Crunch Time for Donald Trump

If he wins Florida but loses to Kasich in Ohio, the odds grow high that the race will be decided at a contested convention.

Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally in Boca Raton, Florida, on Sunday.
AP Photo/Paul Sancya
March 14, 2016, 8 p.m.

If you lined up a dozen or two national political reporters and analysts, most would say that Donald Trump will probably be the Republican presidential nominee. Maybe they’re right, but I’m still a holdout on this point. We’re approaching a critical juncture: By late Tuesday night, we ought to have a fair idea of whether the nomination will go to Trump or be decided at a contested convention.

Trump needs to have the 1,237-delegate majority in hand when he gets to Cleveland on July 18. If he is short, he cannot expect to have the party establishment hand him whatever delegates he needs to reach the magic number. We will have a contested convention, and I suspect he will not emerge as the nominee. But if he arrives at the convention with 1,237 delegates, it’s hard to see how he can be denied the nomination. A majority is a majority, and it would be pretty destructive for the party to try to block him.

Imagine a simple graph with the horizontal x-axis representing weeks and the vertical y-axis registering delegates. The bottom-left corner is zero delegates before contests begin, then a diagonal line runs to the upper-right corner, which represents the barest majority of 1,237. Every week, I look at whether Trump has received 50 percent of the delegates selected so far. If Trump is either on or above the line, it means he’s on a trajectory that will take him to the nomination. If he’s below the line, it suggests that the race is headed for a contested convention.

Working off the numbers compiled by the website (which does a terrific job tracking delegate counts), Trump has won 464 or 42 percent of the delegates picked so far, which means he is below the trajectory to 1,237. Ted Cruz runs second with 372 delegates (34 percent); Marco Rubio is third with 166 (15 percent), followed by John Kasich in fourth with 63 delegates (6 percent).

Trump now has 38 percent of the delegates needed to win, and Cruz has 30 percent. If Trump captures both winner-take-all Florida, beating out Rubio as he is expected to do, and winner-take-all Ohio, beating Kasich, then it’s pretty hard to see this nomination going anywhere but to Trump. But if Trump wins Florida and loses to Kasich in Ohio, the likelihood of the race going to a contested convention gets very high.

My hunch is that Kasich will edge out Trump in Ohio. It’s hard to see Rubio surviving a loss in his home state, so the race will effectively become a three-way contest between Trump, Cruz, and Kasich. The main battle line will be for or against Trump, with the opposition split between Cruz and Kasich. Trump is averaging 36 percent in the average of the major national polls and has received 35 percent of the cumulative popular vote so far. Cruz has won 29 percent of the popular vote but stands at only 22 percent in the RCP poll average. Rubio has 19 percent of the popular vote and an 18 percent RCP average. Kasich is at 9 and 12 percent, respectively.

Without a doubt, Trump has become a vehicle for anger, but anger is an emotion, not a job qualification. Listening to the businessman in debates and interviews, we hear off-the-cuff generalities, emotional outbursts, vague policy proposals, and no understanding of the complexities and nuances of big problems.

Trump has been fortunate that talk-show interviewers and debate moderators have not aggressively pressed him on his positions, which are often only one-sentence deep.

The Oval Office and the White House Situation Room are not set up for a bull in a china shop. They are places where the commander in chief makes calm and considered decisions about the most consequential challenges facing the country. After meeting with ambassadors and foreign-ministry officials from major U.S. allies, I can tell you that they think Americans have lost their minds in voting for Trump.

My hunch is that when many Republicans close their eyes and imagine a really serious international crisis, they visualize the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Director of National Intelligence, the secretaries of State and Defense, and key National Security Council staffers meeting with the president in the Situation Room. The man they see in the president’s chair, with his finger on the proverbial nuclear button, is not Donald Trump.  

Obviously many Republicans are angry, but are a majority really that angry? Trump’s support is not elastic; it’s stretched as far as it can go. His share of the popular vote and position in the national polls seem static. But it is delegates that matter, and we will know soon enough if he has enough of them to carry him to the nomination.

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