Donald Trump thinks he will win the 1,237 delegates he needs to be the Republican presidential nominee before the party’s primary season ends this summer. But, if he doesn’t get to that magic number, Trump thinks he still should be the party’s nominee for president this fall.
“I think I’ll do it anyway,” Trump told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. “I think I’ll do it. I may do it easily, because I think we’ll have a big night in Arizona, and I think we’ll do well in Wisconsin. But I do say this — it’s mathematically unfair. Now, if I have millions of votes more, and if I have 1,100 [delegates], and somebody else is down at 400, 500, I think it’s awfully tough to take all of these people out of the system.”
A new poll conducted by CNN suggests that Republican voters agree with Trump. Six in 10 say that if no candidate wins a majority of the delegates in the first ballot at the Republican convention, then the delegates should vote for "the candidate with the most support in the primaries and caucuses."
That will almost certainly be Trump. Here’s where the delegate count stands today:
Trump has 681 delegates. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas has 425. Gov. John Kasich of Ohio has just 143. Trump is likely to pad that delegate lead in tonight’s voting; he is the favorite to take all of Arizona’s 58 delegates (it’s a winner-take-all state), and most people don’t expect Cruz to get to 50 percent in Utah, meaning he will have to share its 40 delegates.
Cruz still feints at overtaking Trump in the delegate chase, but it looks more like a pipe dream than an actual plan as of today. And, as the primary process slows over the next few months — the next meaningful vote in terms of delegates will be in Wisconsin on April 5 — the Trump delegate lead will get emphasized over and over again. Every time you turn on cable TV, you’ll see some version of the graphic above that shows Trump winning the delegate chase. That repetition could well help Trump convince even more Republicans why he should be the nominee even if he doesn’t get to 1,237 pre-Cleveland convention.
It’s also uniquely possible that Trump gets to the number he needs and all of this debate is rendered moot. He needs to win only 52.6 percent of the remaining delegates to formally claim the nomination.
But, Trump is savvy enough to understand that he needs a Plan B in case he fails to win the nomination outright. Expect to hear lots more talk from Trump about why the nominee should be whoever has the most delegates and votes when the primary process ends on June 7. It’s a self-serving argument, sure, but it’s also one that a majority of Republicans agree with.