By the time the Republican Party's 2,472 voting delegates get to the convention in Cleveland in July, they will have already survived an impressive gauntlet of selection, negotiation and cajoling. Each of the 50 states, the District., Puerto Rico and the territories will have shaken out their 50-plus different systems for delegate allocation, put the bruised souls that emerged on planes and buses, and eagerly crowd around the Internet to see what happens next. The moment the delegates walk onto the convention floor will be a moment of calm and certainty after months of weirdness.
It won't last long.
It's possible that Donald Trump will have confirmed the support of 1,237 of those delegates by July, enough for a majority and enough to make him the nominee on the first ballot. It seems equally possible, though, that he won't have -- meaning a contested convention and a series of votes to figure out who the nominee will be.
What Trump wants are bound delegates, delegates that are obligated to vote for him on that first ballot. He doesn't need only bound delegates, mind you. There are a number of unbound delegates, too -- people who could vote for Trump if they wish. Trump's worry, though, is that they won't wish, since many delegates are longtime Republican party activists who may view Trump with all of the affection that we've come to expect from the GOP establishment. According to our counts, tallied from The Green Papers and delegate-watcher Daniel Nichanian, about 2,363 delegates will arrive at Cleveland bound to a candidate. After that first vote, that changes.
As with the delegate allocation process in the first place, the rules vary by state. And they are complicated, hard to parse and were never really built for an actual contested convention fight. In some states, delegates are only bound to a candidate for one vote. In others, they're bound for two. In others, three. And in some, delegates are bound to a candidate until that candidate "releases" them -- a move that often requires a statement in writing.
Considering only how states release candidates as rounds of voting progress, the total of bound and unbound delegates looks like this.
(Rules for some states -- like Ohio, Wyoming and West Virginia -- weren't clear. In others, the rules have a lot of caveats and carve-outs. We created a "to be determined" category to house some of the weirder possibilities.)
Note that the graphic above doesn't assess which bound delegates are bound to whom. But we can make some quick estimates. Trump has an advantage, for example, in that his 99 delegates from Florida have to stick around for a while. If he does well in California, he holds those delegates for at least two rounds of voting, too.
Again, much of this is subject to asterisks and qualifiers. (Including that some bound delegates may end up unbound if candidates drop out.) In Alaska, California, Maryland, Nebraska, Oregon and Texas, candidates who do badly in one round see their delegates unbound for the next. (In Alaska, it's whoever comes in last. In California, a candidate needs 10 percent of the vote; in Texas, 20 percent. In the other states, he needs 35 percent.) So it's tricky to game out how subsequent rounds of voting will happen without knowing what the field looks like going in.
It should be clear, though, that Trump's in trouble once the first round of voting is over. After Round 1, only a third of the bound delegates are still bound to candidates. By Round 3, it's under 10 percent. Which is why Sen. Ted Cruz's efforts to make sure that he's the second choice of bound Trump delegates is so savvy. If Trump doesn't get a majority in Round 1, Cruz could pick off a lot of his support.
The key lesson, though: If you thought that state-by-state idiosyncrasies evaporated by the time the convention arrived, you were incorrect. State-specific weirdness is baked into the Republican delegate process, and it will guide which Republican ends up as the party's nominee.