Nate Silver as well Kyle Cheney and Ben Schreckinger at Politico made basically the same argument this past week that Donald Trump is so unpopular with the Republican Party establishment that he needs to win the nomination on the first ballot or will lose on a subsequent ballot when state-level rules allow delegates to vote for whomever they like.
As Silver puts it, “delegates are people” and “most of the 2,472 delegates with a vote in Cleveland probably aren’t going to like Trump.”
This is the issue: The decision about who goes to the GOP national convention as a delegate is made at state caucuses and conventions in May and June, and the people who attend these are “party elites.” These elites don’t like Donald Trump and will, in large measure, probably choose delegates who don’t like Trump. Add to that that some delegate slots are given to party leaders who also probably don’t like Trump and the problem for the GOP front-runner starts to become clear.
If Trump has the magic number going into Cleveland, he’ll be the nominee, because delegates are bound to vote that way on the first ballot. After the first ballot, however, most delegates are free to vote however they like.
The excellent Politico article by Cheney and Schreckinger also notes that Ted Cruz is doing a very good job of quietly electing “his own loyalists [at state conventions and caucuses] to become delegates to the [national] convention.” Trump and his team have noticed the problem and are trying to catch up, but are now apparently far behind in that particular race and, again, no amount of organization is going to make GOP party brass warm to Trump.
By the way, if you are really interested, the New York Times offers a very useful primer on varying state rules on how delegates are chosen and how long (i.e., how many ballot) they have to stick with a candidate to whom they are pledged.
Because nothing is ever easy, Silver admits that how close Trump gets to the magic number of 1,237 delegates matters in part because there will be at least 138 uncommitted delegates at the convention and a percentage of them coming to him on the first ballot could be the difference if he is close. Still, if it is true delegates are mostly made up of elites, it’s hard to imagine many of these going with Trump.
Something else that Silver mentions, and I must say I mention it only because I love the term, is the possibility of Trump being hurt by “faithless delegates,” which refers to delegates who are committed to voting for him on the first ballot by state party rules but refuse to do so. He writes that it is not clear if this is permitted under Republican rules or what the “enforcement mechanism” would be should it occur.
Oh, and if your eyes haven’t glazed over yet, there is something called “Rule 40″ which was a temporary measure put in place at the 2012 Republican convention requiring that a candidate win a majority of delegates in at least eight states to be placed on the ballot. The rule was proposed by Romney supporters in 2012 to stop Ron Paul supporters from placing Paul’s name in nomination. You may hear about it, and you may hear Ted Cruz saying the rule disqualifies Kasich and anyone else except Cruz and Trump from being considered by the convention, but experts appear to agree that rules like this, made at convention, can be amended at convention or waived entirely. With everything being said about the control party elites will have in Cleveland, it’s hard to imagine this will be a stumbling block. Obviously, if things get really wild and open up completely, the party brass will not want to limit themselves to the nearly almost as hated Ted Cruz as the only option.
When Donald Trump said there could be violence in the streets if he was denied the nomination with a plurality but not a majority of delegates, some people, including me, took it as a threat to the Republican party that such an outcome would not be good for the GOP image. As Nate Silver writes, though, delegates are people, and I don’t think these people will care about the possibility of some jostling (or worse) in the streets or even on the convention floor, or how undemocratic it will seem to deny someone the nomination who had amassed, say, 90 per cent of the delegates going in.
I’ve got to agree with Nate, Trump gets in on the first ballot or he’s toast.