Trump backers cry foul as Tennessee GOP picks convention delegates

Supporters see plot to deny delegates to Tennessee primary winner

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump waves as he gets into his vehicle in Washington, Thursday, March 31, 2016, following a meeting at the Republican National Committee. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
photo Donald Trump supporters demonstrate on the street outside the Tennessee Republican Party Executive Committee meeting on Saturday in Nashville.
photo Marco Rubio speaks to hundreds of supporters inside the Lindsay Street Hall in Chattanooga on Thursday, Sept. 3, 2015.

Delegate count

Based on the results of the March 1 presidential preference primary, the delegates were allocated as follows:Donald Trump: 33 delegatesTed Cruz: 16 delegatesMarco Rubio: 9 delegatesUnder Tennessee state law, delegates are bound to their respective candidate for two rounds of balloting at the Republican National Convention this summer on Cleveland, Ohio.See the entire delegate slate here.

Hamilton County delegates

Here are Hamilton County Republican delegates and alternate delegates to the 2016 GOP Convention:* Republican state House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick of Chattanooga: Appointed Marco Rubio delegate* Former state GOP Chairman Chris Devaney of Lookout Mountain: Appointed Ted Cruz delegate* Hamilton County Commissioner Randy Fairbanks: Elected Rubio delegate* Republican Oscar Brock of Lookout Mountain: Elected Rubio alternate delegateSource: Tennessee Republican Party

NASHVILLE - In a sometimes raucous meeting Saturday, state GOP leaders named 14 delegates to this summer's Republican National Convention as Donald Trump supporters marched outside the building with signs and one predicted a "train wreck" at the July nominating convention.

The heat was on after Darren Morris, Trump's state director, claimed the state's Republican "establishment" was trying to "steal" delegates for a convention where no candidates may hit the magic number - 1,237 - needed to cinch the nomination on a first or even a second ballot.

Trump won Tennessee's presidential preference primary by a 39 percent plurality.

The GOP's State Executive Committee met as private security guards stood post inside and kept out many nonmembers who were Trump supporters.

Outside, three Metro policemen watched from across the street near their parked squad cars as dozens of Trump delegates protested. Trump supporters warned the Tennessee action is only a prologue of what could occur in 50 states.

State GOP Chairman Ryan Haynes on Saturday told The Tennessean there were even "death threats" from Trump supporters in advance of the committee's gathering. State GOP Executive Director Brent Leatherwood said one threat, which came over social media, "involved trying to hang people."

There was no violence, although lots of angry rhetoric and ruffled feathers, as Trump and some Ted Cruz supporters on the committee sought in vain to force revisions of the delegate list.

State Executive Committee members voted 40-25 for the slate prepared by Haynes and his staff with the "advice" but - under a previously unnoticed 2013 rule change - not the "consent" of the Trump or Cruz campaigns.

Haynes denied he and others were trying to put the fix in. He said party leaders worked with the Trump and Cruz campaigns, trying to please as many as possible and reward party stalwarts with delegate or alternate delegate slots for the Cleveland, Ohio, convention.

"No campaign is getting everything they want," Haynes told committee members at one point.

Member Chris Hughes, a Trump delegate from Sumner County, warned that establishment figures "are going to do something and try to [Trump backers'] their votes away" in all 50 states.

"I fear that a train wreck is headed to Cleveland," Hughes said.

The committee named 14 of the state's 58 delegates to the July convention. Another 14 were elected proportionally statewide, and 27 from Tennessee's nine congressional districts. The party's bylaws name three automatic delegates: the state party chairman - Haynes, a Rubio delegate - Republican National Committee members John Ryder and Peggy Lambert, both Trump delegates.

Morris called Ryder "a nice guy, but he's a counsel for the RNC and they're the ones out to get Donald Trump now, so I'm not supercrazy about the possibility."

He said the party's list shifted several times after he thought an agreement was reached Wednesday. Haynes said the list evolved based on feedback. Some SEC members complained they only got the list minutes before the call for a vote.

Morris said there were some "very anti-Trump" delegates, including at least two who had trashed the billionaire business magnate on social media. He pointed to a post he said called Trump a "liberal Democrat."

The 14 appointments included six Trump delegates. Two - Melissa Gay and Ken Gross - have been critical of Trump, Morris said. Another is Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Bill Ketron.

Republican Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, who has spoken about Trump favorably but never come out in support, at one point was an appointed delegate but agreed to step aside before the final list was formed.

Cruz also got six appointed delegates, including former state party chairman Chris Devaney of Lookout Mountain. Republican Gov. Bill Haslam and state House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, were named Marco Rubio delegates.

Fourteen alternate delegates also were named. Among them was Susan Richardson Williams of Knoxville, often viewed as an establishment figure, who was designated a Trump delegate.

Steve Gill, a political consultant, activist and elected Cruz delegate, said he sees the flap at the Saturday meeting as a "precursor to what we're going to see in state after state and at the convention.

"You can't change the rules and ignore the rules and ignore the votes of the citizens and not have a split," Gill said.

He questioned whether some appointed delegates are "going to be really representing their candidate."

"Yeah, for two rounds they may vote for Trump or Cruz, but are they going to be voting against the interests of their candidates when it comes to rules and credentials and everything because they're not actually for the person they're being sent to represent?"

Also on Saturday, SEC members elected Oscar Brock of Lookout Mountain, a former party vice chairman, as the state GOP's new national committeeman.

Contact Andy Sher at or 615-255-0550.