We have gone from “Donald Trump is a fluke” to “Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) cannot win the ‘SEC primary’ so Trump is unstoppable” to “Trump does not have it locked up.” We are about to enter a new stage in the Republican presidential race: This is not about a race to 1,237, a majority of delegates.
The Post reports that a path to stopping Trump is unfolding. (“Marco Rubio wins Florida. John Kasich wins Ohio. Ted Cruz notches victories in the Midwest and Mountain West. And the results in California and other states are jumbled enough to leave Trump three dozen delegates short of the 1,237 required — forcing a contested convention in Cleveland in July.”) As we have noted, the combined forces of an anti-Trump PAC, more aggressive debate performances from his opponents and mainstream media coverage of his shady business dealings are beginning to bear fruit.
Once the candidates, their operatives and their donors begin to see the race in this light, the question stops being about who needs to get out and about how candidates can tag-team against Trump and get to a convention. Who cares if Ohio Gov. John Kasich has less than 40 delegates if he can slow down Trump in Michigan and beat him in Ohio? What difference does it make if Rubio comes in fourth in Michigan if he wins Florida?
The media can obsess over Trump’s delegate totals (384), but what is significant right now is the total the others (including those who have since exited the race) have won (503). As the non-Trump delegate total rises, even if diffused among several candidates, Trump’s task to get to 1,237 becomes harder. Right now he needs more than 54 percent of the remaining 1,585 delegates to get to 1,237.
With 150 delegates available today and 367 delegates available March 15 (with 66 in between), another 583 delegates will be decided in the next week. If Trump gets about half of those (impressive in a four-man field), or 291 delegates, his total goes up to about 675. However, that will mean he will need to win more than 57 percent of the remaining 1,002 delegates to get to 1,237. And there is no guarantee he will do nearly that well with delegate-rich winner-take-all states.
Do not then bother to count states already won, or even Trump’s lead in delegates. Focus on the diminishing opportunity for him to get to 1237 before the convention. It is of no consolation to Trump that the other candidates won’t get to 1237 either; all they care about is keeping him below 1237 at this point.
Trump has no reason to grouse about a contested convention. He entered the race knowing the rules and the requirement to get a majority of the delegates. He is not entitled to win with a plurality, and in fact, the Republican National Committee rules loosen up delegates in successive rounds precisely to give those without a plurality every chance to win over the convention. (The Wall Street editorial board explains, “If the first ballot doesn’t produce a majority, nearly 80% of the delegates then become free to vote for the nominee of their choice on the second ballot. By the third ballot, 89.4% are free to choose. This gradual liberation is designed to prevent a stalemate and let the delegates work their will to coalesce eventually around the best nominee. This isn’t cheating or ‘stealing the nomination.’ It’s how the process is supposed to work.”) If Trump marches out (please, please let it be so!), he will find getting on the ballot as an independent at that late day an expensive and perhaps logistically impossible task.
In that sense, the #NeverTrump forces have two goals in mind: Prevent Trump from getting to 1,237 and educate the RNC delegates about the dangers of a Trump presidency. The more the non-Trump delegates come to understand Trump’s scandals and character, the less likely he is to assemble a majority of delegates at the convention. Trump’s past support for Democrats and lack of ideological consistency will also work against him at a convention in which the votes that matter will be Republican stalwarts.
However late in the game, we are seeing the emergence of a viable “stop Trump” strategy. And it might just work.