Conventional wisdom is now set: Because of his lack of organization at the delegate-selecting level, Donald Trump only has one chance to be the Republican presidential nominee: He needs to win it on the first ballot at the Republican National Convention in July.
That's right. And it's been true, roughly, since Trump became a candidate.
Okay, that's a slight exaggeration. But only a slight one. Better put: It's been obvious that Trump's best/only chance was to get the 1,237 delegates he needed on the first ballot since he made clear that he would be running as the Donald Trump of TV fame/infamy. That is: brash, unapologetic, controversial, hugely divisive and little concerned with the x's and o's of grass-roots politicking.
There is simply no gray area with Trump. You either love him (see picture above) or you really, really hate him. And that's just Republicans!
So while it is undeniably true that Trump is being badly out-organized in the local and countywide processes that select delegates to the convention (many of which who are free to vote for whomever they want on the second and third ballots), it is also undeniably true that Trump was never going to win any sort of insider's game — which a multiple ballot convention fight certainly qualifies as.
Trump has taken to blaming his organizing failures on a "rigged" system, which is a good message for him but fundamentally misses the mark. The reason it's first-ballot-or-bust for Trump is not because of a rigged system or poor organization. It's because of Donald Trump.
It's been obvious for months that Trump is the front-runner for the Republican nomination. (This is still true but probably less true today than at any point in the last three months.) What Trump could have — and should have — done once he started dominating the caucus and primary process (he has won 20 states as compared to 10 for Ted Cruz and one for John Kasich) is:
- Begin to tone down his attacks on his opponents as he pivoted for the general election fight against Hilary Clinton
- Recognize that his staff was ill-equipped for the delegate trench warfare to come and bring in people better suited to that challenge, and
- Occasionally glance at a briefing book on foreign policy
He did none of these things. Rather, he tripled down on his Trump-ism — savaging Cruz as "Lyin' Ted," for example — and simply ignored the fact that winning delegates was a multi-step process, not a one-off. Combine his tonal choices with his disinterest in the specifics of how you win a nomination and you are left with what Trump has now: a one-shot chance at being the nominee.
You can try follow that thread back to what got Trump into this position. But the truth of the matter is that the thread will always lead back to Trump and his unwillingness/inability to be anyone other than fully Trump at all times. Even the most basic scaling back of his rhetoric, the box-checking of organizing for the delegate selection process or the smallest effort to, you know, learn about the various policy challenges facing a future president would have likely given Trump a panoply of paths to the nomination.
To do so, however, would have been very un-Trump. To be unapologetically brash and certain you are right at all times means to never, ever do any introspection about whether you might not be right all the time.
What Trump supporters love about Trump is the very thing that has narrowed his options to a first-ballot win at the convention. It was, given who Trump is, totally inevitable.