Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump has promised to set his campaign back on track after two weeks of embarrassing delegate recruitment efforts, but the latest test for his newly expanded campaign team is set to be yet another disappointment.
On Saturday, Wyoming Republicans will gather at the state convention in Casper to select 14 delegates to the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, in addition to the 12 delegates selected at last month’s county convention, which heavily favored Ted Cruz. Trump has secured just one delegate from the state—the same number as now-suspended candidate Marco Rubio—while Cruz won nine delegates.
In Colorado last weekend, Cruz dominated the state’s 34 delegates amid the Trump campaign’s organizational difficulties, which included accidentally encouraging supporters to vote for delegates supporting other candidates. The Trump campaign also suffered delegate setbacks in Indiana, Michigan, South Carolina and Iowa, as Trump delegations to the convention were infiltrated by those loyal to other campaigns. Trump has since cried foul, lambasting the Colorado party for calling off a non-binding vote as was held in 2012, while accusing the Republican National Committee of plotting against him.
But amid the complaints, Trump’s campaign is hoping to avoid a repeat, sending surrogate and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin to address the convention. And on Wednesday, Trump hired veteran GOP operative Rick Wiley, who previously served as Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign manager and political director at the Republican National Committee, to be his national political director, joining the new delegate operation led by convention manager Paul Manafort.
But in the case of Wyoming, the Cruz train has already left the station. Cruz’s domination in the county conventions followed his campaign’s aggressive organizing in the state’s March 1 precinct caucuses, and set the stage for another likely rout this weekend. (Of the 1,590 votes cast in the March 12 county convention, 1128 were for Cruz.)
“There’s no question this process favors people, it favors candidates who are involved—who are willing to put in the time and the effort to participate in the process,” Wyoming GOP chairman Matt Micheli said of the caucus and convention process. Micheli didn’t name the Cruz campaign, but the Houston-based effort has drawn wide acclaim from many in GOP circles for how it has organized party grassroots to succeed in those delegate selection processes. Cruz is also the only candidate set to address the convention in person, with Trump relying on Palin and Ohio Gov. John Kasich on Idaho Gov. Butch Otter.
“Our Republican system is absolutely rigged. It’s a phony deal,” Trump said Tuesday. On Sunday, Manafort, his convention manager, accused Cruz of using “Gestapo tactics” to win over delegates. Cruz fired back Wednesday in an interview with CNN, highlighting alleged cases of Trump supporters harassing or threatening delegates who are considering abandoning Trump as well as the state party chair in Colorado, saying Trump’s campaign is “acting like union boss thugs.”
Michelli told TIME that the state’s three-tiered system has been in place unchanged since 1974, as he sought to head off potential criticism from frustrated campaigns this weekend.
“All we’re trying to do is give everybody a level playing field—make sure all the campaigns are represented and have a fair chance,” he said Wednesday. He said he’s seen increased activity from the Trump and Kasich campaigns in the weeks since the county conventions, but that the delegates to the state convention had been selected before their activism had reached high gear.