A Primer for Trump Supporters on Delegate Theft in the GOP Primary

Although Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump is rarely if ever eloquent, there's a silver-tongued simplicity to his promise to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants: they didn't play by the rules, so they must go. Yet as Trump and his supporters witness Ted Cruz cadge convention delegates in a manner that's perfectly legal though transparently undemocratic, Trump has transformed into a latitudinarian. "I don't care about the rules, folks," Trump recently said as he inveighed against Ted Cruz's delegate superiority in Louisiana even though Trump carried the state. Trump the latitudinarian has even insisted that he should be awarded the GOP nomination without winning a majority of the delegates.

Trump supporters looking to make sense of the byzantine process that passes for democracy in the Republican primary might seek out an unexpected source for knowledge (and maybe even empathy): voters of color. Of course, the Trump devotees might be reluctant to identify with these voters since a large percentage of Trump supporters bear the marks of explicit and implicit bias against people of color. But interest-convergence sometimes requires setting aside bigotry.

First, it might be helpful for Trump and his supporters to know that for many decades, the primary system in the South was used to nullify black and Latino votes. Under the "white primary" systems in Texas and other jurisdictions, states reposed much of the machinery for selecting party nominees in the then one-party South in state party committees or other organizations. These entities were considered private rather than state actors and hence were thought to be beyond the reach of the Constitution. If the white primary system sounds something like the "party insiders" that Trump and his supporters claim are commandeering the delegate selection process, well, that's because the white primary cases outlawed racial discrimination in the primary process but otherwise left intact a fair degree of party autonomy. (In this regard, orange really is the new black.)

Trump and his supporters have complained of being "disenfranchised." Blacks and Latinos have made a similar claim regarding the effects of voter photo ID laws. There's increasing direct evidence that the sole purpose of these laws is to suppress Democratic base voter turnout. Trump may be on to something when he accuses Ted Cruz of fraud by misinforming voters that Ben Carson has left the race or by publishing campaign literature the looks like an official communication from a local election board. But with respect to in-person voter fraud, there's just no proof there. It might well strengthen Trump's cause if he and his supporters demonstrated an ability to distinguish real from trumped-up fraud.

While Trump's brays of delegate "stealing", "unfairness" and a "rigged system" have become more amplified as a brokered GOP convention becomes increasingly more likely, what's happening in the GOP race really has a much broader context. When the Supreme Court struck down Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, it allowed an election official in the majority-minority county of Maricopa County, Arizona, to "rig" the voting system against minority voters by cutting the number of polling places in Phoenix by 70 percent.

Likewise, when the Supreme Court, again on a partisan 5 to 4 vote, disallowed Florida from counting uncounted ballots in the 2000 election in Bush v. Gore, it not only rigged the system, it imposed a presidential candidate on a free country. (Even Mr. Trump acknowledges that the country is still paying for the Bush presidency.)

So in America, there's a rich and recent history of electoral theft, unfairness and rigging. One wonders in vain when Trump and his supporters will start citing to these precedents to reinforce a broader point that seems to elude them on this and other issues: rules can be unjust.