Leaving aside the competition for claiming the mantle of conservatism, suffice to say a candidate like Rubio with a 94% Heritage Action score and Cruz with a 100% score are both conservative. In fact, there are precious few people between Cruz and Rubio on that list. Recent polls show Cruz surging and Rubio either stagnant or falling back. Some people have been critical of Rubio’s strategy where he seems to have discounted the retail campaigning that Iowans and those in New Hampshire like. This article is not about Rubio’s campaign strategy, but about the rules for nominating a candidate and those rules do not favor someone like Cruz who has built an apparent firewall in the South.
This race will likely come down to Rubio, Cruz and Trump. After Iowa and New Hampshire, the number of candidates will become more manageable. So let’s start with that assumption.
Forget about polls showing Trump with a national lead. We do not have a national primary. Instead, the candidate is chosen through an intricate process to gain a majority of the 2,472 delegates at stake. The reason Cruz will not be the nominee is because of the RNC rules that guide delegate allocation. There is much talk about whether a more “moderate” could win over a conservative Republican primary voter. Instead of thinking this way, one should be asking the question: Can Cruz win over a moderate, blue state Republican primary voter? The reason is the rules. The GOP voters who will have the smallest say in a general election actually hold greater sway in the nominating process. In this case, the task for Rubio is easier; he is a conservative who has greater cross over appeal. Cruz cannot make that claim (but that can change).
Some others have done the math. It shows that Republican voters in blue states were more likely to support a moderate like Romney in their state’s primary rather than the more conservative candidate and the same is likely to happen this year. Blue state Republicans cast only 37% of the votes in the 2012 primaries. Only 11 of 54 Republican Senators and 26 of 247 Republican Congressmen hail from states or districts Obama won in 2012. Yet, 1,247 delegates hail from these areas. That is more than half the delegates.
David Wasserman at the New York Times illustrates this phenomena in practice using a practical example. Three delegates are up for grabs in New York’s heavily Latino 15th District which gave Romney only 5,315 votes in 2012. There are also three delegates up for grabs from Alabama’s 6th District which gave Romney 233,800 votes in 2012. Hence, a GOP primary vote in the bluest part of the Bronx is worth 43 times more than a primary vote in the reddest part of Alabama. Overall, a red area delegate is worth roughly one-half a blue area delegate.
Cruz could easily dominate in the South, especially the SEC primary. These half dozen states will appear to be an advantage to Cruz, but because of the allocation of delegate rules, anything he accrues in the South can easily be overcome by another candidate piling up smaller raw vote totals elsewhere in the country where Cruz does not have a base of support. In short, the firewall burns away and Cruz is left with nothing thereafter.
The RNC does try to compensate for the imbalance through the methods it awards delegates on a statewide basis. These are the so-called bonus delegates awarded to states. Both Tennessee and Massachusetts have nine congressional districts, but Tennessee has 58 delegates compared to the 42 from Massachusetts. Despite their identical electoral strength (they both have 11 electoral votes), Tennessee sends 9 Republicans of 11 to Congress and Massachusetts sends zero. By all accounts, Tennessee is 100% more Republican than Massachusetts, but in terms of delegate strength, only 38% more Republican. It is that discrepancy which plays to the disadvantage of the more conservative candidate.
We can look at this on a regional basis. In New England, there is one delegate for every 10,764 votes for Romney in 2012. Conversely, if we look at the Deep South (excluding Texas), there is one delegate for every 27,623 votes for Romney in 2012. On a comparative basis, a New England delegate is worth three from the South. New England accounts for 1.3% of all GOP members of Congress, only 2.7% of the popular vote for Romney in 2012 and NO electoral votes, yet they account for 6.1% of the delegates. Conversely, the South provided Romney with over 26% of his electoral votes in 2012, yet account for only 16.2% of all delegates.
Victories in conservative states- those with heavy GOP congressional delegations- mean little since the more conservative candidate is expected to win there. A “decent” showing by the less conservative candidate in these states is a bonus. Conversely, Cruz must have a great showing outside the South and Texas. And one cannot realistically see Cruz performing well in delegate-rich states like New York or California. A clean sweep in the South and Texas could not overcome the relative power of other states (in delegates) not so friendly to Cruz.
While this is a campaign with twists and turns and the presence of Trump certainly complicates things, the pathway to the nomination mathematically disfavors Cruz. It makes sense, then, that there would be talk of a contested convention in June, especially if Trump remains in the race until then and all indications are that he will. It also makes political sense that Cruz has been reluctant to attack Trump. A lone “attack” on Rubio (i.e., a Cruz-Rubio showdown) exponentially decreases Cruz’ chances. A Rubio alone can stop them both since he would likely pick up more delegates in delegate-rich blue states and does not even have to necessarily “win” the state. This “national strategy” of Rubio makes sense since, in reality, he holds the delegate cards. If it comes to a contested convention, it would not surprise this writer to see a Rubio/Cruz ticket as the compromise. So fret not, unless it is Donald Trump, the GOP will nominate a conservative.