There are still quite a few people out there arguing that Donald Trump has a very low chance of winning the Republican presidential nomination, despite leading in the polls. First, those people told us that he was following the typical trend of the many “front runners” of previous campaigns, and that his peaks would fall of soon as other candidates took their turns as the front runner.
But this cycle hasn’t been like previous cycles. We haven’t seen other candidates spike and take over the front runner spot. To be sure, though, we have seen that pattern with the other candidates’ poll numbers. But none of them has passed Trump for any serious amount of time since he became the front runner in late summer.
So they moved on to the next argument. Trump can’t win because he can’t grow his constituency above 30-35%. As other candidates drop out of the race, this argument goes, their votes will spread to not-Trump candidates. And he just can’t win with 35% of the vote.
This argument has two weaknesses. First, Trump has – so far – been picking up a fair percentage of the votes as other candidates decline. His national RCP polling average currently sits at 33.1% – the highest it’s ever been, and the trend line is clearly upward. If Trump picks up votes as candidates drop out – even if he picks up less of those votes than the other remaining candidates, then the argument falls apart.
But that’s not the true weak spot. The true weakness of the argument right now is that Trump can win with 30% of the vote. This was a deliberate choice on the part of the Republican establishment over the last four years. It was their way to ensure that an establishment approved candidate could win against insurgencies, and win decisively.
But whether you believe that or not, the fact on the ground is that Trump can win – and win big – with 30% of the vote. I popped over to RCP’s interactive delegate simulator again today. For all states that have them, I defaulted to the RCP polling average of that state. For all others, I defaulted to the national RCP average. I assumed no candidates dropping out.
The clear and simple fact of the matter is that with these numbers, Trump wins the delegate count: 1451 delegates. His nearest competitor, Ted Cruz, comes in with less than a third of his delegates (410), while Rubio and Carson both come in at around 1/7th of his delegates (212 and 190, respectively).
Here in Alabama we have a technical term for that. We call it a landslide.
Now, I still don’t think this is the scenario that’s going to play out. As I’ve noted before, I think some candidates are in it to win but have no chance (Paul, Santorum) – and once they realize they don’t have a prayer, they’ll be out. Others are in it to enhance their careers (Carson wants to sell books and become a talking head; Huckabee wants to increase his fees for being a talking head). Most of the rest are in it as vote splitters for the establishment (Kasich, Fiorina, Huckabee, Christie and Graham) and will get out once their job is done (successfully or not). They’ll probably hang on until Florida – unless it becomes clear that they’re doing no good before that.
That leaves the four serious candidates left in the race: Trump, Cruz, Rubio and Bush. Bush’s backers will force him out once the voting drives home that he’s a truly shitty candidate, and the establishment will coalesce around Rubio, and that’s when the race get’s truly interesting. My best guess is that the splitters are out after Florida, when they’ve done their job.
The question is, who will be on top by then? Because whatever the party wants, and whatever its goals were originally, as candidates drop out, the majority of voters are going to coalesce behind… the winner. Whomever that happens to be, most voters will fall in line. I think it’s going to be Trump by that point, and even the idiotic talking heads will have figured out that he basically can’t lose the nomination anymore. So at the end of the day, I think he’s going to have an even bigger landslide (in delegates).
At the time I wrote the post linked above, Trump was polling around 25% nationally. I noted that even that was enough to win – but that he’d easily win with 30% if he could increase his share that high. If he breaks 40% before the voting starts – and his current trajectory is on path for that – it’s not even going to be a contest.
I could be wrong. Other candidates may pull out at different times. Their voters could split up in different ways than I predict. Trump may not increase his lead. But one fact still remains, and it’s a doozy:
Trump can win with 30% of the vote.
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