Donald J. Trump still holds the nationwide delegate lead and has the clearest path to the GOP presidential nomination, even after a string of bad weeks. But when it comes to California, Mike Schroeder says Ted Cruz’s team has the New York billionaire right where they want him.
Schroeder is the co-chairman, along with former state Assemblyman Ray Haynes, of Cruz’s California campaign. And as anyone who’s been paying even the slightest attention to the circus that is the Republican nominating contest knows, the Golden State’s June 7 primary now looms as a potential deciding factor in whether Trump gets enough delegates to avoid a contested convention.
As of this writing, Trump leads Cruz 743 to 545 in the delegate chase, a difference of 198 delegates. Cruz’s chances of overtaking Trump in the delegate count before the party’s July convention in Cleveland remain slim. However, if Cruz could win a large majority of California’s 172 delegates, he would very likely prevent Trump from getting to the magic number of 1,237 that it takes to win the nomination.
This is why Schroeder, who had a significant hand in writing the rules of the GOP’s California primary process, wore such an air of confidence last week when Voice of OC caught up with him for a quick interview. He says Cruz can score a big victory in California, even though he is currently trailing in the polls, and would enjoy a significant upper hand during a convention fight.
The following is an abridged version of our interview — Schroeder’s answers have been edited for length and clarity:
To the degree that you can, give me the specifics of how Ted Cruz can beat Donald Trump in California?
Schroeder: Well, there are a couple of things to keep in mind. One is that Donald Trump doesn’t do very well in primaries that are Republican only — his successes are in primaries where Democrats and independents can cross over. California’s is closed to Republicans only and the format is winner takes all by congressional districts. That means there are in essence 53 different elections…this matters because the number of people in the congressional districts is not uniform. So you won’t just buy TV in LA — you’ll treat it like a mayor’s race, you’ll do phone banking and door knocking. Trump doesn’t have a leadership structure at all in California — he is more of a road show, he comes to town like the circus. He’ll hire a bunch of local operatives and then fire them after the primary and won’t leave anyone behind.
And I assume Cruz does have the organization to pull off an election like this?
Schroeder: We’ve been developing a leadership structure for over a year. The Cruz operation is run by volunteers like me — I wrote these rules deliberately to force candidates to campaign in neighborhoods that they’ve never campaigned in before. Another reason this becomes interesting is that a month before the election [each candidate] has to come up with three delegates and three alternates for each congressional district– That’s 172 delegates and 172 alternates that you have to pick. If you don’t have those delegates picked and filed with the Secretary of State by May 7, you don’t get them. You look at the Cruz operation me, a former (California) GOP chair; Ron Nehring (Cruz’s national spokesman), a former (California) GOP chair. I don’t have to hire someone in a congressional district and try to figure out who is there…if you’ve been working as an activist you’ll know your area.
So you’re not worried by Trump’s claims that he’s hiring “seasoned operatives” as a contested convention looms?
Schroeder: You have to think about who’s left. You’re picking after all the other teams have picked their players. It’s a little late, 60 days before the end of the primary season, to start hiring seasoned operatives.
OK — but Trump is still leading in the polls. And as George Skelton recently quoted GOP consultant Mike Madrid saying: Cruz needs to get out of Huntington Beach and start campaigning in Huntington Park.
Schroeder: Ted Cruz is kind of unique as a candidate. Most come to do cash-ectomies and leave, [but] every time he’s come to California he’s done grassroots campaigning…[Last week’s] Field Poll shows Ted Cruz leading in LA by a significant margin. We are going to campaign for every congressional district. Keep in mind, a month ago we were trailing in Wisconsin, which also awards delegates by congressional districts. And out of the 42 delegates we got 36 and Trump got six.
What do you see John Kasich doing down the stretch?
Schroeder: Well, the thing is Kasich has no chance — he’s just on a narcissism tour. He’s not even in second place in any of the upcoming states…I think that a vote for Kasich is a vote for Trump. It becomes more and more embarrassing for Kasich the longer he stays in…remember, you have to win eight states to have your name considered for the nomination — he’s not done that, nor will he.
But isn’t this a rule that can be changed come convention time?
Schroeder: You’re talking about rule 40. Yes it can be changed, but it will have to be approved by the full convention…Cruz and Trump will control 80 percent of the delegates — they are going to think it’s a pretty cool rule.
Are you expecting Trump and Kasich to campaign hard in OC, or just swoop in for fundraising events?
Schroeder: I’m surprised we haven’t seen Trump yet. He had a press conference scheduled [last week] in Palos Verdes, but cancelled it because, I imagine, he’s worried about New York. Trump was the only candidate not to accept an invitation to the California Republican Party Convention, which is two weeks away (April 29 – May 1). He never turned it down — he just ignored it. I think he has a very poor, badly run organization. I don’t know that he’s even aware of it. It makes you laugh — his organization is in such a shambles that he didn’t even know he got invited? I kind of doubt Kasich will come, because there’s really no path for him here…there is talk he might focus on Delaware and Rhode Island which are late states as well.
Do you think Cruz has any chance at all to win enough delegates before the convention?
Schroeder: Theoretically yes. [But] most likely we’ll see an open convention. In that scenario Trump has to win on the first ballot, or he doesn’t win. He will have considerable erosion on the second ballot…Right now, Cruz and (Marco) Rubio together have more delegates than Trump. And at this point we don’t know what will happen with the Rubio delegates. Delegates are required to vote for their candidate unless the candidate in releases them in writing…This will be a complete barn-burner — something like you’ve never seen before. If Cruz continues to perform like he has recently, and the others release their delegates, he could get it on first ballot. It tells you how unstable the dynamics are in this race.
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