Clarifying the Process

By Jim Ellis

March 18, 2016 — A great deal of confusion exists over whether Donald Trump can reach the necessary 1,237 committed delegate threshold to clinch the Republican presidential nomination before the Republican National Convention begins in mid-July. Yesterday, the New York Times released an analysis entitled “The Upshot” in which they claim that should Trump continue upon his present course he will secure a first ballot victory. This is not correct.

In actuality, Trump would have to commit 55.3 percent of the available delegates, or 65.5 percent of those delegates in the “bound” category, now that the delegate count has been adjusted upward to 693 Trump votes. The changes come because more unbound delegates are announcing support for Trump and the Missouri results are largely settled.

At this point, Trump has secured the votes from 46.5 percent of the 1,489 delegates who are committed by law, party rule, or announcement, though the unbound supporters have the right to change their vote. Continuing at this pace would give him 1,150 delegate votes, or 87 short of the necessary plateau.

The Times’ writers reason that victories in Arizona, New York and California would put him over the top. This would likely be the case if the three states were Winner-Take-All. They are not. Arizona, up next on March 22, is a Winner-Take-All, and the first-place finisher will capture all of the state’s 58 delegates. But New York and California use very different delegate apportionment systems.

New York’s is more complicated, as the Republican National Committee apportionment rule listed below explains (New York has 95 delegates: 11 At-Large (AL), 81 in the 27 congressional districts (CD), and three unbound RNC delegates):

AL (At Large) – Proportional based on statewide vote with a 20 percent threshold. If candidate receives more than 50 percent of the statewide vote, candidate receives all AL delegates.

CD (Congressinal District) –
Proportional based on congressional district vote with 20 percent threshold. Highest vote-getter receives two delegates and second highest receives one. If a candidate receives more than 50 percent of the congressional district vote, candidate receives all three CD delegates.

Therefore, in order for a candidate to convert New York into a Winner-Take-All delegation, the candidate would have to win all 27 congressional districts, each with majority support. Under the present configuration with three candidates, such a result is highly unlikely.

New York, a state with allocation rules, is where Gov. John Kasich could cause havoc employing a strategy designed to pick off enough delegates to deny Trump a nationwide majority. Sen. Ted Cruz likely will accumulate a significant number of delegates upstate. With both candidates alive for the April 19 Empire State primary, there is little chance Trump will score all of the delegates here even though he is predicted to perform well in his home state.

The California system — Winner-Take-All by congressional district — is much simpler. Here, three delegates per district are awarded to the candidate placing first in each of the 53 CDs. The 10 at-large delegates go to the statewide winner. Therefore, in order to convert California to a Winner-Take-All state and claim all 172 delegates, a candidate would have to place first in all 53 congressional districts. Again, such an outcome under the current configuration is highly unlikely.

In fact, if Cruz and Kasich enter a strategic alliance at least for the June 7 primary and strategically target congressional districts, they could maximize the number of districts one of them wins, thus denying Trump valuable delegates. Positioned on the last day of primary/caucus voting, California, the largest of all delegate contingents, could itself determine whether Trump reaches the clinching number.

The 2016 Republican nomination race is not yet over. Ted Cruz and John Kasich still have the opportunity of forcing a contested convention. The next moves are in their court.

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