Donald Trump warned on Wednesday that his supporters could riot at the Republican convention in Cleveland if he is not “automatically” made the party’s nominee if he arrives with the most votes but fails to secure a majority of convention delegates.
Speaking to Chris Cuomo on CNN, Trump said that he hoped to win the nomination outright before the convention in July, but warned that if he goes to Cleveland with more delegates than any of his rivals and the nomination goes to anyone else, “I think you’d have riots.”
He went on to argue that since many of his voters were new to the process, they might simply refuse to accept the Republican Party rules that make it possible to deny the nomination to a candidate who won the most votes but did not secure a majority of delegates.
“I’m representing a tremendous — many, many millions of people — in many cases, first-time voters. These are people that haven’t voted because they never believed in the system,” he said.
“Now, if you disenfranchise those people and you say, ‘Well, I’m sorry, but you’re 100 votes short, even though the next one is 500 votes short,’ I think you would have problems like you’ve never seen before. I think bad things would happen, I really do. I believe that. I wouldn’t lead it but I think bad things would happen.”
Trump made his remarks as analysts like Harry Enten of FiveThirtyEight reported that it remains quite possible that Trump could fail to win the majority of delegates he needs through the primaries.
Asked about Trump’s comments later on CNN, Sean Spicer, a spokesperson for the Republican National Committee, said, “I assume he’s speaking figuratively.”
However, the candidate has repeatedly expressed nostalgia for “the good old days” when protesters could expect to be beaten for expressing dissent, and offered to pay the legal fees of a supporter who punched a peaceful protester at one of his rallies in North Carolina last week.
Reza Akbari, a researcher on Iran at the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, pointed out on Wednesday that an image of violence at a Trump rally has already been used to mock American democracy on the front page of an Iranian newspaper.
The veiled threat of violence from his supporters came the same day that Trump released an Instagram ad suggesting that he intends to make macho posturing a central part of any general election campaign against Hillary Clinton, the Democratic frontrunner.
The ad starts with images of Russian President Vladimir Putin practicing judo, and an Islamic State militant issuing a threat, before moving on to video of Hillary Clinton barking like a dog and Putin snickering. Then it closes with the text: “We don’t need to be a punchline.”
Trump’s obsession with the idea that America has become a weak laughingstock, and needs the strong leadership someone like him could provide, dates to at least 1987, when he stoked rumors of a presidential bid with an open letter to the American people printed as a full-page ad in the New York Times. “The world is laughing at America’s politicians,” Trump wrote in the letter, accusing the Reagan administration of displaying a lack of “backbone” in foreign affairs. “Let’s not let our great country be laughed at any more,” the letter concluded.
Trump’s victories in Florida, Illinois, and North Carolina on Tuesday brought his delegate total to 646 and increased his lead to 250 over Ted Cruz, his nearest rival. John Kasich, the Ohio governor who trails Trump by more than 500 delegates, also pledged to stay in the race until the convention after winning his home state on Tuesday.
Given that Trump could come up just short of the delegate total he needs, it is interesting that his supporters might have prevented him from adding three more to his total in Illinois on Tuesday night, by refusing to vote for delegates loyal to him who had “foreign-sounding” last names. Dave Wasserman, an editor at the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, noticed that Trump delegates named Raja Sadiq, Nabi Fakroddin, and Jim Uribe inexplicably failed to get elected to the convention in areas won by the candidate.
As Wasserman explained in a post for FiveThirtyEight:
Illinois Republicans hold a convoluted “loophole” primary: The statewide primary winner earns 15 delegates, but the state’s other 54 delegates are elected directly on the ballot, with three at stake in each of the state’s 18 congressional districts. Each campaign files slates of relatively unknown supporters to run for delegate slots, and each would-be delegate’s presidential preference is listed beside his or her name. …
In the western Chicago suburbs, a Trump delegate candidate named Nabi Fakroddin received 14 percent fewer votes than a member of the same Trump slate named Paul Minch. In southern Illinois, a would-be Trump delegate named Raja Sadiq received an eye-popping 25 percent fewer votes than a slate-mate named Doug Hartmann. And in a rural western Illinois district, a losing Trump delegate named Jim Uribe received 11 percent fewer votes than one named Rich Nordstrom. In all three cases, the disparity appeared to cost Trump a delegate.
The last incident of unrest at a nominating convention came in 1968, when the Chicago Police Department used tear gas and violence to disperse thousands of antiwar protesters as the Democratic Party nominated Hubert Humphrey for president despite his promise to continue Lyndon Johnson’s policy on the war in Vietnam.