Donald Trump's failure to win even a single GOP convention delegate from Colorado is important less for what it does to the overall delegate count in the GOP primary race and more for what it reveals about Trump and his campaign operation.
Trump portrays himself as a master businessman who employs top experts to cut savvy deals, but he appears to have been totally blindsided by the process the state uses to award delegates.
The results from Colorado show that Trump is an incompetent manager who, in the face of a complex but knowable organizational challenge, cannot even capably represent his own interests.
At this point, the GOP primary race has become a fight over convention delegates. Trump is currently leading the delegate count with 743 delegates. His campaign's stated objective is to reach 1,237 bound delegates—delegates who are required to vote for him on the first, or in some cases second, vote at the GOP convention in July—by the end of the primary process in June. That will be a difficult task at best, because it would require Trump to win outsized victories in several remaining contests, but it may be his best hope to win the nomination.
If no candidate obtains 1,237 (a majority) on the first vote, then the convention becomes open, as many of the delegates are released to vote as they please. At that point, it is likely that his main rival, Ted Cruz, who is generally better liked amongst the sort of people who become GOP convention delegates, would have an advantage, especially since Cruz is currently working to secure nonbinding commitments from as many delegates as possible.
In short, Trump really needs every single delegate he can get in order to win. The process by which a candidate wins delegates is different in every state, and in some cases, delegates are awarded through a complicated and arcane process.
Republicans in Colorado voted not for presidential candidates, but for the individual convention delegates themselves. So the goal for a campaign is to organize votes for delegates who support your candidate. What that entails, basically, is creating a voting slate consisting of the names and ballot numbers of candidates—there are about 600 on the ballot, so the numbers are important—who are reliable supporters.
But Trump fired his campaign's organizer in the state just a week before the state GOP's convention last Saturday, where the final 13 delegates were selected. (Cruz had already picked up an additional 21 Colorado delegates in a series of seven congressional-district conventions.) The replacement manager printed up a slate to guide Trump supporters, but it was, according to CNN, "riddled with errors," including incorrect delegate numbers and, in one case, the name of a Cruz delegate. At the last minute, Trump's team reprinted the flier listing the Trump slate, but the second print also contained errors.
Cruz, meanwhile, posted his—accurate—delegate slate on a giant screen in the convention hall, and printed it out on a bright orange t-shirt that his supporters wore around the convention.
The point isn't the particulars of the arcane rules themselves. And it's not even the delegate "points" Cruz put on the board in Colorado. The point is that Trump desperately needs every delegate he can possible pick up in order to win, and yet he appears totally unprepared and unable to handle the organizational and managerial challenges of doing so.
Nor is Colorado the only state in which Trump's incompetence has been on display: As a result of not engaging with the particulars of the process, he also lost delegates to Cruz in both South Carolina and Louisiana.
Trump is not simply disorganized. He appears to have been totally unaware of the requirements in some of these states. Trump was apparently told by senior officials with the Republican National Committee recently that his campaign needed to be prepared to fight for delegates in states like Colorado. Upon hearing this, according to The New York Times, "Trump turned to his aides and suggested that they had not been doing what they needed to do." Trump, in other words, paid little attention to the process himself, and left mission-critical campaign projects to unprepared staff.
Last week, Trump reorganized, bringing on a new senior staffer, Paul Manafort, a veteran of previous Republican presidential campaigns, as a "delegate hunter" to oversee much of his operation. It's rather late for that: Colorado's rules, for example, were put in place last August, and were broadly similar to rules that have been in place for years. Trump's supporters in the state have been pleading for resources and organizational muscle, but Trump's campaign team declined to supply it until the last minute.
Trump and his campaign have responded to the losses in Colorado and elsewhere with hyperbolic rhetoric, threats of lawsuits, and a general sense of anger and indignation that the system that they chose to ignore did not produce the results that they would have preferred. Trump has complained that the state's rules aren't fair, and called the process "rigged." And over the weekend, Manafort warned darkly of Cruz's "Gestapo tactics"—which seems, at minimum, an overstatement for the practice of handing out orange t-shirts printed with accurate information to your supporters. He also said the Texas senator was "not playing by the rules," which is exactly backwards: Cruz, who, whatever else you think of him, has run an consistently efficient and well-organized campaign operation, learned the rules and played them to his advantage. Trump ignored them, and lost out.
You can reasonably take issue with both the complexity of some of the rules in question, as The Denver Post does, noting that the state's convention process does not exactly make widespread participation possible. But the issue for Trump, who, as far as I know, never complained about the state's rule before, isn't what the rules should or should not be. It's that he botched the process because he did not care to learn those rules and engage with them.
If he were to become president, Trump would undoubtedly encounter many complex situations requiring managerial attention and organizational competence, as well as numerous instances in which the rules or protocols would strike him as unfair. The job of the president is to master those situations anyway, or hire competent staff who can do so. Trump's performance in Colorado, and his essentially whiny response in the fact of his own failures, suggests that he is prepared to do neither. To put it another way: Trump can barely manage his own campaign operation. How does he think he's going to run an entire country?