The March 1st Primary Dynamic

Based on the most recent polling data (assuming it to hold true through the actual votes) and the number of delegates up for grabs today, this writer believes it is safe to say that the quagmire for the GOP nomination will be no less clear than it was yesterday.  Donald Trump will still be leading in delegates, but to such a degree that neither Cruz nor Rubio should consider dropping out of the race.

Of course, that will not deter anyone here from the obligatory article making pleas for one or the other to drop out.  That could potentially be the worst thing either could do.  The simple fact is that despite the anticipated Trump victories today, assuming my math to be correct, Donald Trump will be held to about 27% of the delegates needed to clinch the nomination.  Put another way, Donald Trump still has a very long way to go.

The reason is the proportional allocation of delegates and the thresholds established in each state, if they exist at all.  Left out of the discussion is the fact that Colorado with 37 delegates will not even be choosing a presidential preference although they will hold caucuses today (nor will Wyoming).

We enter today’s contests with Trump leading in the delegate count with 82.  Cruz and Rubio are essentially tied with 17 and 16 respectively.  Admittedly, this is a seemingly huge lead at this stage in the game.  Mitt Romney did not enjoy this large of a lead after four contests in 2012 and he basically cruised to the nomination.  If historical trends hold true, Trump should easily cruise to the nomination in 2016.  But that would be a huge mistake.  Romney’s nearest competitors in 2012 were Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich.  Comparing Santorum/Gingrich to Cruz/Rubio is like comparing apples and oranges.

Despite the apparent Trump leads in many of these states, the presence of two viable alternative candidates is making this process unlike 2012.  Until and after March 15th when things get very interesting with winner-take-all delegates at stake, the proportional allocation allows both Cruz and Rubio to lurk relatively close to Trump.  Look at it this way: prior to March 1st, Trump holds a 64 delegate advantage over Cruz/Rubio which is a 79% margin.  After March 1st, that delegate margin drops from a 79% Trump advantage to 38% against Cruz and 45% against Rubio.  In other words, although Trump increases his delegate count, his margin in the difference between him and the other two decreases.  Neither have clearly overtaken Trump, but they have chipped into his lead- on a relative basis- setting up for March 15th and beyond when it becomes mainly winner-take-all.

Things get particularly interesting on March 15th when winner-take-all states are up for grabs.  Even still, there are several states that allocate delegates on a proportional basis on and after March 15th.  Most of the talk centers on the belief that Trump will take an overwhelming majority of the 530 delegates today.  He will take the majority, but it will not be that overwhelming.  Regardless, can we please cease the calls that either Cruz or Rubio drop out?

As it stands now, a few things are obvious.

  1. Donald Trump appears headed for the Republican nomination UNLESS someone can head him off at the pass by holding his proportionately-gained delegates to a minimum, OR until another candidate takes a delegate-rich winner-take-all state;
  2. Unless and until Trump reaches the magic number of delegates needed, NO ONE should drop out of the race.  There are enough proportionately-allocated states on and after March 15 to deny Trump the magic number;
  3. John Kasich should remain in the race at least through Ohio on March 15th- his best chance to win a state with a large delegate count on a winner-take-all basis.  A Kasich victory in Ohio would not help Cruz or Rubio, but it would hurt Trump;
  4. It is painfully obvious that if all the polls hold true or unless something dramatic happens, the best path forward for both Cruz and Rubio is a contested convention where Trump is denied the magic number of delegates to win the nomination outright;
  5. The best chance to save the Republican Party and conservatism is through a nasty convention fight that ousts Trump.  It may cost the GOP the White House, but it would save the Senate and the House and the cause of conservatism going forward, and;
  6. You heard it here first: Trump will turn around and run a third party campaign.  But, it is a moot point since the GOP loses the White House with Trump an independent or Republican candidate.  At best, the votes cast for Trump versus the GOP nominee would deny Hillary Clinton a majority of the vote and make her a weak plurality victor (much like her husband) while the GOP maintains control of Congress;
  7. The saddest part: a Supreme Court nomination by Clinton with a Republican Senate could be an interesting fight.  A Supreme Court nomination by Trump with a Democratic Senate would be a disaster.