On Tuesday, I typed out about 1,500 words in an effort to explain why the outcome of the Republican nomination contest was so hard to predict. Or, more specifically: Why it was so hard to say whether or not Donald Trump would be the presidential nominee. There are a lot of reasons why it's been difficult to predice, but the key point was the number that appeared about three-quarters of the way into my post: 61 percent.
As of 9 p.m. Tuesday, Trump needed to win 61 percent of the remaining pledged delegates in the Republican contest in order to win the nomination. The math isn't hard: There were 802 delegates left that could end up bound to a candidate, according to Daniel Nichanian, who keeps a close eye on this stuff. Trump needed to win 486 of them -- 61 percent.
After 9 p.m., votes from Wisconsin came in. Trump won 14.3 percent of the available delegates. Which means the the percentage of the remaining delegates he needs to win just went up.
Now, he needs 63 percent of what's left.
Why? Think of it as if you're trying to get $10 by catching quarters that someone is throwing into a crowd. You need 40 quarters in total and you've caught 30. The guy only has 20 quarters left to throw out, so you need to catch half of them, 50 percent. If he throws five and you don't catch any, you still need 10 -- but there are only 15 quarters left. So now you need two-thirds of the remaining quarters. (This is a totally common scenario.)
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) won Wisconsin and, thanks to winning six of the state's eight congressional districts, also won a vast majority of the delegates. In fact, he won 85.7 percent of the delegates Tuesday. The weird thing about the delegate math here, though, is that Cruz needed to win 95.9 percent of all of the delegates before Wisconsin -- so he didn't win enough delegates to stay on track. He needed to catch 15 of those last 20 quarters, but he caught only seven of the 10 that were thrown out. So now he needs to catch eight of the last 10. He did well, but he has to do better if he wants to win the GOP nomination before the GOP convention.
This is a little misleading because of the nature of the Republican primary accumulation. In New York, the next state on the calendar, Trump is poised to do well, and will likely earn far more than the 63.2 percent of delegates he needs -- which, in turn will reduce the number of overall delegates he needs in order to move forward.
There are a lot of other stipulations and qualifications and asides and parentheticals that apply here, of course, but that's why I wrote that long thing on Tuesday. Today, let's just stick with this: Neither Trump nor Cruz did what he needed to do in Wisconsin. Unless you consider that Cruz's real goal is simply to keep Trump from getting to the 1,237 at all.
In other words, he's only catching quarters at this point so Trump can't. In that sense, Cruz's Tuesday night was a complete success.