The Game Within the Game

By Jim Ellis

March 28, 2016 — While the Republican presidential candidates are experiencing a small voting respite – the next GOP primaries are April 5 and 19 (Wisconsin and New York, respectively) – the so-called “game within the game” is getting underway as recent developments in Louisiana illustrate.

The phrase refers to the complicated process of actually choosing individuals to fill the various delegate slots that are awarded to the respective candidates under Republican National Committee allocation procedure. It is here where Sen. Ted Cruz may have a distinct advantage.

Coming from the Louisiana state Republican convention, a similar venue where the respective 56 voting entities ratify their official national delegate slates, the fluid process could actually send a pro-Cruz delegation to the Republican National Convention in Cleveland even though more voters supported Donald Trump.

On March 5, Trump polled 41.4 percent of the statewide vote versus Sen. Cruz’s 37.8 percent. Based upon the state’s delegate apportionment formula that allows candidates to earn a portion of the 25 at-large bound delegates if they exceed 20 percent of the statewide vote, Trump received 13 votes to Cruz’s 12.

The six congressional districts then award and additional 18 delegates to the candidates, three per each seat. Those are awarded proportionately based upon district popular vote with no percentage threshold. Looking at the six districts, Cruz earned six congressional district delegate votes, Trump five, and Sen. Marco Rubio, five. An additional five, including the three Republican National Committee delegates that each state receives, are allowed an uncommitted designation.

Since Sen. Rubio departed from the race, his five delegates, under Louisiana law and state party procedure, become free agents. In most places the delegates belong to the candidate earning the votes until that individual releases them, but Louisiana does not follow that practice.

Based upon the individuals elected as Rubio delegates through the state party rules selection process, it appears that Cruz could gain all five of the Rubio delegate slots and potentially a majority of the uncommitted convention voters. By the time the national convention begins on July 18, it’s possible that Sen. Cruz could actually carry a majority of the 46 Louisiana delegates even though he “lost” the state.

Therefore, instead of the current 18-18-5-5 (Trump, Cruz, Rubio, Uncommitted) split, Cruz could conceivably carry a first ballot 28-18 advantage, and possibly more on subsequent roll calls if Trump fails to win a first ballot nomination.

The Trump campaign is unconventional in many ways, but particularly so the candidate’s desire to run as the consummate outsider. Considering that delegate selection is very much an insider’s game within often unique and complex individual party systems, it is here where the Trump organization may have a serious problem.

Thus, securing a first ballot victory through the primary and caucus schedule is their top priority. Because all but six of the 56 voting entities bound their delegates on the first ballot, reaching the 1,237 committed delegate votes when the primaries and caucuses on June 7 will insure the nomination. Trump will have to secure approximately 55 percent of the remaining delegates in order to clinch the nomination. So far, his delegate win percentage is 47.6 percent.

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