My Tuesday night was a lot like the last few Tuesdays I’ve spent. Polls closed in a series of primaries and, almost immediately, I started to get calls, emails and tweets from Republican establishment types insisting that the tide had begun to turn against Donald Trump in earnest! Finally!
“He lost Ohio!” was the rallying cry of last night. Now, he can’t get to 1,237 delegates, and if he can’t do that, then it’s an open convention, and he can’t win an open convention!
Before we go too far into the math that belies that certainty, let’s start with what Trump did last night. He won Florida by 19 points, crushing home-state senator Marco Rubio and driving Rubio out of the race in the process. He won North Carolina. He won Illinois. Missouri has yet to be called by the Associated Press, but Trump is ahead of Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas in the Show Me State by just less than 2,000 votes and is being referred to as the “apparent winner.” The state he lost on Tuesday is one in which he was facing a very popular sitting governor who, less than two years prior, had carried 86 of Ohio’s 88 counties in his reelection bid.
If you give him a win in Missouri, Trump will not just have won four of the five states that voted on Tuesday night but 19 of the 32 contests that have been held so far this year -- good for almost 60 percent of all votes.
Now, the delegate math. Yes, Trump would have been on even stronger ground than he is today had he won Ohio in addition to his wins everywhere else last night. But the idea being circulated by many within the Republican establishment that Trump’s path to the 1,237 delegates he needs to be the nominee is now impossibly narrow is just not right.
According to NBC’s delegate calculations, Trump needed to win 52 percent of the remaining delegates if he had carried Ohio in addition to his Florida and other wins last night. Now? He needs 55 percent of the remaining delegates. Yes, 55 percent is more than 52 percent. (Good math!) But, it is far from insurmountable — particularly when you consider that the bulk of states still to vote are clumped in the West and the Northeast/Mid-Atlantic, places that should be more friendly to Trump than the South and Plains-centric calendar to date.
How did Trump widen his delegate lead even while losing Ohio, you ask? Look to Missouri and Illinois, which dole out most of their delegates to the winner of each congressional district in the state. Trump’s support is far wider — if less deep — than Cruz’s, for example, so he winds up winning lots and lots of districts, which means lots and lots of delegates. So, in Illinois Trump has taken 49 delegates to nine for Cruz. And, in Missouri, where all of the delegates have yet to be allocated, Trump was ahead in seven of the eight congressional districts. (Bloomberg Politics has a terrific delegate tracker.)
What was true before Tuesday is true today: 1. Trump is the only candidate who has a semi-plausible path to the 1,237 delegates and 2. That path is difficult but far from impossible.
So much of the anti-Trump coverage that is pushed on these primary nights simply misses the boat. It is driven by wishful thinking on the part of the “not Trump” crowd that is desperately seeking a glimmer of hope that their long nightmare is coming to an end.
There was very little actually evidence last night to justify the amount of celebrating within the party establishment about Trump’s “demise.” That doesn’t mean that Trump will get the 1,237 delegates he needs — either before the Cleveland convention or during it. But, what it does mean is that he remains in the pole position in this race as the only candidate with a real case to win the nomination outright between now and June 7 when the primary process comes to an end.