by Jack Esslinger
The notion of a contested convention for the Republican presidential nomination has gained traction over the last several weeks. A contested convention (also known as a brokered convention) would occur in the event that none of the Republican nominees were able to reach the 1,237 delegate threshold needed in order to clinch the nomination.
Both political pundits (link, link and link) and members of the Republican Party (link and link), disaffected with the idea of a Donald Trump led presidential ticket, have attempted to lend credence to this nomination scenario. A scenario, in fact, that hasn’t happened in forty years when it last happened at the 1976 Republican National Convention. Regardless, if Tuesday’s final Super Tuesday results were any indication of things to come, the path to a contested convention appears to be narrowing to the slimmest of margins.
After delegates were divvied up in the wake of Tuesday’s five primaries Trump has now acquired a total of 673 delegates, over half (fifty-four percent to be exact) of what is required in order to clinch the nomination. To date, Trump has won forty-eight percent of the 1,411 delegates given out and holds a commanding 262 delegate lead over his next closest competitor Ted Cruz. In order to wrap up the nomination he will need to pick up an additional 564 delegates over the remaining twenty contests.
If current math holds with Mr. Trump winning forty-eight percent of the remaining delegates in states that proportionally divide their delegates and wins in all states with winner-take-all (nearly a quarter of remaining delegates fall into this category) delegate primaries (assuming that national polls hold) he will roughly acquire an additional 563 delegates putting him at a grand total 1,236 delegates. That leaves him exactly 1 delegate shy of what’s needed to seal the nomination. Trump can close this minute delegate gap if he’s again able to win all of the remaining winner-take-all states and only increase his win percentage in proportional states by less the one percentage point.
As seen in the table, Trump has a comfortable cushion and appears to be well on his way to the Republican nomination. John Kasich’s win in Ohio (a 66 winner-take-all delegate state) did some to quell Trump’s momentum, but unless either him or Cruz (Texas) have additional home states to create blockage, his nomination train looks poised to become a runaway train. Also to consider are the approximately 124 at-large delegates that aren’t committed to any candidate until the Republican convention. He would need to only capture a few of these to tip the scales in his favor.
While the above scenario is his surest way to clinch the nomination outright it is not the lone path. He could offset losses in some of the winner-take-all states by increasing his win percentage (from his current forty-eight percent) in proportional states. For example, if he won four of the remaining winner-take-all states (Arizona, Delaware, Nebraska, and New Jersey account for roughly seventy-five percent of the available winner-take-all delegates left) he would need to raise his current delegate win percentage in proportional states by a modest seven percentage points.
This scenario doesn’t even factor him getting a single at-large delegate. If he was to capture twenty five-percent of these special delegates he would need to only raise his proportional state delegate win percentage by three percentage points. Still, key to any alternative delegate-grabbing scenario for Trump is how he fairs in the winner-take-all states. These states will be the true bellwethers to look at for predicting the chance of a contested convention.
In order to stop a Trump nomination competing candidates are going to have to pluck off some of the winner-take-all states, not let his proportional state win percentage increase (they’ll likely need to actually see it decrease), and hope that he does poorly with the at-large delegates. That would appear to involve a lot going wrong for a candidacy that has seemingly defied the odds and prognostications every step of the way.