Fresh off three more primary victories, Donald Trump said he'll blow off the next Republican presidential debate and warned of "riots" if power-brokers deny him the nomination at the convention even if he's leading in the delegate count.
The billionaire New York developer, who held a narrow lead in Missouri and lost Ohio on Tuesday (Wednesday NZ time), is faced with the prospect of a floor fight at the party convention in July if he's leading in delegates but falls short of a majority, 1,237.
"I think we'll win before getting to the convention, but I can tell you, if we didn't and if we're 20 votes short or if we're 100 short and we're at 1,100 and somebody else is at 500 or 400 cause we're way ahead of everybody, I don't think you can say that we don't get it automatically," Trump said on CNN on Wednesday. "I think you'd have riots."
"I wouldn't lead it, but I think bad things would happen," Trump said, adding the outcome would "disenfranchise" his supporters.
Trump claimed to have been caught off guard by the next televised debate, set for Monday in Salt Lake City hosted by Fox News. "We've had enough debates," he said on the network Wednesday. "Nobody told me about it and I won't be there." He is expected to speak at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference running from Sunday to Tuesday in Washington.
Trump has skipped a debate before-the one held days before the Iowa caucuses on Feb. 1 that Texas Senator Ted Cruz won. Trump had complained about Fox News' treatment of him at the time, and instead held an event that he said raised money for veterans' charities.
Ohio Governor John Kasich deprived Trump of a sweep on Tuesday by winning the Buckeye State, saying, "We are going go all the way to Cleveland and secure the Republican nomination." Senator Marco Rubio was beaten badly by Trump in Florida and suspended his campaign.
The Cruz folks would never allow the rules to be changed and of course we wouldn't either.
Cruz, who says he intends to win 1,237 delegates before the convention, noted in a CNN interview that if he falls short, delegates will have discretion on whom they vote for.
Cruz strategists have been gaming scenarios in which they pick off delegates to keep Trump from clinching the nomination in Cleveland. If no candidate gets to the convention with a majority, Cruz could try to flip delegates pledged to Rubio, Kasich, and other candidates on the second ballot. Forty-four states allow a state party convention or executive committee to assign delegates to their preferred candidates.
Kasich is banking on the possibility of convention rules being rewritten when the delegates arrive, allowing him to compete there. But with the majority of delegates already claimed by Trump and Cruz, they may be unwilling to give Kasich a chance.
"The Cruz folks would never allow the rules to be changed and of course we wouldn't either," said Barry Bennett, a Trump convention strategist, according to Politico.
Republicans haven't had a contested convention since 1976, when President Gerald Ford edged an insurgent Ronald Reagan.
Trump led with 460 delegates heading into Tuesday's elections, followed by Cruz with 370, Rubio with 163, and Kasich with 63, according to the Associated Press. By Wednesday, with the Missouri results still pending, Trump stood at 621, Cruz at 396, and Kasich at 138.
The next Republican contests are in Arizona and Utah, the site of the debate, on March 22. Arizona's vote is a primary with 58 delegates and Utah's is a caucus with 40. Arizona's delegates, like most from other states, are free to vote for the candidate of their choice if no candidate enters the convention with a majority.
In both states, only registered Republicans will be eligible to vote. Ron Nehring, a spokesman for Cruz, said those rules favor the Texan.