Donald Trump is on track to hand the Republican establishment an unprecedented defeat at the national convention in July, despite being outspent 3-1 by party leaders and their associates in their all-out effort to turn primary and caucus voters against him, according to a state-by-state delegate allocation analysis by The Washington Times.
By the time California and three other states count their votes from the last four primaries June 7, the brash billionaire businessman and TV star will be 74 or so delegates short of the 1,237 majority needed for the nomination, the analysis shows.
With so large a plurality in the offing, it is increasingly unlikely that the Republican establishment, fronted by 2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romney, will carry through with plans to change the convention rules to wrest the nomination from Mr. Trump and hand it to an establishment-approved candidate such as Marco Rubio or John Kasich, or even a noncandidate like House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, who is expected to be named the convention’s chairman and has the adoration of the party’s power brokers.
“I cannot imagine him not getting a majority on the first ballot if he’s only 74 delegates short of a majority,” said Republican superlawyer and Constitution scholar James Bopp Jr.
“Even if he were 174 short, if he had a substantial lead in delegates, it would likely be politically unacceptable for the anti-Trump forces to deny him nomination,” said Mr. Bopp, also a former Republican National Committee vice chairman.
The vast majority of the 2,472 delegates are bound by the rules of their state parties and in some cases by state law to vote on the first ballot for the candidate who has won a required percentage of votes in that state’s primary or caucuses.
“To win a first-ballot victory solely on the basis of delegates bound to him on the basis of all the primaries and caucuses, Trump will need to sweep the two March 15 winner-takes-all states of Florida and Ohio,” said delegate allocation analyst Jim Ellis, who was a political adviser to former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.
Those wins would add 165 delegates to his column, and that would put him within easy striking distance of a majority, assuming the rest of the electoral calendar plays out as projected in the accompanying chart. Only 10 states award all their delegates to a single candidate who takes a plurality of the votes.
In addition, there were originally 247 unbound delegates, including the 168 members of the Republican National Committee, who are generally party loyalists and do not support a Trump candidacy. The number of unbound delegates, however, continues to grow as candidates drop out of the race. Delegates are automatically unbound if their candidate suspends a campaign.
If not Trump, then who?
“If he’s only 70 or 80 votes short, it’s hard to imagine his not getting the unbound delegates he needs,” said American Conservative Union Chairman Matt Schlapp, who served as a political director in the George W. Bush White House.
“Interesting that in the last 48 hours the ‘never Trump‘ crowd has trouble saying his name, but they have come to find Ted Cruz as the only viable alternative to Trump. They don’t like it, but he’s the only option,” he said.
Mr. Cruz’s viability is questionable in The Times’ analysis, which has the senator from Texas winding up with only 636 delegates — 601 short of the needed 1,237 delegates.
The Times’ analysis has Mr. Rubio amassing a total of 336 and Mr. Kasich only 119.
“Going to a contested Republican National Convention remains a real possibility if Trump is denied one of the two big winner-takes-all states of Florida and Ohio on March 15,” Mr. Ellis said.
Mr. Trump doesn’t appear to have any overt support from the Republican National Committee — made up of each state’s party chairman and an elected national committeeman and woman. But that lack of RNC support could change.
“There are multiple reasons why some RNC members would go to Trump on the second ballot, and even on the first ballot if he’s only a few short of a majority,” said Mr. Bopp. “He can offer them immediate or future rewards. So my guess is as many as 50 of the 168 RNC members could go for Trump, especially if they thought it was the way to save the party from self-destruction if the establishment tried to hijack the convention to stop Trump.”
Diluting the vote
But if Mr. Rubio and Mr. Kasich lose their respective states’ primaries and suspend their campaigns, then Mr. Trump almost surely will go the Cleveland convention with a majority of delegates and a first-ballot nomination victory, The Times’ analysis predicts.
“Everything shifts even further in his favor,” said Mr. Ellis, the former DeLay adviser. “In a two-man Trump-Cruz contest, for example, by the time New York holds its primary on April 19, Mr. Trump is likely to get as many as 80 of the 95 delegates available in the state. He’ll also win most of California’s 172 delegates.”
The Times’ analysis projects Mr. Trump will win a plurality of 72 delegates in California if Mr. Kasich and Mr. Rubio stay until the bitter end.
Then there is the barrier of the “Romney Rule,” which would make it difficult, if not impossible, to hand the nomination to someone besides Mr. Trump or Mr. Cruz. The rule requires a candidate to have won a majority of delegates from each of eight states before the candidate may be nominated and put to a vote at the convention. The old rule required only a plurality of delegates in five states.
Pushed by the party establishment’s chief attorney, Ben Ginsberg, at the 2012 convention, it was designed to keep Ron Paul from having his name on the convention ballot and allowing him to address the delegates.
But it has backfired on the party’s establishment as Mr. Trump is projected to corral delegate majorities in 16 states and Mr. Cruz is expected accumulate at least five such majorities and probably enough to allow his name to be put into nomination at the convention. No establishment favorite — Mr. Cruz is hardly better-liked than Mr. Trump in such circles — is likely to come close to that eight-state requirement.
The rule is not likely to be changed in Cleveland come July, unless the establishment wants to risk a bloody battle between the national party and grass-roots voters, Mr. Bopp said.
Mr. Bopp also said he read the convention’s procedural rules to determine whether there is a possible parliamentary trick, such as changing the rules. He said any rules can be changed any time, but only by a two-thirds vote of the delegates present.
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