Only a hundred? Politico’s Kyle Cheney and Ben Schreckinger talked with delegates coming to Cleveland in July and estimate that the exodus from Donald Trump’s legion of bound delegates will get decimated on a second ballot, as something north of 100 will look for an alternative. However, that number may not be as dramatic as some have assumed:
The reality of a contested convention has become more real than ever, with Donald Trump facing the risk of losing Wisconsin next week, meaning he’d have to win roughly 60 percent of the remaining delegates to win the Republican presidential nomination outright.
If Trump heads into the convention without the magic number of 1,237, already more than a hundred delegates are poised to break with him on a second ballot, according to interviews with dozens of delegates, delegate candidates, operatives and party leaders.
In one of starkest examples of Trump’s lack of support, out of the 168 Republican National Committee members — each of whom doubles as a convention delegate — only one publicly supports Trump, and she knows of only a handful of others who support him privately.
Is this a disaster for Trump? Maybe, maybe not. First off, Trump is still on a trajectory to get a narrow majority. There aren’t a lot of media outlets willing to do a projection on this, but the Vox/FrontloadingHQ projection from two weeks ago showed Trump’s momentum carrying him to 1279 — although that assumed Trump won all 42 delegates from Wisconsin. If Cruz sweeps, then that puts Trump at exactly 1237, and Cruz’ momentum might deny Trump delegates in other states — perhaps in California, where Cruz could win in some Congressional districts. But if Trump gets to 1237, then the second-ballot scenario is moot.
Let’s hypothesize two other scenarios. First, Trump comes into Cleveland with 1200 bound delegates, just short of a majority but far ahead of Cruz, who would come in around 870 delegates, and 331 bound to other candidates — or maybe not. There is still a question as to whether Marco Rubio’s delegates can be forced to vote for him on the first ballot or become unbound by his withdrawal. With Trump up over 300 delegates on Cruz, it’s not difficult to see 37 of the unbound delegates on the floor voting to nominate Trump on the first ballot just to wrap things up quickly. Even if that didn’t happen, losing 100 delegates to Cruz still puts Trump in the lead on the floor on the second ballot by roughly 200 delegates. He’s still got the better argument for the nomination, at least on the second ballot, among the 331 who would become unbound at that point — and he’d only need less than half of them (137) to get to the nomination.
Scenario 2: Trump comes into Cleveland with a lower number of delegates, around 1100 or so. There’s almost no chance of getting enough delegates on the first ballot, and Trump loses another 100 (according to Politico’s calculation here). Cruz would come in around 970 in this scenario, so they would both be essentially tied going into the second ballot. But one of them would have to win more than two-thirds of the unbound delegates in order to climb over the other to the nomination. Who has the better shot at that? I’d say that scenario plays into Cruz’ organizational strength, but don’t underestimate the power of Trump’s movement, either.
Bear in mind that all of this assumes Cruz won’t lose any delegates on a second ballot.. There may be some Cruz delegates who like Trump more and will flip after the first ballot, which means that Cruz’ path to the nomination gets weaker. It’s also possible that the 331 delegates bound for other candidates might not like either option and force enough ballots to get someone else considered as a compromise candidate. However, that seems very unlikely to succeed — unless much more than 100 of Trump’s delegates bolt from his campaign.
The nightmare scenario for Trump isn’t losing 10% of his delegates after the first ballot. It’s losing 20%, 30%, or more. If that happens, then Trump is toast, and Cruz will almost certainly win. The Cruz campaign’s organizational strength could drive a result like that, which is why Team Trump is now talking about Cruz “stealing” the nomination:
“As far as the stealing of the Trump nomination, that’s a big concern for everybody,” said Diana Orrock, the RNC committeewoman from Nevada and the only one of 112 committeemen and women who openly supports Trump. None of the nation’s 56 state and territory GOP chairmen, also convention delegates, have endorsed Trump either. They are subjected to a mix of state-based rules as far as their obligation to back Trump on the first vote.
That’s not “stealing”; it’s called knowing the rules of the game. And in a real sense, organizational excellence matters in a nominee. The candidate who operates on the granular level by getting to know people in each community has a much better chance of competing in contested territory in the general election. The candidate who ignores that aspect of campaigning is not likely to do nearly as well. If Trump loses 20-30% of his delegates on the second ballot because Cruz out-hustled him in delegate assignments, that will be Trump’s fault, and the end of his campaign.