Georgia GOP changes delegate rules to help Trump in 2020

Credit: Andrew Harnik

Credit: Andrew Harnik

President Donald Trump’s campaign helped orchestrate rule changes at party conventions in dozens of states, including Georgia, to weaken a potential GOP insurrection before it can start.

Three senior Trump campaign officials said on a conference call Monday that they pressed party officials in 37 states to make it harder for a Republican primary opponent to emerge at the nominating convention in Charlotte in August 2020.

In Georgia, that effort unfolded in May when the state GOP quietly adopted a rule that makes it harder for lesser-known candidates to win delegates.

Under the rules, a candidate who wins a plurality of votes statewide automatically captures all of the statewide and at-large delegates. And the candidate who wins a plurality in each congressional district automatically captures all three delegates from the district.

The previous rules used in the 2016 election let candidates capture at least a handful of delegates if they won 20% of the vote statewide or, in some cases, if they finished in a strong second-place in a congressional district.

That meant that Trump, who won Georgia with about 40% of the vote in the primary, netted about 42 of Georgia's 76 delegates. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz won 18 and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio won the remaining 16.

The new changes only apply to presidential primaries scheduled after March 15; shortly after they were adopted, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger set the primary for March 24.

Trump doesn’t face a serious threat from any of the Republican primary opponents who have announced campaigns: former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld and former U.S. Reps. Mark Sanford and Joe Walsh.

But even a hint of a rebellion in Charlotte from wavering delegates could be embarrassing for Trump, who has insisted on party loyalty and brags of high poll numbers among Republican voters.

The rule changes mean that even if a Republican rival to Trump gains traction, he or she would face a higher bar to earn seats on the convention floor or speaking slots. Other states have taken more expansive measures, including at least five that canceled their primaries.

Trump's advisers want to avoid a replay of what happened in 2016, when Cruz's supporters led an attempt to swipe his delegates. That effort failed, but added to a narrative of Republican disunity surrounding his campaign.

A senior Trump adviser said the campaign wants the Republican convention a “4-day television commercial” and not an internal feud.

“A properly executed convention is the single most important thing a campaign can do to put their candidate on the pathway to re-election,” the adviser said.