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GOP Presidential Campaigns Zero In On Party's Spring Meeting


There's more than a bit of an edge to this week's meeting of the Republican National Committee. It's the last gathering of the party's senior leadership before the convention in July, and there is, as yet, no clear nominee. What's more, the party's front-runner, Donald Trump, is accusing the party of rigging the system against him. NPR congressional reporter Susan Davis is there in Hollywood, Fla., covering the meeting. Good morning.


MONTAGNE: Well, the ANC has - excuse me - the RNC has made it clear it is none too thrilled at Trump's talk of rigging the system.

DAVIS: Yeah, well that's an understatement. The RNC chairman, the top chairman here, is Reince Priebus. He's from Wisconsin. And he has pushed back very hard and very publicly against Donald Trump saying that the system is somehow rigged against him. And the delegates here that I've talked to, you know, they feel the same way. The rules that are in place that pick the nominee had been in place before Trump announced he was running for president so the idea that they were somehow engineered against him is not really possible.

But, you know, like, that said, the rules are really complicated. And I think they're hard for the average voter to understand, particularly when it comes to how delegates are selected and how they get to vote. But party officials here are so sensitive to this idea that they could be tampering with the rules that the main public order of business here was to have a committee meeting to agree not to agree on anything until they get to the convention in Cleveland.

MONTAGNE: And exactly who is at this meeting doing this?

DAVIS: Yeah - so the RNC is made up of 168 people, and all of these people are mostly state party chairmen and longtime party loyalists. A lot of them have day jobs. Think of it like the governing board of the Republican Party, and their main job is to create the infrastructure to nominate the president at the convention every four years. And because of that, every one of these 168 people is a delegate who will cast a vote on the floor at the convention.

MONTAGNE: Which would explain why two of the candidates and the top people from all of the Republican campaigns are there.

DAVIS: Exactly. So Ted Cruz and John Kasich came here personally earlier this week, and they met privately with delegates. They also have campaign surrogates here working the crowds in private meetings. It's always important to remember that that magic number to get the nomination is 1237. That's what they need in Cleveland to win it. If you don't have it before you get to Cleveland, that's when we're going to have a contested convention.

Now, Donald Trump remains the front-runner. He did not personally come to Florida, but several of his top campaign aides are here. They have been meeting with delegates. They're trying to calm concerns about Trump as the nominee. And their message is simple, and Trump has said it publicly - it would be wrong to deny the candidate with the most votes and the most delegates the nomination. And, you know, I talk to Trump campaign aides who say, look, they still think they can win it before they get to Cleveland.

MONTAGNE: And so where does that leave Ted Cruz and John Kasich?

DAVIS: You know, they're underdogs, without a doubt. Kasich is mathematically eliminated from winning the nomination outright before they get to Cleveland, and Cruz could be mathematically eliminated next week depending on what happens in the five primary contests coming up on Tuesday. You know, the Cruz campaign believes that their strategy is they can win it on a second ballot if Donald Trump doesn't clinch it on a first ballot, and that's where he can make a run for the nomination, when more delegates are freed up to vote how they want to.

And you know, as for Kasich, his strategy, it's the equivalent of a Hail Mary pass. It would rely on multiple rounds of ballots with no clear nominee and that he thinks that he could emerge a consensus candidate who could ultimately win the nomination.

MONTAGNE: Sue, thanks very much.

DAVIS: Thank you very much, Renee.

MONTAGNE: That's NPR congressional reporter Susan Davis. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Susan Davis is a congressional correspondent for NPR and a co-host of the NPR Politics Podcast. She has covered Congress, elections, and national politics since 2002 for publications including USA TODAY, The Wall Street Journal, National Journal and Roll Call. She appears regularly on television and radio outlets to discuss congressional and national politics, and she is a contributor on PBS's Washington Week with Robert Costa. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Philadelphia native.