March 4, 2016 — The Republicans are at a political crossroads. Now with voting completed in 15 states, Donald Trump finds himself settling into a support zone of between 316-334 committed delegates, depending upon what media count one examines. Sen. Ted Cruz’s support lies in the 224-234 range, while Sen. Marco Rubio falls between 110-113 pledged first ballot tallies. Gov. John Kasich has between 23-28 committed votes, while Dr. Ben Carson, who suspended his campaign Wednesday, has eight delegates according to all renderings. Carson will be speaking today at CPAC in Washington, D.C.
Trump’s high total of 334 is far from the 1,237 needed to secure the nomination, with 41 more states and territories yet to vote. In the next two weeks, culminating with the big Winner-Take-All primaries in Florida (99 delegates) and Ohio (66 delegates), voters from 17 entities will visit the polls. At the end of voting on March 15, 1,466 of 2,472 Republican delegates (59.3 percent) will be assigned to a candidate or placed in the unbound category. Therefore, the next two weeks will prove critical toward determining the GOP resolution.
Without changing the present course, Trump is likely to win the Republican nomination because no one opponent has unified the anti-Trump coalition. If the early front runner were to score another plurality victory in Florida and Ohio, an additional 165 delegates would come his way in addition to what he gains in places like Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, and Missouri, all of which will vote on or before March 15.
A strategy exists, however, that would deny Trump the nomination — one that forces him to individually fight a three-front battle. If the remaining trio of candidates — Cruz, Rubio and Kasich — would cooperate, they would have the ability to force a brokered convention. Doing so would likely deny Trump ultimate victory and instead allow one of them to become nominated.
The key to the plan is for two candidates in each of three critically important March 15 states to allow the third a one-on-one shot against Trump. Sen. Cruz and Gov. Kasich would publicly tell their supporters to back Sen. Rubio in Florida, thereby helping him to win the Sunshine State Winner-Take-All primary. The same scenario would then occur for Kasich in Ohio, and finally Cruz in North Carolina. The Tar Heel State is not a Winner-Take-All venue but does possess 72 delegates, which makes it the sixth largest Republican contingent.
The most important strategic point, however, is for the candidates to encourage their own people to vote for the designated contender in each place. Keeping these delegates away from Trump, irrespective of who gets them, would almost assuredly force a brokered convention. Trump coming away with few delegates on March 15 would bring him back to the pack, help equalize the delegate support totals at least for Trump and Cruz, if not Trump, Cruz, and Rubio, thus preventing anyone from obtaining an absolute majority when the primaries and caucuses end.
Such a contested convention would then give one of the three coalition principals a strong chance of winning the nomination in a multiple roll call setting. This scenario, of course, would not be well received in Trump quarters, but likely works for the challengers because the front runner has topped 40 percent only three times in the 10 states where he placed first. The mathematics suggest a consolidation of non-Trump voters uniting behind one candidate in each of the key voting entities would have a strong chance of prevailing, and therefore the campaign would resolve itself in a contested political convention.
Whether such a scenario would cause irreparable general election damage is hard to predict at this time. But, not consciously forcing a brokered convention will likely nominate Trump, and effectively do so on the evening of March 15. Unchecked, his lead will reach insurmountable proportions, and the pressure for the other candidates to exit the race will become intense.
Knowing the personalities involved, there is little chance the anti-Trump candidates will begin to work together, but it may be the only realistic path for one of them to win the nomination. Otherwise, we will see a Donald Trump-Hillary Clinton general election pairing emerge as early as March 16.