going to pull out of the race since he has so much money. He’s going to keep going. And Marco Rubio, he might not win a state until Florida, but he’s got a ton of money too. You’re going to have all of these, when you go into SEC Tuesday, you may still have seven or eight candidates in the field that are vying and can win delegates.

Steele said this is all a sign that the GOP presidential primary process is now unofficially essentially a national primary—something that may have just happened by accident over the years. He said:

We have by either design or just by typical confusion sort of back-doored our way into a national primary. It’s largely because the media is too lazy to—and excuse me, I’m not talking about Breitbart here, I’m just talking about the mainstream media and the TV side who have been running these national polls. People in California aren’t voting until late in the cycle. People in Minnesota aren’t voting until late in the cycle. The only people who are voting right out of the gate are four states—and that gives you a sense.

Steele said the effective national primary that’s taken over here—something he said he supports since the nation elects its president in a national election with the electoral college—rather than just a handful of early states driving the process is in his opinion a good thing, even though it changes the dynamics of GOP nominating processes.

“I’ll be honest with you: I’m one who’s not afraid of a national primary,” Steele said. “We elect the president nationally—why can’t the party also get into that process? But it changes a lot of how who’s an important state and who isn’t an important state. That’s something we looked into when I was chairman and people were a little bit afraid of some of the recommendations I’d be making. So I played it cool and let the status quo prevail, but the process is changing. And it will change.”


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