How the Trump campaign is rigging the GOP primary to undermine his Republican challengers
Donald Trump. (AFP/File / NICHOLAS KAMM)

Latching on to fractures within the Democratic Party, Donald Trump has repeatedly criticized his opponents’ 2016 presidential primary as “rigged.” But now that he is in a position to control the Republican Party, he’s doing exactly what he denounced: rigging the 2020 primary in his own favor.


Trump campaign officials confirmed on a call with reporters Monday that they have secured key rules changes by 37 state Republican parties for their presidential primaries. These changes mean that, by the time of the Republican National Convention, there’s much less likely to be dissension on the floor, and supporters of candidates than other Trump himself will have little say.

As AP journalist Zeke Miller reported, the campaign claimed the move wasn’t a sign of Trump’s weakness.

“They say they’re not worried about primary challengers, but want the convention to be a 4-day [infomercial] for Trump,” he said.

Instead of dividing up delegates to primary candidates based roughly on their percentage of the vote, Republican state parties, such as in New York and Massachusetts, adjusted their rules to give 100 percent of their delegates to a candidate if they win more than 50 percent of the vote — as Trump is most likely to do. That makes it much less likely that there will be many delegates on the convention floor who support Trump’s primary opponents, such as Joe Walsh, Bill Weld, or Mark Sanford. The New York Times recently explained:

Republicans are trying to avoid the conflicts that arose at conventions such as the one in 1992, when Patrick J. Buchanan challenged the incumbent Republican president, George Bush, for the nomination. Mr. Buchanan didn’t gather significant support in most of the primaries. But he rolled into the party’s convention at the Astrodome in Houston with enough support to draw cheers during a thunderous speech about the “culture war” being waged for the soul of the nation.

In 1976, President Gerald Ford faced a nominating challenge from Ronald Reagan. The incumbent found himself wooing delegates to lock them up at the convention, using enticements like offering rides aboard Air Force One.

For both Mr. Bush and Mr. Ford, the primary challenges helped expose weaknesses that were exploited in the general election. Despite Mr. Trump’s high popularity in polls of Republican voters, his campaign is seeking to avoid any signs of discord. That includes a situation like the one Mitt Romney faced in 2012, when he was forced to contend with changes sought by delegates supporting Ron Paul.

PBS News’ Yamiche Alcindor reported that the campaign claimed that “the rule changes to state parties now reflect the will of Republican voters who overwhelmingly support Trump in poll after poll.”

But this is pure spin and straightforwardly incorrect. Republican voters would be better represented at the convention if delegates for their candidates were equally apportioned according to the results of the primary elections. Trump would still, in the most likely scenarios, win the party’s support, but internal criticisms of the president and disputes among Republicans could be given a voice. What Trump and his campaign want is not to represent the Republican Party as a whole but to marginalize any voices that are critical of the president.