The North Dakota GOP this weekend picked the 25 delegates it will send to this summer’s national Republican convention—a complicated and opaque process that involved one group of delegates voting for another group of delegates without knowing which presidential candidate they actually support. Naturally, then, all three GOP hopefuls claimed varying degrees of victory, none more than Ted Cruz.
“Cruz Declared Winner in North Dakota,” blared a Cruz press release that quoted the candidate boasting of a “resounding victory” in a contest where none of the delegates were actually awarded to any of the candidates. “Whether we defeat Donald Trump before the convention or at it, I’m energized to have the support of the vast majority of North Dakota delegates,” the Texan said. His rivals, meanwhile, were likewise untethered to the reality on the ground. Trump adviser Barry Bennett went on CNN to declare that a “plurality” of the 25 was leaning toward Donald Trump—a claim with no evidence to support it—adding: “We’ll be drinking champagne here all day.” And John Kasich strategist John Weaver took to Twitter to try to fill his candidate’s own glass somewhere approaching half full.
Unlike the vast majority of states and territories, North Dakota Republicans don’t hold a primary or caucus to award national delegates to the candidates. Instead, they meet to choose from a list of state party officials and local party activists that are then sent to the national convention to vote for whomever they please. State party bigwigs maintain that gives their delegation more power—presumably because candidates would have to woo them at a contested convention—and defeated a motion that would have bound the delegates to a candidate.
That left the outcome of Sunday’s vote cloudy at best, though of the three, Cruz had the strongest claim to having the best weekend. His boast of victory was based on the fact that 18 of the 25 delegates selected were on a list of options that his team circulated to loyalists ahead of the vote. But, as several reporters at the convention discovered, at least a few of the delegates on the Cruz-approved list weren’t as squarely in the Cruz camp as that list suggested. “I have no idea how my name got there,” Nathan Joraanstad, one of listed delegates, told the New York Times. “Of the three, I like John Kasich the best,” Dick Dever, another, told Politico. Two others also told the D.C. outlet that they’re currently leaning Cruz but suggested they could still change their mind at the convention. In that way, they’re just like every other North Dakota delegate that will head to Cleveland this summer.