Danielle McLaughlin: Behind the scenes of the Republican Party
Opinion: In her fifth 'Kiwi in New York' column, Danielle McLaughlin speaks to a Republican footsoldier and gains an insight into what's likely to happen at the party's national convention.
James Castro-Blanco is the son of a Colombian immigrant, and a lawyer. In about seven weeks, he will attend the Republican National Convention, or RNC, as a Trump delegate for the state of New York. He talked to me this week about the delegate system, what actually happens at the RNC, and his hopes for the party as he looks forward to this year's convention.
The RNC is where 2472 Republican representatives from the various states gather. They vote on their party's presidential and vice-presidential nominees. They approve policy platforms for the upcoming election. This year the convention will be held on July 18-21 in a football stadium in Cleveland, Ohio. Yes, a football stadium. That's because in addition to the delegates, there will be thousands of party officials, volunteers, media, and observers. Although there is plenty of back-room dealing that occurs out of sight of cameras, some of the RNC is televised. According to Castro-Blanco, "it's like being at a sporting event, or a concert, especially the prime-time aspects like the speeches and the vote on the party platforms." He related his experience as a 2008 delegate. "When John McCain accepted the Republican nomination for president and implored the party to 'fight with me', the room was electric."
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So what is a delegate, and how do you become one? A delegate is a party loyalist, often someone who has served in a leadership position or has dedicated considerable time or energy to the party's cause. This year, 95 delegates will come from New York. In basic terms, the state's Republican leadership selects 14 delegates, and the remaining 81 are apportioned across the state in the New York primary election; three delegates for each of the 27 congressional districts.
Because Donald Trump won Castro-Blanco's so-called 16th Congressional District, he and two others will attend the RNC representing the 16th as Trump delegates. They are required to vote for Trump on the first ballot. When the field was more crowded and it looked like the convention might be contested, Castro-Blanco and the rest of the New York delegation could have cast their votes in subsequent ballots for another candidate (Castro-Blanco was a "Rubio guy.") On Thursday, news came that Trump had secured more than 50% of the available delegates, and with that, he locked up the nomination.
So how will 2016 be different to 2008, or 2012, I asked Castro-Bianco. "Louder, glitzier, because Trump's people will be running the show" he said. And outside the convention? "I expect to see a concerted effort by protesters to disrupt the RNC. Trump's a polarising figure, like Hillary Clinton on the other side." Will the RNC be a fight for the heart and soul of the Republican Party? Castro-Blanco said he hoped for party unity, and thinks there are bigger problems looming for Democrats because of the infighting between Clinton and Bernie Sanders. "Trump is a shake-it-up candidate," says Castro-Blanco. He was responding to "palpable anger" among Republican voters. "He's not my first, or even second choice, but ultimately this is a binary choice." And as to Trump versus Clinton, he says, "it's clear as day".
* Expat Kiwi Danielle McLaughlin, a Manhattan lawyer and American TV political commentator, is the Sunday Star-Times' correspondent in the USA.
- Sunday Star Times