Inasmuch as this is my blog, I figure I get to write about
what obsesses me, so here we go again into the weeds. It goes without saying that this has been an
authentically weird primary season on the Republican side. For almost five months, which is an eternity
in politics, Donald Trump has led the mob of aspiring governors, senators, and
odd balls, with the strangest candidate of many decades, Dr. Ben Carson,
nipping at his heels. Readers of this
blog know that I have been looking into the details of the primary selection
process, and it now is clear to me that Donald Trump could really be the
Republican Party's presidential nominee in 2016. Indeed, I think it is reasonable to say that he
not only can be nominated, but is at
this point very close to being the odds on favorite to be nominated.
Despite sitting for so long atop the polls, Trump still
clocks in at only 30-35% of "likely Republican primary voters." How on earth can I say, on the basis of these
facts, that he is close to being the odds on favorite to win the nomination. Ah, well you may ask, little grasshopper. [Reference to an old TV show.] I will now plunge into the weeds, and those
of a more balanced temperament can turn their attention to the pressing
question, "Will the New England Patriots remain undefeated this evening
after their Monday Night game against Buffalo?"
Let me review some numbers I have bored you with in past posts. A total of 2484 delegate votes will be cast
at the Republican Nominating Convention in Ohio next July. To win, a candidate needs a majority, which
is to say 1243 votes. The delegates will
be selected in two quite different ways.
1865 of them will be selected by the voters or attendees in caucuses and
primaries, beginning in Iowa on February 1, 2016 and ending with a group of
five primaries [including the biggest, California!] on June 7, 2016. The remaining 619 delegates, sometimes
referred to as "super delegates," will be allocated to the several
states by a strict formula and chosen by party leaders in those states. The super delegates tend to be state and local
elected officials and party officials who worry a great deal about down-ticket
candidates [including, in some cases, themselves.] Since it is widely believed that a Trump
candidacy would be a disaster for the Party, not many of them are likely to
vote for him at the Convention. So if
Trump is to get 1243 votes, he is going to have to win almost all of them in
the primaries and caucuses.
A little arithmetic tells us that 1243 is two-thirds of
1865. With barely a third of the vote,
how on earth can Trump win two-thirds of those delegates? The answer lies in some reasonable
assumptions about what the field will look like when the voting starts in a bit
more than two months and in the details of the delegate selection process.
Right now, Trump and Carson are getting roughly 50% of the vote in
polls, with Cruz and Rubio together getting perhaps 20% and the other 30%
scattered among all the other candidates and "don't know." But that is going to change rapidly after the
Iowa caucuses on February 1st and the New Hampshire primary on February
9th. A great winnowing will take place,
and when the grim reaper has done his work, the field will probably consist of
Trump, Carson, Rubio, Cruz, Bush, and a few other die-hards who cannot quite
believe they are not loved by their fellow Republicans. At this point, the absolutely most crucial
single factor is the Carson vote. Either
he continues to pull 20 -25%, or his utter and bizarre weirdness finally
becomes too much even for Evangelical Christians, and he sinks to 10% or
If Carson remains at the higher figure, there are two
possibilities. The first is that Cruz
and Rubio advance, side by side, each one getting maybe 15-18% or so of the 50%
left over after Trump and Carson have eaten their fill. The second is that one of them [probably
Rubio] emerges as the Establishment favorite, getting enough votes to challenge
Trump for the lead. I think the first
possibility is far and away the more likely, but all the serious and
knowledgeable people who comment on politics on TV, in newspapers, and on-line,
seem to be assuming that the second will happen, putting an end to Trump's run.
If Carson tanks, that frees up a good many more votes, and
if Trump does not scarf up a goodly portion of them, there is plenty of room
for a Rubio to overcome Trump and go for the gold. Since I find Carson beyond weird, I just
cannot tell whether he is going to nose dive, but he sure hasn't thus far.
But this stills leaves the original question: How can Trump win the nomination while only
taking a third of the vote? Now for some
details. According to Republican
National Committee [RNC] rules, all the primaries and caucuses held on or
before March 15 -- so called Super Tuesday -- must allocate their delegates
"proportionally." Many states
holding primaries after March 15 2016 will also allocate delegates
proportionally, including the biggest of them all, California.
However , "proportionally" does not mean that a
candidate who gets 7% of the vote gets 7% of the delegates. Not at all!
There are several different systems of proportional allocation, but most
of them are one of two variations. An
example will make this clear.
A state gets three delegates for each Congressional
District, or CD, plus some at-large delegates.
South Carolina, the third state to choose delegates, is typical. South Carolina has seven CDs, so that is 21
delegates. It also gets 24 at-large
delegates, for a total of 45 South Carolina delegates. In each CD, the leading candidate gets all
three delegates. In addition, the
candidate with the most votes state-wide gets all 24 at-large delegates. Well, supposed Trump is still leading the
pack, and manages to get the most votes in four of the seven CDs, as well as
the most votes in the state as a whole.,
In that case he gets (4 x 3) + 24 = 36 delegates.
Which means that with
only 30-35% of the vote, Trump wins 80% of the delegates!
Some states are not quite so lopsidedly favorable to the
front-runner, using what is called a "winner gets most" system. But even this system is biased in favor of
the leading vote-getter. This is no
accident, of course. The system was
devised by the RNC to make sure that a front runner would emerge as a winner
without a long, bitter fight leading to an open Convention. The RNC just did not imagine that Donald
Trump would be their front runner.
We are now entering the Thanksgiving-New Year's hiatus, when
Americans go shopping and forget about politics. By the time all the unwanted presents have
been returned and all the after-season sales have concluded, there will only be
a few weeks before actual delegates get chosen and the frenzy leading up to and
beyond Super Tuesday erupts.
The schedule, heavy on Southern states early on, favors
Trump and Carson. I believe it is
possible, bordering on likely, that well before Americans have to file their taxes,
Trump will be on his way to a lock on the delegate selection process. The prospect of that in March will drive the
Republican Establishment bonkers. I
think [I am not sure] they could actually cancel their Convention and retreat
to an Electronic Smoke Filled Room. But
that may just be a politics junkie's wet dream.