Donald Trump’s road to the Republican presidential nomination at this summer’s convention took another hit Saturday when South Carolina Republicans in the 1st Congressional District elected Ted Cruz supporters as delegates.
Sure, if Trump — the front-runner — continues to win primaries for the next two months and reaches the magic 1,237 national delegate threshold, it may not be an issue at the July convention in Cleveland. But if there’s an open or contested convention and the selection goes beyond a first ballot, the six picked Saturday — which includes three voting delegates and three alternates — are likely to support Cruz, who most Republicans are siding with as the anti-Trump White House candidate.
“It’s just you’ve got to make a choice,” said former state lawmaker Mike Rose of Summerville, the leading vote-getter Saturday.
Under S.C. Republican Party rules, Rose is legally bound to vote for Trump on a first ballot since he was the winner of February’s South Carolina GOP primary. But after that, Rose said he will back Cruz, the U.S. senator from Texas, who finished third in the primary behind Marco Rubio.
The other delegates elected Saturday during the election at Orange Grove Elementary Charter School are K.C. Lombard and Paige Duffy Lewis, along with alternates Steve Rapchick, Terry Hardesty and Jonathan Hoffman.
All are considered in or leaning to the Cruz camp. Lombard was even wearing an athletic-style jersey with Cruz’s name printed on it.
They join a trend of pro-Cruz supporters being elected in the other congressional district delegate selections being held around the state this month. South Carolina has 50 convention delegates total.
Former Charleston County GOP Chairman John Steinberger, who supports Trump, said it was apparent the Cruz network knew the rules Saturday about who was eligible to vote and then got those supporters out.
“The Cruz campaign was the best organized,” Steinberger said.
A leading local eligibility requirement was being part of the Charleston GOP precinct meetings from more than a year ago, which was months before Trump formally got in the race, Steinberger noted.
“The process is in the rules and it’s up to the campaigns to know them,” Steinberger said. “I respect the process.”
Hoffman, who previously had supported Rubio in the primary, said he would vote for Cruz if given the opportunity in Cleveland, saying he wanted to back someone who could win in November. Additionally, his fear is that Trump, the New York billionaire and recent convert to the GOP, could so disrupt the turnout this year that GOP seats in Congress and the U.S. Senate might be in jeopardy as a result of voter apathy.
Hoffman said he could still vote for Trump if he were the nominee, but added the sometimes brash front-runner must first change his tone and rhetoric on the trail.
“He controls his own destiny,” Hoffman said of Trump.
The 1st District consists of parts of Charleston, Berkeley, Dorchester, Colleton and Beaufort counties. Republicans in the 6th District make their picks next week. The state GOP convention is May 7 in Columbia.