The Beginning of the End of the GOP Presidential Primary Season

(As usual, none of this is an endorsement. Just analysis.)

Donald Trump’s victory in the New York Primary was a major morale boost for a campaign that has been limping for weeks. It appears that the New York billionaire will get at least 89 of the Empire State’s 95 delegates (with a chance of as many as 92 once all Congressional Districts have reported). This win exceeded expectations.

For weeks, the Trump campaign has been reeling from both self-inflicted blunders and the Cruz campaign’s savvy use of the state-convention national delegate selection system. This has led to Mr. Trump reorganizing his campaign team and reducing his overall media presence. Many observers have been wondering when Trump’s “pivot” towards being “Presidential” would take place. There have been several false-starts along the campaign trail, but, given the dire state of Mr. Trump’s campaign following his drubbing in Wisconsin, we can say with confidence that the current pivot will either be permanent or Mr. Trump will not be the Republican nominee.

We still are projecting a — nominally (explained in a moment) — open convention in Cleveland in late July. Despite Mr. Trump’s win in New York exceeding expectations, it still remains unlikely that he will cross the 1,237 threshold by the end of primary voting on June 7th. Here’s the rationale:

There are 15 remaining contests (chronologically): Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Indiana, Nebraska, West Virginia, Oregon, Washington, California, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, and South Dakota.

Of these remaining states, we can project that Donald Trump will likely get no delegates in South Dakota, Nebraska, or Montana. Each of those states is winner-take-all and matches the profile for solid Ted Cruz territory.

Likewise, of the remaining states, Rhode Island, Oregon, Washington, and New Mexico are purely proportional. Oregon (5/17) and Washington (5/24) will be effective bellwethers for California (6/7) and give some insight as to Trump’s ability to reach West Coast moderates. In our projections, we’ll give Trump half of the delegates in Oregon and Washington until we see polling that is different. Rhode Island will likely be a Trump state, but, given its proportionality allocation, 12 of 19 delegates is probably the best that Trump will do. New Mexico will be an interesting contest (voting 5/7) but will likely be overshadowed by California. Expect Trump to do well, but not get a super-majority of the delegates.

The good news for Trump in the calendar: Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, West Virginia, and New Jersey. Expect all of these states (either pure winner-take-all or winner-take-all by Congressional District and Statewide) to break in Trump’s favor.

The looming bad news for Trump in the calendar: Indiana. Indiana has 57 delegates in play and is winner-take-all by Congressional District and statewide. Right now, Indiana looks like it could be a major speedbump for Trump. Indiana votes a week after the Trump-friendly Mid-Atlantic states. Given Trump’s poor performance in Wisconsin, and without any additional polling (and given Cruz’s wins in the Midwest), we just can’t project Trump getting more than 15 of the 57 delegates from Indiana. Trump is, rightly, already focusing his attention on Indiana. If he can pull off an upset, or even fight Cruz to a draw, that will go a long way to clearing up some of Trump’s path to 1,237.

The outliers are California and Pennsylvania. Only 17 of Pennsylvania’s 71 delegates are bound at the convention. The other 54 are elected without having to state a candidate preference and can vote their conscience on any ballot at the convention. We are confident to project that Trump will get the 17 bound delegates in Pennsylvania. However, the question remains whether his ground game in Pennsylvania is good enough to make sure that the unbound delegates vote for him on the first ballot. As you’ll see in a moment, there is a growing likelihood that the Pennsylvania unbound delegates could be the difference between a Trump nomination on the first ballot or a truly open convention.

California will get a lot of attention in the coming months. The vast majority of its 172 delegates are awarded winner-take-all by Congressional District. Basically, California will be 53 separate mini-primaries. It’s too early to predict with any certainty, but, given momentum, we’d predict Trump has an edge.

So, here are the changes to the projection:

State Date Possible Prior Projection New Projection
Connecticut 4/26 28 18 25
Delaware 4/26 16 16 16
Maryland 4/26 38 29 32
Pennsylvania 4/26 17+54 17 17
Rhode Island 4/26 19 12 12
Indiana 5/3 57 15 15
Nebraska 5/10 33 0 0
West Virginia 5/10 34 28 28
Oregon 5/17 25 17 13
Washington 5/24 44 24 23
California 6/7 172 115 130
Montana 6/7 27 0 0
New Jersey 6/7 51 51 51
New Mexico 6/7 24 14 13
South Dakota 6/7 29 0 0
Totals 614+54 356 375

 As of 4/20, Trump’s total delegate count stands right around 845. The new current projection would have him getting 1,220 pledged delegates. This is a taunting 17 delegates shy of the outright nomination on the first ballot.

A few caveats, we may be over-estimating Trump’s performance on the West Coast. If Trump underperforms in California, his deficit could reach as high as 40-55 delegates. However, you’re probably already noticing where the logic is going: Pennsylvania’s unbound delegates!

There are actually going to be just shy of 200 unbound delegates at the convention. The big question will be: who will they vote for on the first ballot. As you can see by the math, unless Trump scores an upset in Indiana or one of the “solid Cruz” Midwestern states, there isn’t much in terms of delegate boosts he can get. So, the most likely outcome will still be that Donald Trump will arrive in Cleveland without the required 1,237 bound delegates to be the nominee.

You had better believe that the pressure will be on the unbound delegates to either vote Trump on the first ballot or to kick the convention open on the second ballot. As we explained before, if Trump doesn’t win on the first ballot, his odds of being the nominee crater (in short: the majority of delegates will be able to vote for anyone on the second ballot).

Given the current hirings and firings on Team Trump, it’s pretty clear that they recognize the issues we’ve discussed here. The bigger question remains: can they stop it, or will they continue to be caught offguard? If the pivot we are seeing is any indication, they are taking this seriously.

(Note: We’d be remiss if we didn’t point out that Teed Cruz has been, mathematically eliminated from being able to get the nomination on the first ballot even if he won all of the remaining delegates. This isn’t much of a surprise for those of you who have been following the race. However, expect to hear it as a “big” milestone from the Trump Campaign. We know that Cruz’s best chance of the nomination comes on the second ballot when a majority of delegates for Trump come unbound and some of Cruz’s remain bound.)

Matt McDaniel

Attorney and Political Commentator

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