Impossible Delegate Math

The rage these days is to analyze Donald Trump’s path to the 1237 delegates needed to clinch the GOP nomination. In my not so humble opinion, he still has a strong (though not quite inevitable) path. But rather than go into too much detail, I’ll leave it to Vox Day. His strategic mind has already broken it down far more succinctly than I could.

You may recall I originally stated this: If Trump wins Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and California, plus one state from the following list (Arizona, Missouri, Indiana, Wisconsin), he wins the nomination. Period. Nothing else matters.

Since then, he has won Florida, Missouri and Arizona, but lost Ohio. So, all he needs now, in practical terms, is Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and California. Those are the three vital states, which the latest, but mostly outdated, polls currently show:

  • Pennsylvania: Trump +17
  • New Jersey: Trump +27
  • California: Trump +16

Note for those who haven’t been following Vox Day’s thoughts on this: he also previously stated that Missouri would be almost as good for Trump as Ohio, which is indeed mathematically correct. But the short version is, Trump’s math looks good.

His rivals, on the other hand, are facing impossible delegate math.

Let’s take a look at the current delegate counts first, here handily provided by Google.


John Kasich’s impossible delegate math has been clear for a while now. As of Monday he needed 112% of the remaining delegates to win. Last night didn’t help him. He needs 1094 delegates. Only 944 remain. Obviously he won’t get 116% of the remaining delegates.

But what many don’t realize is that Ted Cruz’s position isn’t much better. His 465 delegates mean that he needs 772 delegates to clinch the nomination – or a whopping 82% of the remaining delegates. Trump’s home state of New York has 95 delegates, and next door New Jersey has 51. Current polls show him looking at yuuuuge wins in both places, and that takes nearly 16% of the remaining delegates off the table. Cruz would have to win 97% of the other delegates to clinch the nomination. Given that several states left are nearly proportional, including California (with it’s massive 172 delegates), that simply isn’t going to happen.

It gets worse for Cruz. The voting slows down massively from here on out. The next primary isn’t for another two weeks – April 5th in Wisconsin. Polls currently show Trump up by 10 in this winner take all state with 42 delegates. After that it’s another two weeks before Trump’s home state of New York votes with its 95 delegates. It’s not quite winner take all, but expect Trump to come home with a vast majority of the delegates here – perhaps all of them. After that point, Cruz will need close to 96% of the remaining delegates to win.

Two weeks after that is April 26th, or Super Tuesday 42, with 5 more states voting: Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island. At the very minimum, expect Trump to take Pennsylvania, where polls have shown him doing extremely well (as Vox Day noted above). That’s at least 71 more delegates off the table. In reality, expect him to take far more than that, at least in terms of delegates.

In short, by the morning of Wednesday, April 27th Ted Cruz will also need more than 100% of the remaining delegates in order to win the nomination. [Update 4/27/16: prediction proven true!] Barring a massive screw up on the part of the Trump campaign, or his actual death, there is no forestalling this outcome.

If Cruz’s quest became a mathematical impossibility with only a few days left in the campaign, it probably wouldn’t help Trump very much. But at that point, there will be seven weeks of campaigning left before the final votes. Expect several things to happen:

  • Cruz donors will begin dropping off as they see his campaign as impossible. Some will hang on, in a quixotic #NeverTrump attempt. Others will save their money for another day. Expect Trump himself to start quietly calling Cruz donors – not looking for their money for himself, but to convince them to cut off his rival.
  • Trump will be hitting Cruz hard every single day, pointing out that his campaign is mathematically impossible. Every. Single. Day.
  • The news media is also going to run the story. A lot. If there were only a few days of it, they’d try to bury it. With seven weeks, they won’t be able to. It’ll become a daily topic of the talking heads.
  • Trump – the master negotiator – will attempt to cut a deal. He will negotiate with both the GOP establishment and with Cruz himself, and take the best deal – if he thinks he needs to take a deal. My expectation? Cruz takes the VP slot in exchange for bowing out.

In a sane primary environment, Cruz would already be dropping out. He’d certainly drop out by April 27th. This is not a sane primary environment, so he might well carry through all the way to the convention. But given all of the above, even if he goes the distance we can expect his voter support to drop off hard. There are plenty of Cruz supporters who will never vote for Trump. Some of them will still show up for primaries on June 7th to vote for Cruz, even though it’s hopeless. Most will stay home. Whether Cruz has dropped out or not, expect Trump to carry enough of the June 7 delegates to handily carry him over the finish line.

If Cruz drops out before then, of course, Trump will get all of the remaining delegates by default. Or nearly all – Kasich might still squeeze out a few, but don’t bet on many. Then Trump will easily win his 1237 by a large (but not yuuge) margin. I see this scenario as increasingly likely for one very simple reason: Cruz is not an idiot. As a commenter over at Vox’s blog noted some time ago, if you’re going to extreme lengths to purge your enemies you purge them all at the same time. A brokered convention will not pick Cruz, and he knows it. Cruz’s best play right now is to negotiate the VP slot with Trump, help push him over the finish line, and set himself up for the next go round. On the flip side, Cruz’s ego is massive and his ambition is even bigger, and that might cloud his judgement (I think it already has, up to this point).

As you can see, I still fully expect Trump to hit 1237 without too much trouble. But it’s absolutely certain at this point that Cruz and Kasich can’t do it. Cruz’s only hope at this point is that the Sweet Meteor of Death finds Trump – and that was before Jeb Bush endorsed him this morning.

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