Donald Trump isn’t the republican nominee, and Ted Cruz hasn’t been mathematically eliminated . . . yet.
At roughly noon on May 4th, after running fourth in a three-man race for seven consecutive weeks, John Kasich finally suspended his presidential nomination campaign (raising the obvious question of, “What the hell took so long?”), leaving Donald Trump as the “sole survivor” of what was originally an eighteen-candidate republican field. And, go figure, before Cinco de Mayo was in the books, various talking heads and keyboard pundits were acknowledging, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, that The Donald was now the presumptive republican nominee. However, to channel L. P. Berra, this campaign ain’t over ‘til it’s over, and despite a certain well-circulated AP report, a certain critical milestone hasn’t yet been tallied into Trump’s column, and so June 7th is still going to matter . . . very much.
If “Survivor: Cuyahoga” were a Mark Burnett / Jeff Probst production, then yes, this nomination would now be a done deal. However, since this is a Reince Priebus / Paul Ryan production, actually earning the status of “presumptive nominee” involves a bit more work than simply being the last candidate standing. Specifically, the one absolute prerequisite to the status of presumptive nominee is the accumulation of 50%+1 of the available national convention delegates, in this case, 1,237 of the 2,472 available. While we commonly think about delegate accumulation in terms of the “soft count,” the smart play is to keep track of the “hard count,” as that’s the one that really matters.
Tony Roza, over at The Green Papers, does a really good job of explaining the distinction between the soft count and the hard count, which is chiefly whether or not the delegates are formally and officially bound to the candidate in question. As of the publishing of this article, The Green Papers records Trump still two delegates short of a soft majority, and, more importantly, ninety-eight delegates short of a hard majority. (Contrast the RealClearPolitics delegate tracker, which records Trump at two delegates over a soft majority.) Nate Silver, over at FiveThirtyEight, tracks the hard count exclusively, and records about the same number as Roza does (Δ=5). Thus, with around 433 delegates either “available” or “uncommitted” according to the hard count, the 303 republican national delegates up for grabs on June 7th are absolutely going to matter, so pulling in at least 98 of them will absolutely make the difference in actually putting Trump over the top in this primary process; and until he’s over the top, he’s not over the top.
Through Rafael “Ted” Cruz cited the lack of a clear path to the nomination when he suspended his campaign operations, after being shellacked in the Indiana primary, the reality is that he was effectively soft-eliminated two weeks previously, because coming out of New York, Cruz needed five more soft delegates than the total available in the fifteen states that hadn’t yet voted. Thus, even if he ran the rest of the table, Cruz would still have needed a backfill from those states that yet had uncommitted or available delegates. Given the state convention outcomes in Arizona, Louisiana, Colorado, Wyoming, Maine, and Virginia, one could understand the argument that the reason for Cruz finally dropping out after Indiana was a tacit admission that he didn’t have even a backdoor route to the nomination available to him at that point.
However, improbably, Cruz still has a path available to the nomination, at least mathematically speaking. If you’ll review this handy little chart that I’ve built, then you’ll notice that if Cruz can . . .
- persuade the other not-Trump candidates to release their delegates to him
- peel off the available uncommitted delegates in states and territories that have already voted
- effectively run the table on Tuesday, June 7th
. . . then there is yet a scenario where Cruz snatches an at-the-buzzer victory from the jaws of defeat, or at the very least forces a contested national convention. (Remember that Trump needs at least ninety-eight delegates in toto amongst the five states voting on June 7th in order to “hard count” lock down the nomination in advance of the convention.)
This could explain why REC surrogates are quietly working aggressive proxy GOTV efforts in the five states voting on Tuesday (New Jersey, South Dakota, New Mexico, Montana, and California), and may actually succeed in pulling at least South Dakota and Montana into the Cruz column. And what do you want to bet that, if Trump doesn’t have the necessary hard count on June 8th, that Cruz quietly unsuspends his campaign and starts angling to make sure that there’s a second ballot on the floor of the Quicken Loans Arena?
Of course, hardcore establishment types such as Bill Kristol and Mitt Romney, and alleged outsiders like Glenn Beck and Eric Erickson, are all beating the drum that either Trump must be denied the nomination at whatever cost, or a third option must be fielded in order to deny him the election. Given the incredible logistical hurdles involved in putting an “independent republican” on the ballot in every state (plus DC), as well as the Pandora’s Box of awakening the general electorate to the reality that there are more than two viable options in partisan elections (both risks explained nicely by Ben Swann), I suspect that the professional political establishment and deep pocket donor network aren’t really interested in actually fielding a third-party or independent candidate. I think, rather, that Cruz and Kasich were . . . persuaded . . . to publicly stand down right after Indiana, in the hope that Trump would let his guard down and get sloppy with his GOTV efforts, which might then cause him to finish short of a “hard count” first-ballot majority, and then open the door for a quiet Cruz re-entry.
Mind you, I’m not saying that those at the hubs of the establishment network of power brokers actually want a Cruz nomination, not at all. However, take another look at my chart – specifically the “Delegations In Majority (Rule 40b)” line – and note that, of all the not-Trump candidates, only Cruz has the requisite delegation majorities to qualify for first ballot nomination (as RNC Rule 40b is currently worded). Thus, on the first convention ballot (and probably the second one as well), Cruz will be the only available option for the #NeverTrump activists . . . though you can bet your bippy that there’ll be an “uncommitted” ballot line for the 343 or so delegates that don’t care for either option.
The reason, I suspect, that the RNC/GOPe professional power brokers are quite content to allow Cruz to force a second convention ballot, is because they have every intention of reaching deep enough into their bag of tricks to leverage the process into forcing a third ballot, and perhaps more. This is so that the professional spin merchants can begin pitching the narrative that neither of the outsiders were able to actually secure the nomination, the convention is now on the verge of chaos, and party leadership is now meeting to figure out whom they might put forward as a “unity candidate” to heal the party and be a credible standard bearer for the general campaign. And this will be the point at which the Cruz Crew finally realizes that they’ve been played the entire time.
See, not only do I not for one second doubt that the powers that be do in fact have a very short list of people in mind for the role of Unity Nominee, but I am also equally certain (with damn good reason) that Teddy and Lil’ Marco are absolutely not on that list. More likely, the short list in question consists of squish politicos like John Kasich, Jeb Bush, Mitt Romney (who is probably praying that we don’t notice a certain amended statement of organization filed back in October), or someone else similarly onboard with the globalist policy agenda.
This, of course, assumes that we even have an open convention in the first place.
Given that Trump has spent the past fifteen months operating five to eight steps ahead of the professional power brokers, I find it incomprehensible that he would suddenly get sloppy this close to the finish line. He has to know that the delegations of the U. S. Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia are effectively gravy on the potatoes; pledged to support him, but not necessarily officially, formally, or legally required to do so. He has to know that the only reliable way to lock this thing down on the first ballot is to make sure that he has the requisite “hard count” delegate majority once the last of the 56 states and territories to vote (California) reports in (at some point after 11:00 p.m., Cleveland time).
Based on the fact that, since mid-May, the Trump campaign has held at least one rally in four of the five states voting on Tuesday (South Dakota being the only exception), I suspect that DJT is, in fact, well aware of this detail. That said, I can think of at least three advantages stemming from the primary process continuing through the final day of voting:
- Because the nomination will not be decided until the final day of voting is complete, voters and delegates from every state and territory have had an opportunity to weigh in on an ideological and philosophical debate that will ultimately shape the future of the Republican Party, and potentially also the future of the United States, for at least a full generation hence. I suspect that Trump is also aware that letting the debate play out is the best way to obtain long-term buy-in to his vision to make America great again.
- Because the nomination will not be a done deal until the final day of voting is complete, states that have spent the past four decades as afterthoughts on the quadrennial primary trail, now all of a sudden become supremely important. In doing this, Trump also exposed the folly of frontloading the quadrennial primary calendar (because the professional power brokers prefer a quick coronation over a robust debate).
- By taking the marathon approach to the primary campaign, Trump is now able to pull certain states “into play” for the general campaign that normally would be written off as “safe democrat.”
. . . all of which probably factor into Trump’s announced fifteen-state strategy to win the general campaign.
That announcement at a rally in Montana promptly ignited a week of media speculation that has identified potential “in play” states such as California, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Washington State (all effectively confirmed by Trump). Those eleven states alone account for a total of 224 electoral votes . . . before adding in New Jersey (which is probably an unconfirmed member of that list), and the safe republican states. This has got to be causing not a few sleepless nights for progressives everywhere, because adding together the safe republican states, Trump’s confirmed strategy, and New Jersey, produces 418 electoral votes . . . all because The Donald has no interest in the establishment’s conventional campaign methodology.
Please, dear Jesus, make it so.
Not since 1976 has the republican presidential primary campaign come down to the final day of voting without the nominee being actually locked in by the delegate accumulation hard count. Thus, with a combined total of 303 convention delegates to allocate, five states that would in any other cycle receive little attention, now have the collective power to either finally lock down the front runner’s nomination, or set the stage for the chaos of an open convention.
As seismically important as New Jersey, South Dakota, New Mexico, Montana, and California are going to be, one would think that there would surely be some recent polling in each of those states within the past two weeks or so, to give us some idea of how they might break on Tuesday. Yet while the most recent poll from New Mexico is recent enough to provide an educated guess, the fact that it dates from mid-February means that an educated guess is all that it’s useful for. The most recent poll from Montana is too dated for even that application, and I haven’t been able to find any polling data whatsoever from South Dakota; which is a problem in two states that are winner-take-all.
Nate Silver’s panel of experts seems to believe that Trump will take New Jersey (which is supported by recent polling data), will lose both South Dakota and Montana (based on I have no idea what), and split New Mexico (presumably with at least Cruz). And this is the point at which I direct your attention to a little caveat near the bottom of my delegate accumulation tracker, specifically referencing my rationale for sequencing the 56 states and territories as I did:
- Chronologically by date of presidential preference vote (or convention where no PPV)
- Where PPV is on the same day, then chronologically by time of poll closing (reckoned as Cleveland time)
- Where polls close at the same time, then in east-to-west order by state or territorial capitol
. . . which means that, in one of those subtle ironies that often occurs in politics, the entire republican presidential primary campaign will finally be decided by a state that hasn’t cast its electoral votes for a republican in twenty-eight years. Assuming that New Jersey, South Dakota, New Mexico, and Montana break as Silver’s experts expect them to – which will leave Trump 37 delegates short of a hard majority – a nomination process that officially started on November 8th of 2014 (Ben Carson’s formal announcement of candidacy) will ultimately come down to the public vote in the home state and final resting place of Ronald Reagan . . . which I’m sure The Gipper would find amusingly fitting.
That Trump understands the importance of Tuesday’s primary in California is probably reflected in the fact that, since the Washington primary two Tuesdays ago, fully two-thirds (six of nine) of his rallies and speeches to date have been in California, including today’s event in Redding. And there’s no doubt in my mind that Trump saw this coming fifteen months ago.
The upside, for the vulgarian insurgency anyway, is that FiveThirtyEight is projecting a 97% chance of Trump winning the California primary (which recent polling supports), and their expert panel is predicting that Trump will take 26 or 27 of California’s 53 congressional districts, for somewhere between 91 to 94 bound delegates, which will be roughly two-and-a-half times what he’ll need (assuming that NJ, SD, NM, and MT all break as expected). If DJT is serious about the California Republic being integral to his fifteen-state general strategy, then he could do little better than to make it the cherry on his primary sundae.
Yes, depending upon who’s counting the “soft pledges,” Donald Trump may or may not already be the presumptive republican nominee, but the difference between “presumptive nominee and “actual nominee” currently sits at just under a hundred formally-bound convention delegates, no small consideration. While the soft count may make for great talking point fodder, once the national convention is called to order at the Quicken Loans Arena on July 18th, only the hard count will matter.
So, on Tuesday evening, beginning at roughly 8:00 p.m. Cleveland time, pay attention to the hard count accumulation of delegates as each of the five states report their returns. As the sun rises over the Forest City on Wednesday, either (a) we’ll be speculating about running mates, cabinet appointments, court nominees, and platform planks, or (b) we’ll be wagering the over-under on how many rounds of convention balloting it’ll take to actually decide the republican nominee, as well as odds on whom that nominee will be.
Either way, Donald John Trump, Senior, will be completely prepared, because he’ll have seen it coming.