Despite the national rhetoric, a careful analysis of the electoral math indicates that it is quite unlikely that Trump will earn the 1237 delegate votes that he would be the nominee. It is much more likely that we will have a contested convention in Cleveland that would almost definitely reject Trump. Cruz will be in a strong position at the convention, but it is impossible to know who will ultimately be selected. And it is possible that the contested convention would serve to shatter the Republican Party as we know it. However, it remains highly unlikely that Donald Trump will be the nominee.
First we look to the delegate math.
Importantly, there will be a total of 257 legally unbound delegates at the convention. Many news outlets have included some of these unbound delegates in totals for candidates as the delegates have made promises to vote for a certain candidate. However, they are legally unbound and so they cannot be depended on. This means that if a candidate gets within 257 of 1237, they could theoretically win on the first ballot if all of the unbound delegates vote for them. This is highly unlikely to happen, especially in Trump’s favor, but it is a possibility.
Where we are now:
Prior to the March 15th elections, including the important winner-take-all votes in Florida and Ohio, here is how the candidates stand with 1269 delegates outstanding: Trump 440 (needs 797 to win). Cruz 347 (needs 890 to win). Rubio 156 and Kasich 61. Simple math shows that Trump needs 62.8% of the remaining delegates to reach 1237. Cruz would need 71.9% of the remaining delegates to win outright. Rubio would need 87.4% and Kasich would need 95% of the remaining delegates to win. Considering that Trump, with all his momentum, has only managed to capture 43% of the delegates necessary to win thus far – it is clear that this is a difficult challenge for his campaign. However, winner-take-all states and various proportional delegate allocation rules make things interesting. Incorporating these rules we can evaluate the probable delegate distribution while making certain assumptions.
Scenario 1: Trump wins Florida and Ohio.
If Trump wins Ohio and Florida, he instantly improves his chances to win the nomination outright by binding 1237 delegate votes. However, whether that turns into an actual victory really depends on whether the loss of their home states sends Rubio and Kasich out of the race.
Assumptions for Analysis A: Trump wins Ohio and Florida. Rubio and Kasich stay in race until the bitter end. Trump wins all remaining Winner Take All delegates due to Cruz, Rubio, and Kasich splitting non-Trump vote. Trump gets 60% of remaining proportional delegates, Cruz gets 30% of remaining proportional delegates, Rubio gets 7% of remaining proportional delegates and Kasich gets 3% of remaining proportional delegates.
This results in a Trump victory with 1361 bound delegate votes.
Assumptions for Analysis B: Trump wins Ohio and Florida. Rubio and Kasich bow out having lost their home states. Cruz now wins all Winner Take All delegates head to head with Trump. Cruz likewise averages 60% of the proportional delegates while trump gets the remaining 40%.
This results in a contested convention with Trump having 971 bound electoral votes and Cruz having 1008 bound electoral votes. Notably, if on the first ballot Cruz were to have enough unbound delegates vote for him, he could win the nomination outright.
Scenario 2: Trump loses Florida and Ohio.
Assumptions for Analysis C: Trump loses Ohio and Florida. Rubio and Kasich stay in the race having won their home states. Trump wins all remaining Winner Take All delegates due to Cruz, Rubio, and Kasich splitting non-Trump vote. Trump gets 60% of remaining proportional delegates, Cruz gets 30% of remaining proportional delegates, Rubio gets 7% of remaining proportional delegates and Kasich gets 3% of remaining proportional delegates.
The result is Trump wining 1196 bound delegates and Cruz having 556. This places Trump within the window of victory – if only 41 of the unbound delegates vote for Trump on the first ballot, he would win the nomination.
Assumptions for Analysis D: Trump loses Ohio and Florida, but Cruz and Kasich both drop out despite winning their home states. Cruz now wins all Winner Take All delegates head to head with Trump. Cruz likewise averages 60% of the proportional delegates while trump gets the remaining 40%.
The result is Cruz winning 1033 bound delegates and Trump winning 806 delegates. Notably, Cruz is again in the range of a victory with enough unbound delegate support.
Scenario 3: Trump splits Florida and Ohio.
This scenario doesn’t require full evaluation as one can extrapolate from the above scenarios. In short, if Rubio and Kasich drop out, it will not matter whether Trump split the votes as Analysis B would control. If Rubio and Kasich do not drop out and Trump can continue to out-gain Cruz consistently, then either Florida or Ohio is worth more than the 41 margin he needed to translate Analysis B from a probable loss into a very probable victory.
Trump winning Ohio and Florida is very important to him, however, the more important factor is whether or not the race remains a four-way race. Regardless of Trump winning Ohio and Florida, if Rubio and Kasich leave the race Trump is very unlikely to win the bound delegates he needs to win the nomination. If Trump loses Ohio and Florida and Rubio and Kasich remain in the race, Trump would fall just short of what he needs to lock up the nomination – but could win with enough delegate support. The only way Trump wins outright is the very unlikely scenario that Rubio and Kasich stay in the race after losing Florida and Ohio respectively.
The reality is, at this point it is very probable that we will be facing a contested convention in Cleveland. Unless Rubio and Kasich hand the victory to Trump by staying in the race despite losing their respective states, the math simply does not work out for Trump to win the nomination outright. This doesn’t even take into account RNC Rule 40 also known as the “Rule of Eight States.” Under this rule, a nominee must have won an actual majority of at least eight states in order to receive the nomination. Regardless of whether Rubio or Kasich stay in the race, it is unlikely that Trump can win a majority in eight states as his negatives rate near 60%, rendering eight majority victories highly unlikely.
In the end, despite the alarm bells ringing, it remains much more likely that we will have a brokered