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Trump’s in 2016 race, meet a man who will help determine his fate.

Mark
Strang spends his days delivering farm equipment, listening to politics
on the radio during cross-country drives. But in July, the 63-year-old
could have an outsized voice in choosing the Republican nominee for
president of the United States.

For
the first time in 40 years, Republicans could arrive at their national
convention in Cleveland without a nominee. If front-runner Donald Trump
fails to lock up the nomination before then, as some pollsters are
predicting, Strang will have a chance to make history.

Strang,
from Illinois, is one of 2,472 delegates to the convention who will
ultimately determine the party’s choice for the White House this
November. In recent elections, the delegates have simply rubberstamped
the presumptive nominee. But this year the convention could become a
brutal fight in which every delegate vote will count.

Trump
currently has 673 delegates after winning a string of nominating
contests, but if he wants to avoid a floor fight at the convention he
needs the magic number of 1,237. There is some doubt among election
number crunchers that he can hit it.

And
that’s when Strang will step into the spotlight. After filling roles in
local Republican politics, Strang was selected by Illinois voters to
serve as a delegate for Republican candidate U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, of
Texas. He likes Cruz for his position on guns and immigration.

But
if the convention becomes a fight because no candidate has the needed
1,237 delegates on the first round of voting, most of the delegates
would eventually be released. States are still sorting through some
rules governing how long delegates are bound to candidates. Strang said
if he found himself a free agent, he would be open to switching his
vote.

“I
am going to be loyal to Ted Cruz, and I will stick with him until I see
if there’s no hope. And if there’s no hope for Ted getting in, as I
understand it I can pledge my votes to somebody else, and I would hope
Ted would understand,” he said.

Interviews
with Republican state party officials and some delegates who have
already been selected reveal widespread soul-searching in anticipation
of a potential fight. Officials and delegates described weighing their
personal preference with the need to rally around a candidate going into
the general election.
Party faithful are steeling themselves for a battle, not just for the nomination, but also for the party’s core values.

Establishment
Republicans deeply opposed to Trump’s candidacy say he does not
represent social and economic conservative values on healthcare, trade
and the role of government in daily life.
Trump
has built his campaign on anti-establishment rhetoric and promises to
build a wall along the Mexican border to keep out illegal immigrants,
impose a temporary ban on Muslims entering the United States and restore
the country’s manufacturing base.

A
contested convention would pose a major test for Trump’s campaign,
which thus far has eschewed a traditional grassroots organization. His
rivals, Cruz and Ohio Governor John Kasich, are already trying to lobby
delegates who might be open to changing sides once they are allowed to
become free agents in the convention.

“A GREAT MISUNDERSTANDING”
In every state,
the party chair and two national committee members, a man and a woman,
are automatically selected to be delegates. But from there, state
parties use a wide variety of procedures to pick delegates, most of whom
won’t be named until late spring or summer.

“These
are the base of the party,” said Michigan Republican Party chairwoman
Ronna Romney McDaniel. “The delegates are not the establishment. They
are the base. And I think that’s a great misunderstanding.”
Often
sporting outfits with homemade decorated hats or jackets weighed down
with dozens of buttons, delegates who show up every four years include
everyone from lawmakers to homemakers, and from those who write million
dollar checks to retirees who make phone calls.

Many
states use small conventions to pick delegates, many of whom are
long-time party activists and elected office holders. Not all of them
personally back the candidate they are pledged to support in the first
round of convention voting, said Virginia Republican Party chairman John
Whitbeck.

“We have two former
governors, a former attorney general, state senators, state House of
Delegates members, party leaders, big and small and donors,” said
Whitbeck.

In other states,
such as Illinois, some delegates are elected by primary voters. In Ohio,
which gives all its delegates to the statewide primary winner,
candidates pick their own slate of convention representatives.
Jim
Carns, a state representative from Alabama, where delegates are
selected in the primaries, signed up to represent Trump last fall —
when many still viewed the rise of the New York real estate mogul as a
temporary phenomenon.

He sees no
circumstance in which he would switch candidates. But he knows there
will be efforts to win over delegates by both the Trump camp and their
opponents.
Once delegates are
allowed to change their votes, some establishment figures have floated
the potential to nominate someone who didn’t even run for president —
such as House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan.

But most of the 14 delegates interviewed by Reuters dismissed that as an option.
“I
almost think that I would walk away from the Republican Party if they
did that,” said Strang, the Illinois delegate. “If we’d wanted Paul
Ryan, we would have drafted him. And I don’t dislike Paul Ryan, but he
didn’t run.”

Ryan has said he is not interested in the presidency.

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