ROCHESTER, N.Y. (AP) – Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is blasting the way the country chooses presidential party nominees as “corrupt” and “crooked” as he grapples with the potential of a contested convention that he risks losing.
Speaking to thousands packed in a frigid airport hangar in western New York on Sunday, Trump ripped the byzantine fight over delegates at the heart of his party’s nominating process. He argued anew that the person who wins the most votes in the primary process should automatically be the GOP nominee.
“What they’re trying to do is subvert the movement with crooked shenanigans,” said Trump, comparing his woes to those of Bernie Sanders, who is winning states but still far behind Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton in the race for delegates that decide party nominations.
“We should have won it a long time ago,” Trump said. “But, you know, we keep losing where we’re winning.”
Trump was coming to terms with the political reality of candidates chasing delegates ahead of their nominating convention, and now he’s shifting his focus to developing a strategy akin to the one rival Ted Cruz has been pursuing for months.
“A more traditional approach is needed and Donald Trump recognizes that,” Paul Manafort, Trump’s new delegate chief, said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” At his rally in Rochester, Trump repeatedly insisted his campaign was “doing fine” and predicted he would clinch the nomination before the summer convention.
Nonetheless, his supporters described with disdain what they saw as an effort by the party’s establishment to deny Trump a victory they feel he has already earned.
“I’m 59 years old and maybe I’ve had my head in the sand through the years, but I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Cheryl Griggs of Hilton, New York, who attended the rally with her son. “To go against the votes of the people and the will of the people and put somebody else in there, I think, is horrific.”
She said she didn’t understand the delegate process and believes that the winner should be decided by popular vote.
Rochester’s Scott Nasca said he worries the efforts would only leave Trump bruised heading into a general election.
“The sad thing is the guy’s got to go against the Democratic establishment, and now he’s got to go against his own party’s establishment as well, and it’s just not right,” said Nasca, 48, who owns an investment company,
“It’s absolutely ridiculous. But he’s a threat to the big people in politics, the lobbyists, the elitists in the Republican Party,” he added. “They’re going to disenfranchise their own voters.”
His brother-in-law Mark Tachin, 50, a mason contractor in Rochester, was equally glum.
“It’s like the American people don’t have a voice anymore, it almost feels like that,” he said. “As much as people are voting right now in these huge turnouts that Trump is getting, they’re still not paying attention to these turnouts. They’re still trying to do their own thing despite the voice of the people. It’s just unbelievable to me.”
“It’s just they don’t get it,” he added, “It’s disheartening.”
Trump was introduced at the rally by Buffalo real estate developer and 2010 gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino, who said that talk of a brokered convention “suggests that they can take that right away from the American people to choose their leader.”
Elsewhere, Trump continued to try to catch up to Cruz’s ground operation, which is months ahead in some states when it comes to securing friendly delegates. Cruz is trying to eat into Trump’s home-state support in conservative pockets of New York.
Manafort said the Cruz campaign was using a “scorched earth” approach in which “they don’t care about the party. If they don’t get what they want, they blow it up.”
“The key, especially for uncommitted delegates, is the electability question,” Manafort said on NBC.
Last weekend, Cruz completed his sweep of Colorado’s 34 delegates by locking up the remaining 13 at the party’s state convention in Colorado Springs. He already had collected 21 delegates and visited the state to try to pad his numbers there.
Trump still has a narrow path to nailing down the Republican nomination by the end of the primaries on June 7, but he has little room for error. He would need to win nearly 60 percent of all the remaining delegates to clinch the nomination before the convention. So far, he’s winning about 45 percent.
Following Cruz’s sweep of Colorado’s remaining delegates on Saturday, the Associated Press count stands at Trump 743, Cruz 545, and John Kasich 143. Marco Rubio, who ended his campaign, has 171 delegates.
Kellman reported from Washington.