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