The Wisconsin primary was a spectacular victory for Ted Cruz, but was it enough to alter GOP nomination expectations? Yes, but just a little. In examining the status of nomination race on the Republican side as we head to the New York primary on April 19, I’ve compiled a list of scenarios I see as possible outcomes and assigned a likelihood to each. The odds are arbitrary, based solely on my understanding of where the race currently stands. And, of course, they can change quickly based on future polls, news cycles and results. Please let me know your reactions to my comments here by tweeting or emailing me or by commenting on my Facebook page.
SCENARIO 1: Donald Trump gets to 1,237 delegates before the convention – 10%
Ted Cruz’s convincing win in Wisconsin gave him 36 delegates and limited Trump to just 6. More importantly, it stemmed the Trump tide and showed Cruz can engineer a solid victory even when losing big in the polls not too far in advance of the voting. Six weeks before the primary, Cruz trailed badly. He was able to overcome that deficit, thanks in part to a very poor two weeks for Trump, and win big. However, it’s important to understand that Cruz’s success here doesn’t radically change the current trajectory of the nomination race. We still have several Northeastern states left on the primary election schedule, states which should give Trump a serious bump in his delegate lead. Will it be enough to set him on a path to 1,237? Not likely.
Heading into June, I expect Trump to be closing in on 1,050 delegates with New Jersey set to give him 51 more. If that number is close, it will all come down to California and its 172-delegate bonanza. The biggest prize of all votes on June 7, and it could be for all the marbles. Adding to the intrigue, California’s modified winner-take-all system for awarding delegates provides a plethora of possible outcomes. Delegates are awarded three at a time to the winner in each congressional district. That’s 159 delegates that won’t necessarily go to the statewide winner. If we do arrive at California with Trump needing 100+ delegates, I don’t think he’ll get there. Therefore, I believe the chance of Trump becoming the presumed nominee before the Republican National Convention is remote.
SCENARIO 2: Trump doesn’t get to 1,237 but wins the nomination on the first ballot at the convention – 45%
Just because The Donald may not have the requisite number of delegates pre-convention doesn’t mean he can’t win the nomination on the first ballot. In fact, I believe this is the most likely scenario. The reason: unpledged delegates. Democrats don’t have a monopoly on the unpledged delegate. The states and territories of American Samoa, Colorado, Guam, Pennsylvania, North Dakota and Wyoming will all send at least a strong majority of their delegates to the convention officially unpledged. All counted, there could be as many as 150 delegates who arrive in Cleveland without any binding obligation to vote for any particular candidate.
If Donald Trump gets close to the majority, he’ll likely earn enough support from this pool of delegates to push him over the top. Moreover, in addition to unpledged delegates, candidates who have suspended their campaigns could be persuaded to release their delegates and give Trump another treasure trove of possible support. Looking forward to the primary season’s finale, indications point me more to this conclusion than any other: Donald Trump wins the nomination on the first ballot.
SCENARIO 3: Cruz wins the nomination at the convention on the second ballot or later – 40%
For Cruz to have a chance to win the nomination, the convention must get to the second ballot. This is a real and growing possibility. His standing across the board is improving. His national poll numbers are rising. And he is proving the ability to win state after state. However, all this doesn’t mean he’ll easily keep the first two possibilities I’ve discussed from happening. He’ll need to continue his recent upswing to be able to head off a rout in the Northeast and to limit Trump to minimal gains in California. If he doesn’t suffer any setbacks and maintains the head of steam he enjoys coming out of Wisconsin, I think he has a legitimate chance to get to the nomination.
One important note here. Conspicuously absent from this list is the scenario where Trump wins the nomination on the second or third ballot. That is by design. I believe Trump’s only chance to be the nominee is to capture the nomination on the first ballot. A substantial portion of Trump’s bound support comes from delegates who, for one reason or another, are not actually Trump fans. If we get to the second ballot, I fully expect Trump’s convention votes to nosedive.
SCENARIOS 4 & 5:
Rules changes, dishonesty and chicanery allow John Kasich to become the nominee – 3%
Even greater thievery and underhandedness installs someone else as the nominee – 2%
I am not among those who believe the RNC will engineer larceny at the convention. Though I’m well aware how some people in their contempt for the RNC believe a fix is in the works, I don’t believe anyone other than Trump or Cruz will be the nominee. That said, I can’t completely eliminate the possibility that the establishment proves itself to be as corrupt as many rank-and-file Republicans consider it to be. If this were to happen, it’ll be an utter disaster. John Kasich, Paul Ryan, even Mitt Romney might emerge as the appointed nominee.
As you can see from these odds, I now believe there is a 90% chance Donald Trump will not get the majority of delegates before the convention. However, he still must be considered the favorite to end up as the GOP nominee. I’ve updated EP’s GOP nomination odds to reflect the percentages in this article.