Who will win the Republican Party nomination for the US presidential election? (update)

Oh, boy.

As before, I think that there are 6 salient possibilities:

  1. Mr. Trump wins 1,237+ delegates by the end of the primaries.
  2. Sen. Cruz wins 1,237+ delegates by the end of the primaries.
  3. No one wins 1,237+ by the end of the primaries, but Mr. Trump is able to secure 1,237+ delegates during the preconvention phase.
  4. No one wins 1,237+ by the end of the primaries, and no one is able to secure 1,237+ delegates during the preconvention phase, but Mr. Trump wins at the convention on the second vote or thereafter.
  5. No one wins 1,237+ by the end of the primaries, and no one is able to secure 1,237+ delegates during the preconvention phase, but Sen. Cruz wins at the convention the second vote or thereafter.
  6. No one wins 1,237+ by the end of the primaries, and no one is able to secure 1,237+ delegates during the preconvention phase, but someone else (Gov. Kasich, former Gov. Romney, Sen. Ryan, or some other white knight)  wins at the convention the second vote or thereafter.

(I just noticed that I’m slicing and dicing a bit more than I did earlier.) In order to judge the likelihood of States 1 and 2, it’s helpful to know what the next few primaries will look like:

  • Wisconsin: Highly likely to go to Sen. Cruz[a]
  • New York: Highly likely to go to Mr. Trump[b]
  • Maryland: Advantage Mr. Trump[c]
  • Pennsylvania: Advantage Mr. Trump[d]
  • California: Advantage Sen. Cruz[e]
  • New Jersey: Highly likely to go to Mr. Trump[f]


But even if Sen. Cruz wins Wisconsin and California, as he is expected to do, he currently has only 463 delegates – a mere 37.4% of those he needs to win the nomination outright. Of the 959 remaining delegates, Sen. Cruz would have to win 774 of them, i.e., more than 80% of these delegates. While laziness prevents me from trying to figure out exactly what the chances of that might be, it’s pretty obvious that they’re not good for Sen. Cruz. The most likely scenario is probably one in which Mr. Trump drops out or drops dead very soon. So don’t count on this. I’ll stick with the same probability I afforded this event last time: 1%. Reports that Cruz really has a shot at winning this way – including reports from Cruz himself! – seem slightly unhinged[g].


Mr. Trump’s probability of getting to 1,237, however, is not as good as it was when last I thought about this. I was a little surprised to see some discrepancies in reports about the number of delegates that Mr. Trump has already secured[h][i] since it might really end up being a photo finish. But – hell – it’s not an exact since, is it? Let’s call Mr. Trump’s total 744. So he needs 493 of the remaining 959 delegates, about 51% in all. What are his chances of getting there before the clock runs out?

Meh. Mr. Trump has fallen off of the pace projected to be necessary for outright victory, and is now a good 5% down[j]. The remaining winner-take-all states (Delaware, Nebraska, Montana, New Jersey, and South Dakota) offer a grand total of 159 delegates. Good polling is currently available for Jersey only, and its 51[k] delegates are probably Mr. Trump’s for the taking. Mr. Trump also seems to be on track to get the lion’s share of New York’s 95 delegates, but the way in which the delegates are allocated[l] makes my eyes bleed, so there might be room for Sen. Cruz and Gov. Kasich to scoop up more delegates than expected. Furthermore, Sen. Cruz has many advantages in states where party activists play a major role in determining the outcomes of the primaries, and there are a few such states left in play – namely, Colorado, Wyoming, North Dakota and Pennsylvania[m]. While Sen. Cruz is unlikely to win this thing outright (see above), both he and Gov. Kasich might be able to win enough delegates to prevent Mr. Trump from getting to 1,237. A lot of this is going to come down to California with its 172 delegates, where Mr. Trump and Sen. Cruz are currently neck-and-flabby-neck.

How should we gauge this hurly-burly? This is an especially difficult question in light of the spotty data that we have. One source puts Mr. Trump just over the top at 1,239[n]. Another gave Trump a 52.6% likelihood on March 23, a number that has surely fallen since then[o]. Though I lack (as yet) lack anything like a precise model for predicting the outcome, I think Mr. Trump’s current odds of getting to 1,237 by the end of the primaries can’t be better than even money. Let’s just call it that and continue to update as more good data becomes available.

So that leaves a 49% possibility that we wake up on June 8 and don’t have a lock for the Republican nominee. What then? Well, there’s still a 6-week preconvention stage in which Mr. Trump can try to seal the deal. If he’s only a few dozen delegates short (as might well be the case), he might be able to convince Gov. Kasich to swap (some?) of his delegates for a spot of the ticket as the vice-president. That seems to be a real thing that he could do[p], much to my surprise. Mr. Trump might even be able to work a similar kind of deal with some of the other folks who still have delegates pledged to them, such as Sen Rubio. What, you don’t think Sen. Rubio could get over the whole “little Marco” business? I hear you. But there is evidence that this guy can be a bit of an opportunist[q][r][s]. So there’s that. Anyway, once we get to this point, it’s very hard to do more than spitball numbers. I think Mr. Trump has about a 1-in-5 chance of falling just short (i.e., within 100 delegates) of 1,237. And, if he does, he’s got about a 4-in-5 chance of horse trading his way to the nomination in the preconvention phase.

What about scenarios 4, 5, and 6? Cry havoc and let slip the hogs[t] of war. Other than that, it’s hard to say. The conventional wisdom is that if Mr. Trump is unable to secure to nomination during the primary season and during the preconvention period, then he enters the convention weakened. His shtick is that he’s both a deal-maker and a winner, but both of those claims will be tarnished if he goes to Cleveland without either having made a deal or having won the primaries outright. He can’t have more than a 1-in-5 chance of winning on the floor, if it comes to that. In contrast, Sen. Cruz seems to have been actively courting delegates for awhile[u] and has certain obvious advantages among the sort of folks who are likely to be delegates – especially his party bona fides, which Mr. Trump lacks.  In general, Mr. Trump seems to be playing catchup here[v]. I suspect that Sen. Cruz has about a 3-in-5 chance of winning, if it goes to a second vote. That leave about a 1-in-5 chance for none-of-the-above to come in and be the nominee.

Mr. Trump’s chances = 0.724 (0.5 + 0.16 + (0.32*0.2))

Sen. Cruz’s chances = 0.202 (0.01 + 0 + (0.32*0.6))

None-of-the-above’s chances = 0.064 (0 + 0 + (0.32*0.2))

[a] http://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/election-2016/primary-forecast/wisconsin-republican/

[b] http://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/election-2016/primary-forecast/wisconsin-republican/

[c] http://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/election-2016/primary-forecast/maryland-republican/

[d] http://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/election-2016/primary-forecast/pennsylvania-republican/

[e] http://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/election-2016/primary-forecast/california-republican/

[f] http://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/election-2016/primary-forecast/new-jersey-republican/

[g] http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2016/03/30/cruzs_path_to_nomination_130139.html – compare the more level-headed analysis here: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2016/03/17/ted-cruz-says-he-will-end-up-with-more-delegates-than-donald-trump-um-what/ as well as http://www.cnn.com/2016/03/25/politics/trump-cruz-kasich-1237-delegates/

[h] http://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/election-2016/delegate-targets/

[i] http://www.realclearpolitics.com/epolls/2016/president/republican_delegate_count.html

[j] http://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/election-2016/delegate-targets/

[k] http://www.thegreenpapers.com/P16/NJ-R

[l] http://www.thegreenpapers.com/P16/NY-R

[m] http://thehill.com/homenews/campaign/274747-trumps-narrow-path-to-1237

[n] http://www.centerforpolitics.org/crystalball/articles/assessing-trumps-path-to-1237/

[o] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2016/03/23/donald-trump-just-took-another-step-to-the-1237-delegates-he-needs/

[p] http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/commentary/ct-donald-trump-republican-nomination-delegates-20160330-column.html

[q] http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/11/30/the-opportunist

[r] http://www.economist.com/news/united-states/21693424-some-republicans-best-hope-shallow-opportunist-others-extremist-might

[s] http://www.newsweek.com/harry-reid-hits-marco-rubio-opportunistic-406705

[t] If you’re looking here, it’s because you haven’t been introduced to the wit and wisdom of Sterling Malory Archer.

[u] http://www.cnbc.com/2016/03/28/1237-or-bust-for-donald-trump.html

[v] http://www.politico.com/story/2016/03/donald-trump-delegates-republican-convention-221274


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