As the Republican primary calendar enters its final stretch, Donald Trump still has a more than decent shot — better than some would have you believe — at securing the 1,237 delegates that would guarantee his coronation in Cleveland.
For all the talk of a contested GOP convention — the unicorn of modern day political reporting — the delegate math still points to Trump locking up the nomination before the convention, or coming so close that it would be politically impossible to deny him the nomination.
The significance to the alleged “alliance” formed in recent days between Ted Cruz and John Kasich is its implication that without teaming up in an extraordinary joint effort to coordinate the voting of their supporters state by state, Trump will win enough delegates to make stopping him impossible.
“The trajectory of this for a while now is that Trump is heading towards something that’s really close to if not barely over 1,237,” said Joshua Putnam, a lecturer at the University of Georgia who runs the delegate tracker blog FrontloadingHQ.
”That hasn’t changed since March 15. It’s been awhile that we have been heading towards this, so the alliance and all the rest of it is really just about keeping him just under 1,237,” Putnam told TPM.
Trump’s path to 1,237 is very narrow, but very real. He currently has 845 delegates, but is expected to have a big night in Tuesday’s primaries in Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island, where he could walk away with around 100 more delegates, according to the projections of Kyle Kondik, an analyst at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics.
The Kasich-Cruz deal announced Sunday would seek to stymie him at the race’s next major juncture: Indiana, where 57 delegates are up for grabs in a week.
“Indiana seems like a really key state, because, realistically, if Trump wins Indiana, then he’s well on his way,” Kondik said.
The Cruz and Kasich campaigns have signaled that Kasich will be pulling out of the state to give Cruz a boost, though there has been some waffling as to whether Kasich supporters will be told explicitly to vote for Cruz.
“Voters haven’t demonstrated a universal willingness to vote strategically,” David Wasserman, an analyst for The Cook Political Report, told TPM.
In return for backing out of Indiana, Cruz will cede New Mexico and Oregon to Kasich, according to the deal. However, those states award their delegates proportionally. So even if Kasich grains some ground, it’s unlikely he will land a major blow on Trump’s delegate count that would knock him off his trajectory.
Indiana is thus likely a do-or-die moment for Cruz and everyone else who opposes Trump. If he sweeps the delegates there, his path to 1,237 becomes much easier.
“The big piece of this puzzle seems to be Indiana, the effort seems to be one to try and re-create Wisconsin,” Putnam said, referring to the primary earlier this month where Cruz defeated Trump in part because Kasich under-performed.
“Things seem to be headed — at least before the alliance was announced — more towards a result like Missouri,” Putnam added, where a razor close race ultimately went to Trump.
However, a resounding Cruz victory in Indiana alone will not be enough to head off Trump. Cruz and Kasich will have to replicate their alliance in California’s primary in June, experts said, where it will be even more complicated for them to implement.
“[Trump] can lose Indiana, but if he gets 155 of the delegates out of California, he’s back up to where he is going to be at 1,237,” said Henry Olsen, an elections analyst at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. “They really have to do a California deal if they’re serious about stopping Donald Trump.”
What makes California an even more challenging landscape for Trump foes is how the state allots its 172 delegates. One hundred fifty-nine of those are awarded in mini-district-by-district winner-take-all races, so the best shot at stopping Trump is promoting Kasich in some districts and Cruz in others, depending on their regional advantage.
“The problem is, it’s really hard to mount a two-front war within a state and argue, ‘If you live in the following districts, vote this way,’” Wasserman said. “That is going to be very difficult for the campaigns to pull off. Not every voter is aware of what congressional district they live and it has the potential to confuse a lot of voters.”
With neither Cruz nor Kasich mathematically capable of securing a majority of delegates before the convention, their Stop Trump efforts depend not just on big hauls in Indiana and California, but winner-take-all states like Montana, Nebraska and South Dakota, according to Olsen.
“All three of those latter states are less evangelical Christian than Indiana, so if Cruz isn’t doing well in Indiana after the deal with Kasich, we could find that he’s not doing well in those three smaller states,” he said.
For Trump foes’ operation to be credible, Trump needs to be so far below the 1,237-delegate threshold that it doesn’t appear as if he is being robbed of the nomination.
“At a certain point there might not be enough fight in the anti-Trump people to do it. The margins matter and Trump distance from 1,237 matters quite a bit too,” Olsen said.
Photo illustration by Christine Frapech for TPM. (Photos: AP)