At Arizona GOP Convention, Cruz-Kasich Alliance Spanks Trump

As an otherwise staid Arizona Republican Convention in Mesa wrapped up Saturday, Donald Trump's campaign chair in Arizona, State Treasurer Jeff DeWit, sputtered into what best can be described as a Trump-style meltdown.

Enraged by the results of an electronic election held that afternoon for 28 at-large delegates at the Mesa Convention Center, DeWit came unglued, headed for the table where most of the press was camped, and insisted that the method of picking Arizona's at-large delegates to the GOP's national convention in July had been rigged.

"Trump got cheated," he announced to reporters, insisting that as far as he could tell, the Trump team had only scored two at-large delegates.

He denounced what he called "collusion between the Cruz and Kasich campaigns" and promised that "a grievance" will be filed. "There's a serious issue with the way this whole thing was done through an electronic system," DeWit insisted. "Our people we submitted [for nomination] — in many cases the names were not showing up [on the computer]."

Indeed, there had been some confusion among attendees concerning the process for voting via cell phone or laptop, with technology-befuddled oldsters occasionally asking reporters on the sidelines to help them vote.

But the results of the election for at-large delegates seemed mostly attributable to a strategy employed by the campaigns for Trump rivals U.S. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and Ohio Governor John Kasich, which joined forces and offered identical slates of nominees.

As a result, 24 of the 28 delegates elected at-large came from the combined Cruz-Kasich slates, with just four winning names listed on the Trump slate.

Of the 27 delegates elected earlier that day, with Republicans selecting names from within their Congressional districts, the Trump camp scored 14 delegates.

The results may be academic, because according to state law, all 58 Arizona delegates — a number that includes the 55 chosen Saturday as well as the state chair and the national committeeman and committeewoman — must vote for the winner of the AZ GOP's March Presidential Preference Election on the first ballot at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland this July. On March 22, Trump handily won the Republican PPE in Arizona, tallying 47 percent of the vote to Cruz's 25 percent and Kasich's 10 percent.

Where the loyalty of the delegates may matter is on a second ballot, should there be one in Cleveland. This would transpire if Trump does not clinch the nomination on the first go-around.

All the same, DeWit told journalists that the Trump camp would seek "a re-vote" of the at-large delegates from Arizona — to which Trump backers nearby chanted, "Trump, Trump, Trump."

Looking on, Republican Phoenix City Councilman and Trump supporter Sal DiCiccio claimed that it is precisely such "backroom dealing" that's turning more Americans toward Trump's unconventional candidacy.

But Arizona GOP chair Robert Graham insisted that all parties had signed off on the electronic voting and that all parties had their representatives monitoring the process throughout the day. It was only the at-large results that the Trump people took issue with. "If it was close and there were some issues with [the at-large election]," Graham told New Times, "then I'd get [why the Trump people are upset]. But in this case it worked out in favor of Cruz and Kasich, and I think their combined-slate strategy obviously was well thought out, and they executed it very well."

Last week, the national campaigns for both Cruz and Kasich announced a joint effort to stop Trump from securing the GOP nomination for president on the first ballot.

Though the jury's still out on the move among pundits, at least at Arizona's state convention, the strategy worked.

Among those angered at day's end was former Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, a Trump supporter, who did not make the cut from the hundreds running for an at-large position. 

In reality, the official tally, posted by the AZ GOP online, showed Brewer garnering relatively few votes.

The convention also chose one man and one woman to represent the state on the Republican National Committee, which governs the national GOP.

Incumbent committeeman Bruce Ash won re-election without a challenge.

Former state Senate President Russell Pearce had made noises earlier in the year about running for committeeman, and even posted a banner at the last state party meeting in January announcing his intent to run, but he never formally entered the fray. 

A three-woman race for the open committeewoman spot ended in a runoff between former state Senator Lori Klein-Corbin and former National Federation of Republican Women chair Rae Lynne Chorenky, which Klein-Corbin won.

A former ally of Pearce, Klein-Corbin is best known for pointing her loaded pink Ruger at a reporter during his interview with her at the state capitol.

Though former Maricopa County GOP chair A.J. LaFaro had threatened to bring a resolution to the floor of the convention demanding Graham's resignation as state chair, the effort never materialized.

Outside the convention hall, sporting a white Trump hat, a mollified LaFaro shrugged off the saber rattling he'd engaged in earlier in the month.

"I didn't think this was the venue for it," he told New Times. "This is a different kind of meeting. It's not a mandatory state meeting. Let's just stay focused on the mission at hand."

That's a long way from the resolution LaFaro had promised to gather signatures for, which contained language denouncing Graham for his “dictatorial actions" and called him "one of the worst Party [chairmen] the AZ GOP has ever endured."

LaFaro is one of the leaders of a far-right faction within the state GOP that regards Graham, derisively, as a RiNO, or "Republican in Name Only."

But prior to the convention, Graham had won kudos from the Trump, Cruz, and Kasich camps for his neutrality and the transparency with which he operated.

That may have been enough to make LaFaro rethink his plan to make a second stab at censuring Graham. His first was blocked by the leadership's parliamentarian at the state GOP's January gathering.

The delegate-electing effort had been masterminded on the Cruz end by veteran political consultant Constantin Querard, who by all accounts out-organized his competition.

Whether the gains mean anything in the long run will depend completely on what transpires in Cleveland.
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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons