April 11, 2016
We’re hearing a ton about delegates. More specifically, how Ted Cruz is far better positioned to win on a second or third ballot than Donald Trump. It’s true. He is. No matter what Paul Manafort or anyone else on Team Trump does going forward, Cruz will have an advantage.
Trump doesn’t like losing. I don’t know how well he knew the late Raiders chieftain Al Davis, but his mantra “Just Win Baby” would fit how The Donald wants to present himself.
From the minute he entered the race, Trump has thrived on the perception he’s winning. He led polls from early July forward. He’s won two-thirds of the primaries and caucuses (mostly primaries). He has the most earned delegates. But he’s losing the inside game.
Some delegates, like those assigned in Colorado and North Dakota, are able to vote as they wish on the first ballot. They aren’t subject to the results of a state primary or caucus. The majority of Pennsylvania delegates are free agents too. Voters pick them on the same ballot they’re voting for a candidate on and then they do as they wish in Cleveland.
The other more common type are being voted on and selected in state conventions throughout the spring. They’re committed to a candidate on the first ballot as a result of their state’s primary or caucus. On a second, third, or fourth ballot, depending on state rules, they are free to vote for whomever they want.
Many of these are Cruz supporters. They need to stay with The Donald on a first ballot, but can abandon him later. Based on all reports, Ted’s kicking his ass on these selections from South Carolina to Iowa.
There’s a third group, usually made up of already chosen delegates. These are the people who sit on the various committees at the convention. With the exception of the Michigan delegation, Trump isn’t doing real well here either. The rules and platform committees are traditionally the most important.
That rules committee will decide if the 2012 convention rule requiring a majority of delegates in 8 different states to qualify for nomination stays or is junked. Unless he has a sudden change in fortune, John Kasich needs this condition to go away. Any attempt to parachute Paul Ryan or anyone else into consideration requires the same.
The media is giving increasing attention to all this stuff. It makes for a decent story. If Trump is likely to lose on a second ballot, it builds the drama, means it’s not enough for him to keep winning, but that every delegate earned in every contest matters, especially with him still able to reach 1237 by June 7, but far from guaranteed.
They have to talk about something. Instead of having several primaries/caucuses every Tuesday, with plenty of Saturday votes too, we’re in a bit of a dead period. A full two weeks with no election night coverage. Even when things pick up on April 19, it’s Tuesdays only for the duration.
The Cruz campaign is pushing this too. It’s very possible he doesn’t win again until May. He’s hoping to strategically pick up a few delegates in New York and a week later in Maryland and Rhode Island.
Perhaps if Kasich supporters lose all hope, he can contend in Pennsylvania, but it’s not looking good for him right now. The last Fox News poll had Trump ahead of their combined total. Wisconsin was neat, but the glow only lasts until the next vote.
Kasich supporters (both of them) like delegate talk too. Extra rounds of ballots, intrigue, and delegates thinking for themselves are great for the guy who’s likely to get clobbered on the first ballot. It works for those who are praying for deliverance by turning to Ryan too.
There’s only one candidate who doesn’t benefit from this narrative. Donald J. Trump. He should immediately cease and desist talking about delegates and stolen nominations. I get why he can’t resist going there. He thinks by decrying the process he can build enough anger among his supporters to scare the delegates.
He also isn’t good at accepting defeat. For some this leads to learning from mistakes and trying harder next time. Others claim the game was rigged. Trump leans in the latter direction. If you’ve made much of your fortune in real estate, this can work. There’s always another deal.
Why admit error, poor tactics, or bad judgment, risking your brand and mystique, when you can just blame someone or thing and move on to the next hotel, golf course, condo development, or whatever. It’s how he’s filed four business bankruptcies without running out of funding or prospective partners.
This isn’t that. Presidential deals only come around once every four years, and are sometimes only available in one party at a time. The candidate that fits this time, might not next time. Though Bernie Sanders would argue otherwise, Trump is likely too old next time too.
If he wants to actually win the nomination, he needs to focus 100 percent on winning the nomination, not trying to influence a second ballot at the convention. The easiest way to win is to get enough delegates ahead of the convention. It’s still mathematically possible for him to grab the full 1237 by the time voting is done.
If Wisconsin or his supposedly terrible week or two leading up to it mattered, they aren’t impacting his poll numbers very much. The latest batch of New York surveys all have him over 50%. This includes his friends at NBC/Wall Street Journal/Marist, who are normally Trump skeptics.
They had him even with Cruz a couple days before Trump beat him by double digits in South Carolina. Now they’re showing him at 54, Cruz (18) and Kasich (21) trailing him by 15 if you combine their support. As mentioned above, he beat their combined number in the Fox News poll in Pennsylvania.
He’s up by 10 in the most recent Maryland poll. Trump is far better served by saying he’s going to leave convention machinations to the politicians and insiders he’s there to replace. He can tell his supporters they need to turn out to maximize his earned first ballot delegates and prevent the establishment from doing their thing.
I know what you’re thinking. Core Trumpists respond best when they think the media and/or politicians are screwing their guy. By complaining and shining a spotlight on the situation, he’s ensuring they turn out. True. By that’s not enough to get him to 1237.
He also needs the Trump leaners and a few undecided voters. They respond to Trump the winner. Proclaiming he’s going to get there on the first ballot, regardless of what Cruz or the establishment throws at him is the best way to get them locked down and reduce the opportunity for his opponents.
That won’t guarantee 1237, but it makes 1200 more likely than 1100. There are plenty of uncommitted first ballot delegates. With all of his resources and negoitiation skills, it’s not too much to expect him to pull 20-25% of those free agents between June 7 and when the convention opens.
Particularly if he’s making a bit of progress in pseudo polling against Hillary. He’s stayed mostly quiet on her since early January. If he can effectively attack her and get a bit inside her head, perhaps putting the spotlight back on Bill at a time where he’s wounded from his encounter with Black Lives Matter-type (the individuals in question were not actually affiliated) protestors last week.
Some delegates are opposed to Trump because they don’t like his positions, don’t like his attitude, don’t like the cut of his jib. Plenty are just opposed because they think he’s going to get destroyed and drown state and local candidates with him.
A strong close in the primaries combined with a little progress against Hillary in the polls, and he’s got a small gap to close by working 30-50 individual delegate deals. That isn’t guaranteed to work, but it’s far and away his best chance.
When Manafort went on Meet the Press yesterday, he went a bit in this direction, saying they plan to win on the first ballot. First choice is 1237 after California, second choice is between then and Cleveland. He did mention Cruz and Gestapo tactics in the same sentence, so not exactly keeping their eyes on the primaries, but it was a start.
Whether Trump’s ego and discipline allow him to carry out this strategy is another matter. Manafort is a delegate specialist, the other (now likely marginalized) campaign leaders are possibly a bit demoralized. Roger Stone is just one of the voices inside The Donald’s head looking for a rumble in Cleveland.
But he should ignore the call to focus on second ballot delegates anyway. Since when has following conventional wisdom done him any good? What would Al Davis do?
Side Note: I’m referring to the Al Davis who ran the Raiders in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, when they had the best winning percentage of any team in the major domestic sports leagues, not the version who ran his team into the ground over the following two decades by failing to adapt and becoming the NFL’s version of Miss Havisham.