EDITORS NOTE: And, it ends with a whisper. On May 26, 2016 – a day that featured no primaries, no voting, no “math crunching” on the “big board – it was reported that Donald Trump had secured enough delegates to clinch the Republican nomination. The primary season is over. So, perhaps this post should be retitled “How Trump Got to 1,237 and Secured the Nomination.” Last Updated: May 27, 2016. No future updates to follow.
“Tonight, I’m speaking to you from Philadelphia,” Ted Cruz recently said in front of a crowd at the National Constitution Center. “And we can learn a great deal about a path forward by focusing on the passionate disputes and disagreements among our founding fathers – differences that were put aside only because of the weight and consequence of the principles they sought to proclaim and the price to be paid if they failed to rise to the task.”
America, Cruz said, “is at a point of choosing.”
Cruz is correct. America is at a point of choosing. But unfortunately for Cruz, that choice doesn’t involve him. If “America” (read: the Republican Party) is at the point of choosing anything, it is between Donald Trump and Not Donald Trump.
It is still theoretically possible for Cruz, who currently sits at 559 delegates, to secure the nomination, but not before the Republican convention in July. Cruz would have to win 101% of the remaining pledged delegates to clinch the nomination – meaning that he, like John Kasich, has been mathematically eliminated from the equation. In order for Cruz to win, he would need to secure a significant proportion of unbound delegates.
For Ted Cruz to be the Republican nominee in November, then, he needs to count on a brokered convention.
It is still possible, however, for Donald Trump to clear the magic number of 1,237 delegates during the primary season. According to our calculations, Trump currently has 845 delegates. To reach 1,237, then, Trump would need to win just over 53% (392) of the remaining 733 delegates. Doing so would prevent the open convention his opponents are banking on.
Here’s how he could do it.
April 26 – Every Tuesday Is Apparently Now “Super Tuesday”
On April 26 (today), five states are heading to the polls, with a total of 118 delegates up for grabs. Trump delivered a bruising defeat to Ted Cruz in New York last Tuesday. And if the polls are to be believed, these contests are likely to go his way as well.
Pennsylvania (17 pledged delegates; 54 unbound delegates). According to Real Clear Politics, Trump is on pace to win all of the 17 at-large delegates (which are winner-take-all). Current polls have Trump leading by 19.2 points (43.8% versus Cruz at 24.6% and Kasich at 23.6%). Trump can expect to face strong opposition in Philadelphia and its surrounding districts, but his wide lead in the statewide polls suggest that he should run up wide margins across the rest of the state. That should put him on pace to win the 17 pledged delegates, but note that there are 54 “unbound” delegates in Pennsylvania, accounting for 76% of the available delegates. These delegates are elected from the state’s 18 congressional districts – three from each district – and the reason they are called “unbound” is because they can vote to nominate whomever they want in July, regardless of the primary’s outcome. That said, a majority of the unbound delegates have pledged to support whoever wins their district (at least on the first ballot). Further, a Trump landslide in any district will make it difficult for any unbound delegate to vote for a different candidate. Target: 17 pledged delegates (target 36 unbound delegates at the convention, for a total of 53 from Pennsylvania).
RESULTS: Donald Trump ran away with the Pennsylvania primary. Trump outperformed the polls ahead of the race by a significant margin, securing 56.7% of the vote, 35.1 points ahead of Ted Cruz at 21.6% and 37.3 points ahead of John Kasich at 19.4%. As such, Trump hit his target of 17 pledged delegates. But more importantly, he also stands to meet (and likely exceed) the target number of unbound delegates. While some unbound delegates remain wary of Trump, as The Washington Post has reported, “[a]t least 39 of the more than four dozen unpledged Republican delegates . . . are poised to support the presidential nomination of party front-runner Donald Trump.” And that’s probably less than he deserves – Trump won every congressional district in the state by large margins.
Maryland (38 delegates). Similar to Pennsylvania, Trump has a wide lead in the Maryland polls. According to Real Clear Politics, Trump leads the field with 41.0% support, 14.7 points above his closest competitor, Kasich (26.3%), and 16.5 points above Cruz (24.5%). Maryland awards 14 at-large delegates to the statewide winner. The other 24 delegates are allocated by congressional district – like Pennsylvania, three go to the winner of each of the state’s eight districts. Trump will lose some districts in the D.C. metro area, where he faces strong oppositions from Kasich. But the remainder of the state has demographics favorable to Trump. Target: 14 statewide delegates plus 18 from congressional districts (32 total).
RESULTS: As in Pennsylvania, Trump exceeded the polling averages in Maryland with 54.5% of the vote. Kasich finished in second place at 23%, and Cruz finished third at 18.9%. More important, however, is that Trump won every single congressional district. You’re going to notice that mentioned a lot here, because Trump won every district in the “ACELA” primaries . As such, he secured all of Maryland’s 38 delegates (6 more than his target count).
Delaware (16 delegates). Delaware is the only pure winner-take-all state voting on April 26, awarding all 16 delegates to the statewide winner. There hasn’t been much polling out of Delaware – in fact, the first poll from Delaware was released on April 20. But as in Pennsylvania and Maryland, the poll showed Trump winning big, and by some of the his largest margins: Trump 55%, Kasich 18%, Cruz 15%. Target: 16 delegates.
RESULTS: In Delaware, Trump racked up one of his most impressive margins of victory throughout the primary process. Trump won 60.8% of the vote, 40.4 points ahead of Kasich (at 20.4%), and 44.9 points ahead of Cruz (at 15.9%). As Delaware is a winnner-take-all state, then, Trump is entitled to all 16 delegates, meeting his target. Despite this impressive victory, however, the Trump campaign has little hope of influencing who the state sends to the July convention. Just before the April 26 primary, the Trump campaign accused the Cruz campaign of bullying the Delaware GOP for delegates. This has been a central theme of the Republican primary, and only underscores the importance of Trump reaching 1,237.
Connecticut (28 delegates). Connecticut allocates its 28 delegates as follows: 13 at-large delegates based on the statewide vote, and 15 delegates based on the primary results in each of the state’s 5 congressional districts. Trump, who currently sits at 49% in current polls, leads the field by 22 points. Kasich sits at 27% support and Cruz is at 18%. If Trump receives a majority of the statewide vote (more than 50%), he will win all 13 of the at-large delegates. But if Trump doesn’t clear 50% support, the 13 at-large delegates will be allocated based on each candidates’ percentage of the vote total. There is a 20% threshold, however, which could prevent Cruz from getting any delegates. Of the 15 district delegates, Trump’s biggest challenge will come from from Kasich in the 4th Congressional District. To walk the tightrope to 1,237, Trump will have to overcome that challenge. Target: 28 delegates.
RESULTS: Trump racked up more votes (123,367) than his competitors combined (89,845). Kasich posed Trump no challenge whatsoever in the 4th district. Cruz demonstrated again that he is a factional candidate lacking broad appeal. Of note here: Cruz was soundly defeated among his core constituency. Trump beat Cruz by more than 25 points among evangelicals, a group central to Cruz’s support, and one that largely split their votes between Trump and Cruz, on average, in previous contests. Trump’s performance means he will hit his target of 28 delegates.
Rhode Island (19 delegates). The last poll in Rhode Island was conducted in February, showing Trump with 43% of support, 18 points ahead of Marco Rubio (25%), Cruz (10%), Kasich (14%), and Ben Carson (3%). Demographically, however, Rhode Island is almost a perfect fit for Trump. But that doesn’t mean the state will be a cakewalk for the Trump campaign. Rhode Island’s delegate allocation system is highly proportional, and the threshold for delegates is lower (10%) than in other states (typically 20%). Trump’s potential gains are therefore limited. Target: 10 delegates.
RESULTS: Another dominant performance from Trump. Trump got 63.5 percent of the vote, way ahead of Kasich (at 24.4%) and Cruz (at 10.4%). Because of Rhode Island’s delegate allocation, however, Trump will only secure 12 of the state’s 19 delegates. Kasich will receive 5 delegates. Cruz barely reached the 10% delegate threshold and will receive 2 delegates.
If Trump matches the targets above, leaving Pennsylvania’s 54 unbound delegates aside, he’ll end April with at least 948 delegates.
Where Are We? Trump either met or exceeded his target delegates in every state voting on April 26. According to our calculations, he secured 111 of the 118 delegates up for grabs, and finishes April with 956 pledged delegates (+8 than target). Yes, Trump’s performance was dominant on April 26. But it needed to be. Despite winning nearly every delegate, he is only barely on pace to get to the magic number of 1,237. What the +8 advantage gives Trump, however, is some more room to work with in Indiana, a crucial primary next up to the plate.
And, more importantly, he will retain some semblance of momentum.
This is something the Cruz campaign is concerned about. “it is important to keep up some momentum,” said Ellen Sauerbrey, a former U.S. ambassador an a longtime Maryland GOP powerbroker who is backing Cruz. “If it looks like Trump is having a clean sweep for the next two weeks, that undermines, I think, [the Cruz] campaign’s momentum enough to slow it down.”
April Showers Bring May Primaries. Yeah, that’s it. Right?
The pace slows considerably in the month of May, where there are only five primaries and a total of 199 delegates at stake.
Indiana (May 3) (57 delegates). Indiana as a swing state? At least in the Republican primary, yes. Indiana will likely be the closest contest left on the board. According to Real Clear Politics, Trump maintains a 7.0 point lead in the Indiana primary (Trump 39%, Cruz 32%, Kasich 19%). Trump should not get comfortable with these numbers, however. FiveThirtyEight, in fact, only gives Trump a 51% chance of winning. The strength of Trump’s performance will be dictated by how Indiana distributes delegates: 30 delegates go to the statewide winner, and the remaining 27 go to the winner of each of the state’s nine congressional districts (3 delegates for each). Practically, that means that if Trump fails to capture the statewide total, his delegate haul could drop into the single digits. The potential swing here, then, is huge. To clear the magic number of delegates, however, Trump will need to win the statewide vote and at least 6 of the 9 districts. Target: 48 delegates.
RESULTS: As in previous contests, Trump outperformed the polls (which were particularly unreliable in Indiana). Trump finished the Indiana primary sweeping all 57 delegates and demolishing the competition (+9 above the target). Trump received 53.5% of the vote, compared to 36.7% for Ted Cruz, 7.5% for John Kasich, and 2.5% for “other.” Ted Cruz staked his hopes on Indiana, and the embarrassing defeat in a state he should have been competitive in drove him to suspend his campaign before the night was out. Cruz’s exit marks the end of one of the best-organized presidential campaigns of 2016. John Kasich slept on the Indiana results, but ended up dropping out on Wednesday after it (finally) became clear to him that he had no chance at winning the nomination outright. With Cruz and Kasich out, Trump is left alone, and atop, the Republican field. By our calculations, Trump’s Indiana win puts him at 1,013 delegates, or +17 above the target. The race, however, is not quote over yet. Republican voters still have to cast ballots in 10 states. And delegates’ loyalty, convention rules, and the party platform could still cause Trump problems. To make certain that he is the nominee, Trump would do well to secure the 1,237 delegates. He has 224 left to go.
West Virginia (May 10) (34 delegates). Trump should demolish the competition here. The last poll from West Virginia was from February, but it showed Trump with a 20 point lead over the competition. All of West Virginia’s 34 delegates are bound: there are 9 district delegates (3 delegates each from the state’s 3 congressional districts); 22 at-large delegates (10 at-large plus 12 bonus) are elected statewide; and 3 party leaders will attend the convention as delegates. Target: 30 delegates.
Nebraska (May 10) (36 delegates). Nebraska is winner-take-all. And unfortunately for Trump, it is also Cruz territory, through and through. A Trump win would be a huge upset, and would propel him toward 1,237. But that’s highly unlikely to happen. Target: 0 delegates.
RESULTS: With no competition left to compete for votes or delegates, Trump surged to victories in both West Virginia and Nebraska. West Virginia was always an expected win for the Trump campaign. The final results: Trump secured 77.0% of the vote and won 30 delegates, Cruz got 9.0% of the vote and won 0 delegates, and Kasich got 6.7% of the vote and won 1 delegate. Cruz would have presented Trump with a significant challenge in Nebraska, but with him out, the #TrumpTrain rolled through. Trump won all 36 delegates in Nebraska after securing 61.4% of the vote. Cruz got 18.4% of the vote, and Kasich got 11.4% of the vote. At the close of May 10, Trump has 1,079 delegates, and with no competition left in the race, there is no reason to think he won’t waltz to 1,237.
Oregon (May 17) (28 delegates). The last poll from Oregon was from May of 2015. The lack of polling from these later states is somewhat surprising, but it largely reflects the fact that, by the time these states typically vote, the presumptive nominee has already been chosen. Of course, each vote technically matters. But practically, Oregon has never really mattered in a Republican primary. That’s not the case this year. Oregon allocates its delegates as follows: 15 district, 10 at-large, 0 bonus, plus 3 party leader. Trump should expect to do well in Oregon, but given the lack of polling, he should be conservative in his expectations. Target: 12 delegates.
RESULTS: Trump (won) 66.6% (18 delegates), Cruz 17.0% (5 delegates), Kasich 16.3% (5 delegates). Trump delegate count increased to 1,097.
Washington (May 24) (44 delegates). Like Oregon, there is no current polling data from Washington. Trump should have a strong showing, but should again be conservative in his expectations. Washington allocates delegates proportionally through a complex formula. Target: 22 delegates.
RESULTS: Trump (won) 75.8% (40 delegates), Cruz 10.5% (0 delegates), Kasich 9.8% (0 delegates). This election, even more so than West Virginia, Nebraska, and Oregon, reflects the Republican electorate’s acceptance of Donald Trump as Republican nominee for President. Even without continued competition in the primary, it is very impressive that Trump was able to secure nearly 76% of vote in Washington. After Washington, Donald Trump has secured 1,137 delegates. But Washington seems to mark an important shift in the Republican primary.
When May comes to a close, Trump should have at least 1,060 delegates. At this point, the Trump campaign will be making strong calls for Cruz and Kasich to exit the race. There is only one more voting day remaining, June 7.
June 7 – Or the Primary Day Nobody Ever Cared About
Until this year. On June 7, the remaining 177 delegates will be at stake. Of those remaining delegates, Trump needs to win roughly 58% of those delegates (or 177) to secure the nomination).
It could play out like this:
New Jersey (51 delegates). We still have a ways to go to get to the New Jersey primary, but current polls suggest that Trump should win easily. The outcome may look similar to the results from New York. New Jersey is winner-take all, the state’s demographics clearly favor the Trump campaign. Target: 51 delegates.
Montana (27 delegates). Another winner-take-all state, and yet another state where there is no current polling. However, like Nebraska, the state has all the makings of a safe state for Ted Cruz, particularly given Cruz’s dominant performance in nearby contests. Target: 0 delegates.
South Dakota (29 delegates). This is the last winner-take-all state on our list. And like Montana, Cruz is the clear favorite in South Dakota. A Trump victory here would be a significant upset. That could help buffer Trump in getting to 1,237. But he shouldn’t hang his hat on it. Target: 0 delegates.
New Mexico (24 delegates). The poll was conducted in February, and had Cruz leading Trump 25% to 24% (Kasich was at a mere 4%). Because the poll was conducted in February, though, it also included Marco Rubio and Ben Carson. The field has changed, and it is unclear whether it is good or bad news for Trump in New Mexico. Trump’s dominant performance in nearby Arizona should give him confidence, but New Mexico allocates its delegates proportionally to all candidates breaking 15 percent. That limits Trump’s potential gains. Target: 10 delegates.
California (172 delegates). Indiana is important, but California is make-or-break territory for the Trump campaign. The bottom line: Trump cannot win the Republican primary without a dominant performance in California. According to Real Clear Politics, Trump (at 44.3%) is currently 15.0 points ahead of Cruz (at 29.3%) and 26.5 points ahead of Kasich (at 17.8%). Despite the massive delegate haul, California only awards 13 delegates to the statewide winner. The remaining 159 delegates are apportioned by congressional district (three delegates per district). The Cruz campaign is targeting voters at the district-level, which could prove critical in places where few Republicans will actually vote, like in the districts around Los Angeles and San Francisco. The good news for Trump, however, is that his support appears to be evenly distributed throughout California. Trump can tolerate losing 1/3 of the districts. His target should be to win two-thirds of them, or 35. Target: 118 delegates.
Where Are We Now? Is It over Yet?
So where does this put us? If Trump can make these numbers, he would finish the primary season with at least 1,239 delegates – over the magic number.
Clearly, however, this path leaves little margin for error. A loss in Indiana, for example, would knock him well under 1,237. But an unexpected win in a state like Montana or South Dakota, or a stronger win in a state like California, could push him well past the 1,237 mark.
The bottom line is this: Trump is the only remaining Republican presidential candidate with a clear path to the Republican nomination. But even if we make the most conservative estimates about the upcoming contests, he will be in a strong position to negotiate his way to 1,237 delegates. Increased importance will be given to the unbound delegates, from Pennsylvania and elsewhere. But the candidates, who have already exited the presidential race will also come into play – like Ben Carson and Marco Rubio. Carson is still holding onto 9 delegates, and Rubio previously won 171 delegates. It’s highly unlikely that Rubio would hand his delegates to Trump. But it’s not impossible.
If Trump cannot get to 1,237, he will lose on the first ballot and almost assuredly not be the Republican nominee. At that point, the Republican party will face two equally terrible choices. Does the party nominate a candidate who will be perceived as illegitimate – one who either did not run or failed to capture a significant percentage of the votes in the primary? Or, do they determine that its better to Lose with Cruz?