Trump's other big win last night: He cleaned up among Pennsylvania's unbound delegates

I flagged Pennsylvania’s delegate elections in last night’s open thread as worthy of special attention so it’s only right that we note the results today. Remember, as of a few days ago, there were three steps required for Trump to clinch 1,237 before the convention. Step one: Outmaneuver Cruz at the delegate level (for once) and claim a chunk of Pennsylvania’s 54 unbound delegates. Step two: Win Indiana, or at least win enough districts there to grab a dozen delegates or more. Step three: Win very big in California.


Not only did he nail step one last night, he nailed it so well that, coupled with his even-bigger-than-expected landslides in the mid-Atlantic primaries, he may have eliminated step two in the process. Phil Kerpen, who saw Cruz’s underperformance in PA’s delegate races coming, has a tally as of this morning:

The count is presented two ways: one including only confirmed, public supporters and the other including allocation of “district winner” supporters and other leaners based on my analysis.

TOTALS for the 54 Pennsylvania district delegates:
Publicly committed: Trump 28 Cruz 3 Uncommitted 23
With leaners + “district winners”: Trump 38 Cruz 4 Kasich 4 Uncommitted 8

In other words, 28 newly elected delegates in Pennsylvania are openly pro-Trump and another 10 have promised to support the winner of the popular vote in their congressional district last night, which was also Trump. Cruz’s big win in Wisconsin a few weeks ago netted him 36 delegates versus just six for Trump; Trump managed to more than offset that last night by beating Cruz 38/4 in the sort of delegate “invisible primary” where Cruz has been cleaning up in other states. That’s a big deal, as it means Trump is a bit closer to 1,237 than most forecasters expected him to be at this point. He also beat expectations in Maryland and Connecticut, where Kasich looked poised a few weeks ago to peel off a few districts. Instead Trump swept both states, netting 66 delegates in the process. Combine his wipeouts there with his surprising showing in the PA delegate races and suddenly Indiana isn’t really a must-win for him after all. It’s a must-win for Cruz, as Trump taking IN would add a few dozen more delegates to his total and give him a comfortable margin of error in California. But even if Cruz sweeps the state and takes all 57, Trump did well enough last night that he stands a fair chance of clinching before the convention anyway. Nate Cohn runs the numbers:


Mr. Trump could be as few as 270 delegates from the 1,237 he needs when all of Tuesday’s delegates have been awarded.

He’s a safe bet in New Jersey and West Virginia, though he might not win as many delegates as he hopes in West Virginia’s delegate selection primary. He’s nonetheless likely to win at least 70 from those two contests, and perhaps as many as 85.

He could win a further 40 delegates (or even more) from three states that award delegates proportionally: Washington, Oregon and New Mexico. He is likely to garner a healthy share of delegates in those states, whether he wins or not.

One election-watcher (who’s including Pennsylvania’s unbound delegates in his numbers) has Trump at 979 likely delegates right now, which would put him a mere 258 away from clinching. If Cohn’s more conservative projection for New Jersey and West Virginia proves correct, that means Trump would need just 148 delegates from Indiana and California combined. If instead Trump cleans up in NJ and WV — which is how I’d bet given his dominance in the mid-Atlantic last night — he’d need a mere 133. California alone has 172 delegates at stake and is winner-take-all by district; Trump leads in every poll there right now, and the last few polls have had him winning going away. It’s not implausible that he’ll take 133 or even 148 delegates from California alone, the sort of big blue state where he’s dominated so far, and clinch the nomination even if he gets nothing from Indiana. And if he does win Indiana, which would net him a minimum of 30 delegates, he’d barely need to break 100 in California to clinch before Cleveland. Before yesterday, next week’s vote in Indiana was set to be a decisive moment on the way to a brokered convention. If Cruz won the state, the CW went, Trump couldn’t realistically get to 1,237 with the delegates left on the board and we’d be set for a floor fight. Now what’s at stake in Indiana is simply making Trump sweat. If Cruz wins, he gets one last shot at stopping Trump somehow in California on June 7th. If Cruz loses, the race is effectively over.


The question now, per Nate Silver: Was the degree of Trump’s domination last night an artifact of his popularity in the northeast or was it a sign that some slice of Republican undecideds nationally have resigned themselves to Trump, in which case we should expect him to finish off Cruz in Indiana next week? Or could there have been something else at work — namely, #NeverTrumpers giving up and staying home?

My original idea was that this sentiment [that the system is “rigged”] might be moving undecided voters toward Trump — Republicans who just wanted to get the race over with and who didn’t want to go through the ordeal of a contested convention. After seeing the exit polls on Tuesday, however, I’d propose a slightly different version. According to the exit polls, Trump did not perform especially well among late-deciding voters — no better than John Kasich did. But recent turnout has been low as compared with earlier states. Whereas 25.6 percent of the voting-eligible population cast a Republican ballot in Wisconsin, according to Michael McDonald’s estimates, an average of only 9.9 percent of eligible voters have in the six northeastern states to vote over the past eight days.

So it may not be that undecided voters are gravitating to Trump so much as anti-Trump Republicans are discouraged. Trump faces unusually high levels of intraparty opposition for a front-runner — or at least he had seemed to until the past two weeks. But Kasich and Ted Cruz are also deeply flawed, and somewhat factional, candidates. It’s asking a lot of voters to cast a tactical vote against Trump when that tactic requires (i) going to a contested convention in order to (ii) deny the candidate with the plurality of votes and delegates the nomination in order to (iii) give the nomination to a candidate they don’t particularly like anyway. The #NeverTrump voters might not be voting for Trump, but they might be staying at home.


It could be that #NeverTrumpers in these states stayed home only because everyone’s known for weeks that Trump would romp in the mid-Atlantic. Why bother to turn out and vote against Trump when you know a landslide is unavoidable? Indiana will be more competitive and it’s now become Cruz’s last stand, so all hands should be on deck next Tuesday night. If they aren’t, then we’ll know that last night was more than a regional phenomenon. It was a sign that some small but significant bloc of GOPers who had been holding out against the idea of nominating Trump finally threw in the towel and quit.

By the way, last night’s costly disaster in Pennsylvania notwithstanding, Cruz’s delegate-wrangling looks set to continue dominating Trump for weeks to come. The almost certain outcome in Cleveland as of today is Trump being nominated on the first ballot by a national delegation composed mostly of, er, Ted Cruz fans. I wonder what that’s going to look like on the floor. Once Trump clinches on the first ballot, will most of the delegates walk out? That’ll be some fine unity optics during the GOP’s big show.

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David Strom 6:40 PM | February 29, 2024