Trump will need to win on first ballot

If the Republican nomination fails to reach the threshold for delegates before the convention then it will become a contested convention.

If that happens, and there is a good chance that it will then Donald Trump will need to win on the first ballot.

Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight explains:

If you really think the chance of a multi-ballot convention is 63 percent, but also still have Trump with a 56 percent chance of winning the nomination, that implies there’s a fairly good chance that Trump will win if voting goes beyond the first ballot. That’s probably wrong. If Trump doesn’t win on the first ballot, he’s probably screwed.

The basic reason is simple. Most of the 2,472 delegates with a vote in Cleveland probably aren’t going to like Trump.

Let’s back up a bit. In most of our discussions about delegates here at FiveThirtyEight, we treat them as though they’re some sort of statistical unit. We might say a candidate “racked up 44 delegates” in the same way we’d say Steph Curry scored 44 points. But those delegates aren’t just a scoring mechanism: Delegates are people, my friends. Delegates are people!

And as I said, they’re mostly people who aren’t going to like Trump, at least if the excellent reporting from Politico and other news organizations is right. (If Trump turns out to have more support among GOP delegates than this reporting suggests, even marginally, that could end up mattering a great deal.) How can that be? In most states, the process to select the men and women who will serve as delegates is separate from presidential balloting. In Massachusetts, for instance, Trump won 49 percent of the GOP vote on March 1 — his highest share in any state to date — to earn 22 of the state’s 42 delegates. But the people who will serve as delegates haven’t been chosen yet. That will happen at a series of congressional district conventions later this month and then a Republican state meeting in May or June. According to Politico, most of those delegates are liable to favor Ted Cruz or John Kasich rather than Trump. Twenty-two of them will still be bound to Trump on the first ballot, but they can switch after that. The same story holds in a lot of other states: in Georgia, Louisiana and South Carolina, for instance — also states that Trump won.  

Trump’s delegate problems stem from two major issues. One is his lack of organization: Trump just recently hired a strategist to oversee his delegate-selection efforts; Cruz has been working on the process for months. The other is his lack of support from “party elites.” The people who attend state caucuses and conventions are mostly dyed-in-the-wool Republican regulars and insiders, a group that is vigorously opposed to Trump. Furthermore, some delegate slots are automatically given to party leaders and elected officials, another group that strongly opposes Trump, as evident in his lack of endorsements among them.

There are various ways these delegates could cause problems for Trump. The most obvious, as I mentioned, is if the convention goes to a second ballot because no candidate wins a majority on the first. Not all delegates become free instantaneously,2 but most do, and left to vote their personal preference, most of them will probably oppose Trump.

Conversely, Trump isn’t totally safe even if he locks up 1,237 delegates by the time the final Republicans vote. The delegates have a lot of power, both on the convention floor and in the various rules and credentials committeesthat will begin meeting before the convention officially begins. If they wanted to, the delegates could deploy a “nuclear option” on Trump and vote to unbind themselves on the first ballot, a strategy Ted Kennedy unsuccessfully pursued against Jimmy Carter in 1980.

So Trump really needs to either get his delegates in line before the convention…or win on the first ballot otherwise he will get ganked.

If he falls short before the convention how might that play out?

Let’s say that Trump ends with exactly 1,200 delegates after California. He’d then need 37 uncommitted delegates to win on the first ballot. That might not seem like such a tall order — there will be at least 138 uncommitted delegates, according to Daniel Nichanian’s tracking, and Trump would need only 27 percent of those. But most of those delegates4 are chosen at state meetings and conventions, the same events producing unfavorable delegate slates for Trump in Massachusetts and other states.

Alternatively, Trump could try to broker a deal with another candidate — Kasich, for example — to get to 1,237. But that isn’t so easy either; whether Kasich could instruct his delegates to vote for Trump on the first ballot would vary depending on the rules in each state, and some delegates could become unbound instead of having to vote Trump. Trump and Kasich could also try to strike a deal on the second ballot — but by that point, most of their delegates would have become free to vote as they please.

Politicians love deals, and Trump loves deals…he’s made his name on being able to cut deals.

Trumps best option is to get as close as he can to the required 1237 delegates.


– FiveThirtyEight


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  • zotaccore

    An interesting article. The US political system of electing is fairly wacky to begin with. I’m not sure the US of A can really be called a democracy when its obvious that back-room deals will lead to a political party presidential candidate being selected. Any comparison with NZ’s system? Backroom deals by the Union thugs that have the Labour Party in disarray is something to start comparing with the US.

    • Orange

      Why would you want to? “If you want the most technical term, our country is a constitutionally limited representative democratic republic. Our form of government, the constitution limits the power of government. We elect representatives, so it’s not a pure democracy. But we do elect them by majority rule so it is democratic. And the form of, the infrastructure, the total form of government, is republican, it is a republic.”

    • Larry

      Some comentators do believe that the reason for the economic strength of the USA is because it does have the best system of government in the world.

      • zotaccore

        It sure does have its social problems, like most countries. But, I was in Denver last year and I was really amazed at the very huge number of homeless I saw each night queuing up for a bed for the night and a meal – literally hundreds and hundreds at several different places throughout the city. I was told most of them were lazy bums, but a proportion just had no-where to go.

  • CoNZervative

    This of course is how Abraham Lincoln was elected (a distant third or less going in to the Convention) with a popular favourite everyone expected to win (Seward) miles ahead

  • Sticktotheknitting

    I hope they realise that Trump has suggested a riot from the man in the street if he is cheated by the ‘elite’. the very reason why the man in the street wants him because he is not one of the ‘elite’. The backroom boys may find they have a tiger by the tail.

    • SaggyNaggy

      They don’t care and neither do I. Win, lose, who cares, just stop Trump. And good for them. I don’t care if Clinton wins, it’s still better than Trump destroying the Right.

  • Souvlaki

    Suspect Trump has dischaged a 12 gauge into each foot with his maladroit handling of the contentious abortion issue!

    • Metricman

      Just remember, you are getting the media party spin on everything he actually says. What the media consistently leave out in their smear of Trump, is the big “if” qualifier in the middle of his statement on this subject.

      • SaggyNaggy

        There’s nothing to spin. Trump has had three different positions on this issue in three days. He is full of crap. He is not a genuine pro life candidate, so he has no idea what to say on the issue, and it shows.

  • rexabus

    I’m starting to think maybe it wouldn’t the good thing I thought it might be if Trump was to be President. I’m wondering if the rest of the worlds leaders, not wanting to be seen as behaving like Trump, may bend even further over to cuddle up to those poor misunderstood and victimised followers of the religion of peace

    • OneTrack

      Bend even further than they already have, to avoid being called racist? I can’t see how that would be possible.

  • Superman

    And they want us to believe America is a democracy ???

    • SaggyNaggy

      The USA is a Republic. And even if it were a genuine democracy, that still doesn’t stop political parties from choosing how they nominate their candidates as they please.

      Actually, anybody can run for President of the United States. Just collect enough signatures in each of the fifty states, and you are on the ballot so that any of the 300 million citizens can vote for you. It just so happens that only Democratic or Republican party nominees have successfully won Electoral College delegates over the past 150 years sufficient to win. But nothing is stopping anyone else from trying.

      • Superman

        My point is that if the party elite doesn’t like you then you are not going to make it no matter how many ordinary people vote for you.

  • Wayne Peter McIndoe

    Question: Trump has won more of the state primaries than his competitors, yet still may not get the nomination – why is that?

    • NeverMindTheBoll

      Because the rules don’t say that whoever wins the most state primaries will secure the nomination.