Trump, DeSantis supporters battle for California’s presidential delegates: ‘Rig it for him’

The road to the 2024 Republican presidential nomination run through deep blue California this week – and not just because of Wednesday’s second GOP primary debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. Former President Donald Trump, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina all addressed the California GOP’s Fall 2023 Convention in Anaheim on Friday with multi-millionaire biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy set to speak on Saturday. Behind the scenes at what’s being billed as the Golden State Republican Party’s largest convention ever is a brewing battle between allies of DeSantis and Trump over a recent state party rules change that could allow the former president to sweep all the state’s 169 delegates when California holds its presidential primary on March 5. California is the biggest prize among the dozen states holding Super Tuesday Republican presidential nominating contests. While Trump — the commanding front-runner for months in the race to be the Republican Party’s 2024 standard-bearer — skipped the first two presidential debates, he made sure to show up at the convention, which will attract the state’s top conservative leaders and activists, some of whom will serve as delegates next year. GRIZZLY TRANSFORMATION: HOW CALIFORNIA SWITCHED FROM ONE-TIME RED STATE TO BLUE BASTION While Democratic dominated California will likely once again be an afterthought in the presidential election, the state’s GOP primary could potentially give Trump a decisive victory in the party’s nomination race. And DeSantis allies are crying foul. “The Trump team came in to rig the rules in their favor,” said Ken Cuccinelli, a former Virginia attorney general and deputy secretary of Homeland Security in the Trump administration who earlier this year founded the DeSantis aligned super PAC Never Back Down. Last month Never Baack Down spokesperson Erin Perrine argued the rules change in California was a “Trump-inspired rigging” FIRST ON FOX: THE RNC RAISES THE BAR FOR THE CANDIDATES TO MAKE THE STAGE AT THE THIRD PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE The Trump campaign did support the new rules, which state that a GOP presidential candidate who wins more than 50% of the primary vote will be awarded all 169 delegates up for grabs. If no candidate reaches that mark, the delegates will be divided proportionally. That’s a dramatic switch from past California GOP primaries, where presidential candidates battled for delegates in each of the state’s congressional districts, as well as for the statewide vote. The winner in each congressional district secured three delegates, with the candidate who won the largest number of statewide votes landing roughly a dozen more delegates. Asked in an exclusive interview Friday with Fox News about the rules change, DeSantis took aim at Trump’s allies, arguing that they are trying to “basically rig it for him. To me, I think it should just be an open fair process and let the best person win.” California GOP chairwoman Jessica Millan Patterson told Fox News Digital that “our goal in our rules change was, number one to get compliant with the RNC [Republican National Committee] rules. Our previous rules did not allow for us to have our full delegation. We would be struck down half of our delegation. So we had to change the rules.” While plenty of California Republicans have railed against the new rules, Patterson predicts that they’ll motivate presidential candidates to come to California to campaign and drive turnout, to help make the Golden State a key player in choosing the 2024 Republican Party presidential nominee. “We wanted to make sure the rules were fair for everyone,” Patterson emphasized. “We think this gives the best opportunity for an even playing field for the presidential primary.”  Delegate rules will be finalized this weekend, on the final day of the convention. But changing the current rules won’t be easy and efforts by DeSantis supporters face very high hurdles. DeSantis, in his Fox News interview, once again took aim at Trump for not taking the stage at the first two GOP presidential nomination debates. “You’ve got to earn the nomination. Nobody is entitled to anything. I know voters in Iowa and New Hampshire. They expect to hear from the candidates. They expect you to stand up in these forums and make your case, answer questions, even spar with the other candidates. So I think it’s a big mistake that he’s ducking debates. I think it’s a big mistake that he’s sending the signals that really the voters don’t matter,” DeSantis said.  Trump, at the convention, once again touted his enormous polling lead over DeSantis and the rest of the GOP field. “Have I done a number on that guy,” Trump said to the crowd. “Have we done a number on him.” Get the latest updates from the 2024 campaign trail, exclusive interviews and more at our Fox News Digital election hub.
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