The death threats were starting to get to Constantin Querard. They had been streaming in from Donald Trump supporters, who wanted to know why Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, had won delegates at Arizona’s convention even though Trump had won the state. After the deluge, finally, a nice-seeming message appeared on his Facebook page.
“I’m praying for you,” it began.
Querard, the Arizona political consultant who had managed Cruz’s delegate campaign, clicked to read the rest.
“I’m praying for you to get prostate cancer.”
Cruz’s delegates were girded for two more months of this, then a contested convention where they could force a second ballot and defeat Trump, making all the hate mail worth it.
Instead, hundreds of Republican activists have been elected as delegates to a convention expected to be a coronation of Trump. Delegates such as Querard, who outfoxed Trump supporters at state conventions, were now trapped on a speeding Trump Train. They were legally bound to stand up and nominate him. That might be the last time they vote for him.
“I’m a lifelong Republican and I love the party,” Querard said. “But don’t ask me how I’ll vote in November. I’ve been on the receiving end of enough death wishes where it’s pretty soon for me to strap on the jersey with any authenticity.”
There are unhappy delegates at every party convention, but the captive audience of Trump skeptics bound for Cleveland is unique. For months, supporters of Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich worked to get their supporters elected as unbound delegates, or even as “Trojan horse” delegates bound to Trump on the first ballot but free to bolt if the contest continued.
For a few weeks, it seemed to be working. Kasich and Cruz crowed about their ability to out-organize Trump’s forces, who in Cruz’s world were not “capable to run a lemonade stand.” As both men lost high-profile contests — Trump won all but two of them, in Utah and Wisconsin, after March 15 — Cruz took to counting up his state convention victories as proof that voters were rejecting Trump.
Yet Trump turned the wins against them, telling his mega-rallies that a “crooked deal” was stealing his delegates. Roger Stone, a Trump ally who had promised to publish the names and hotel rooms of “Trojan horse” delegates, was happy to see them fail.
“Many will not attend, leaving their seats to the alternates, who in most cases are Trump supporters,” Stone said. “I am not too concerned about their feelings.”
The people who had out-organized Trump were dazed by the backlash. “North Dakota did it how it was supposed to be done,” said Bette Grande, a hard-charging Cruz delegate who helped him dominate that state’s weekend convention. “The media didn’t like that because it was something they didn’t understand, so they bought into the lie of Trump that something unfair was going on.”
Grande, like almost all of the Cruz and Kasich delegates, intended to head to Cleveland anyway. In the days since the Indiana primary, delegates have occasionally sought instructions or solace from the Cruz and Kasich campaigns. There has been no instruction to stand down, and no hint that the results can be overturned.
“It is time for those who supported others in the Republican Party to come together and help Mr. Trump be the best candidate he can be,” said Jim Brainard, the mayor of Carmel, Indiana, whose election as a pro-Kasich delegate turned out to be one of that campaign’s last coups. “It’s a big tent, and those of us who disagree with Trump will hopefully have an opportunity to sway his views.”
Some of the “Trojan horses” had only reluctantly backed Cruz or Kasich. Subba Kolla, a Realtor from Northern Virginia, had backed Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida in the state’s close primary but allied with Cruz during the state convention. Cruz’s forces won a smashing victory, but Kolla was resigned to backing Trump.
“I’m not sad,” he said. “I am a party loyalist. I am representing my community, the Indian American community, and I don’t want to disappoint them. Most of our community supported Rubio. Now there’s only Trump. I don’t have any bad feelings about him.”
Several other delegates said that they would attend to keep Trump and the GOP honest. Virginia state Sen. Richard H. Black (Loudoun), a Cruz delegate, said he had actually preferred Trump’s “America first” policy to Cruz’s, but intended to go to Cleveland and defend the social conservative planks of the Republican platform.
Kay Godwin, a Georgia conservative who had become a Cruz delegate, felt the same way. “It wasn’t the Lord’s plan for Ted to win, but maybe that’ll be his plan next time,” she said. “The reason I became a Republican is because the platform is wonderful. It stands for everything that I stand for in my heart.”
Still, there were holdouts. Querard knew of one alternate who no longer wanted to spend the money to go to Cleveland. Russell Donley, a former speaker of the Wyoming House who had won one of Cruz’s slots, said the Trump victory made him inclined to stay home with his wife.
“If Trump’s short one vote, and there’s an opening for Cruz, OK, then I go,” Donley said. “But I’m an old Wyoming boy, and going to Cleveland in the summer doesn’t really enthuse me.”
Then there was Eric Brakey, a young state senator from Maine who had been part of a Cruz slate that triumphed so resoundingly that Republican Gov. Paul LePage denounced it. Four years earlier, Brakey had fought just as hard to become a delegate for former Texas congressman Ron Paul, only to watch the Republican National Committee overturn the state convention and replace some Paul delegates with Mitt Romney delegates. This year, Brakey was finally given a vote at the convention — and received yet another disappointment.
“Donald Trump isn’t who my conscience tells me to support,” Brakey said. “Then again, neither was Ted Cruz. I voted for Sen. Rand Paul (Kentucky) at the caucuses, and when I ran for delegate I said I would reflect the will of the voters. Now I’m sort of jokingly telling people that I’ll cast my vote for Ron Paul — four years late.”