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The De Civitate Poor Man's Stop-Trump Delegate Tracker
This post, like all De Civ posts prior to November 2021, was originally published at my WordPress blog. It imported badly to Substack, and I suggest you read it there instead: https://www.jamesjheaney.com/2016/03/14/the-de-civitate-poor-mans-stop-trump-delegate-tracker/
A few weeks ago, I wrote a fairly popular post, "Trump's Delegate Lead Is Overstated." The post is as true now as it was then; political insiders continue to make poor predictions about the race, because they are not willing to learn the intricate delegate rules that govern it. (To be fair, who but a nerd like me would want to figure out, for example, what Illinois's "loophole" primary is and how it differs from Pennsylvania's loophole primary?) So people keep saying that Trump is doing much better than he, in fact, is. Trump is doing well and must be considered the frontrunner, but he is by no means the prohibitive leader, and his nomination is only inevitable if the party decides to accept it as inevitable. (This won't change until -- at the earliest -- April 26th, when much of the Northeast votes.)
Based on these poor predictions, pundits and even some Republican political figures are making all sorts of bad strategic decisions. For example, the widespread but false belief that Trump is guaranteed to win the nomination if he wins Florida and/or Ohio has led the Republican establishment to keep Rubio and Kasich in the race in an unlikely effort to deny Trump delegates in both states. (Sean Davis dismantles this strategy in a recent piece at The Federalist.) On the contrary, the optimal strategy for stopping Trump is to rapidly consolidate the field behind a single candidate who can defeat Trump head-to-head. Three weeks ago, I believed that candidate would be Sen. Marco Rubio, a man I greatly admire. However, intervening votes have proved me wrong: mathematically, the only plausible non-Trump competitor is now Sen. Ted Cruz. The longer Rubio and Gov. Kasich stay in the race, the more likely Trump wins the nomination instead. This is but one example of incorrect party strategy based on unrealistically gloomy assessments of Trump's current situation.
This post is De Civitate's poor-man's delegate tracker, designed to counter those assessments. It will be updated after each primary election, so bookmark it and stay tuned. This delegate tracker doesn't have any of Politico's fancy-pants graphics or FiveThirtyEight's sophisticated demographic projections or The Green Papers' astonishing depth and update speed. But De Civ will tell you two things nobody else can:
How Trump would be doing in a field that never consolidates behind a single candidate, splitting the vote evenly between Cruz and Rubio, thus allowing Trump to win pluralities in every state. This is the "nightmare scenario" which I walked through with commentary back in my original post. It eventually allows Trump to "clinch" the nomination on the final day of primaries (June 7th).
How the actual results compare to that "nightmare scenario."
If you are cheering against Trump, you want to see the "Progress to Brokered Convention" stat reach 100%. Once that happens, the worst that could happen is a brokered convention where Trump is unlikely to win. (It might still be possible for another candidate to clinch instead, though this becomes more difficult every day.) On the other hand, if Trump reaches 100% on "Progress to Trump Clinch," then it's all over, and Trump wins.
This tracker is not pretty, but, if you ever need reassurance that the mainstream media is overstating Trump's lead (still), come here for a breath of fresh air and a little sigh of relief. If De Civitate is panicking, then it's time to panic... and not before. We -- unlike, say, Ben Ginsberg* -- have done the math.
May 3rd 1970 delegates allocated so far (82% of total) Candidate "Nightmare" Result Actual Result Trump 1084 1043 Cruz 370 550 Kasich 350 149 Other 223 285 Progress to Trump Clinch 88% 84% Progress to Brokered Convention 76% 80% Comment: Reader, I feel I owe you an apology. Months ago, I promised I would tell you when it was time to panic, and I believed that moment would come with a loss in Indiana. I even had a draft of this comment written, in case of a Trump victory. (The draft simply said: "PANIC!") Perhaps you intuited this from last week's discussion of Indiana, or from my very grim post yesterday. I believed that, after an Indiana defeat, the Stop-Trump efforts would have perhaps a 1-in-20 chance at beating Trump later on (and I was already working on the articles explaining those paths).
But Indiana turned out worse than the I expected, and worse than even the worst polls forecast. Trump did not eke out a narrow win by pulling 40% of the vote against a divided field, which is what our Nightmare Scenario suggested; Trump won a solid majority in a largely "Evangelical" state, with demographics that should have been quite unfriendly to him, and crushed his nearest competitor by almost 20 points. It was far worse than the Nightmare Scenario, and it took us from "we have a fighting chance to stop Trump" to "there is no path forward at all" in a matter of minutes. The first early returns came in, then the race was called, then Cruz suspended his campaign. It happened so fast I never even had a chance to tell you to "PANIC!" until it was too late.
I've been gearing up for months to blame Kasich for this, but Trump's victory was so complete that I can't blame Kasich; his presence in the race made little difference. For whatever reason -- and I hope to explore this further soon -- the Republican Party rallied behind Donald J. Trump.
Over the coming days, now that Trump is winning outright majorities, you can expect his delegate count to rapidly reach and overtake the Nightmare Scenario we've been discussing throughout. Just doing some quick back-of-the-envelope math, he should end up with between 1400 and 1500 bound delegates going into the convention. You can track that against the Nightmare Scenario, if it pleases you, here.
(FUN FACT: The odds of a brokered convention stopping Trump are still higher than Bernie Sanders' odds of beating Hillary. That's how bad the Sanders situation is right now.)
This concludes the De Civitate Poor Man's Stop-Trump Delegate Tracker. It's been fun, guys. You may now awaken to the nightmare world of 2016 America.
April 26th 1970 delegates allocated so far (80% of total) Candidate "Nightmare" Result Actual Result Trump 1036 986 Cruz 368 550 Kasich 344 149 Other 223 285 Progress to Trump Clinch 84% 80% Progress to Brokered Convention 76% 80% Comment: I told you so: April 26th allowed Trump to make up the ground he lost in Wisconsin, Wyoming, and Colorado... and then some. He has almost, but not quite, caught up with the Nightmare Scenario. The only part of my prediction that wasn't borne out was that Kasich would drop out after so humiliating a loss.
This brings Trump into a dead heat with the anti-Trumps: Trump is 80% of the way to clinching, and the anti-Trumps are 80% of the way to forcing a brokered convention. Because of the demographics of the remaining ten races, I give Trump the clear edge here -- he is officially more likely to win the nomination than lose it -- but he is by no means inevitable.
Yet. As I've been saying for weeks now, It All Comes Down To Indiana.
April 19th 1798 delegates allocated so far (72% of total) Candidate "Nightmare" Result Actual Result Trump 945 845 Cruz 355 543 Kasich 329 123 Other 169 287 Progress to Trump Clinch 76% 68% Progress to Brokered Convention 69% 77% Comment: Trump had a good night in New York, winning nearly 60% of the vote. (P.S. These results prove Ted Cruz was right: "New York values" are, indeed, terrible.) However, I expected Trump to sweep New York, as I noted two weeks ago, so the fact that he only won 90 delegates made April 19th a fairly good night in my book. (The fact that Kasich could be driven out of the race by this and a string of impending defeats was sauce for the goose.)
Actually, just go reread what I wrote in the April 6th entry. It predicted a good night for Trump in New York (and next week in the rest of the Northeast), and explains why it isn't time to panic. We are, as you can see by the counts, still a bit off from the "nightmare scenario."
The time to panic is on May 2nd, if Kasich is still in the race the night before the pivotal Indiana primary and splitting the anti-Trump vote. That could easily hand Trump the nomination.
April 6th 1666 delegates allocated so far (67% of total) Candidate "Nightmare" Result Actual Result Trump 885 761 Cruz 351 509 Kasich 298 144 Other 132 252 Progress to Trump Clinch 72% 62% Progress to Brokered Convention 63% 73% Comment: Wisconsin, your country thanks you.
On Tuesday, millions of Wisconsinites, especially in the Milwaukee suburbs, rallied behind a candidate who is not necessarily all that popular in the suburbs -- Sen. Ted Cruz -- in order to stop the catastrophic candidacy of Mr. Donald Trump. The result: instead of the rout I expected, in which Gov. John Kasich and Sen. Cruz would evenly divide the anti-Trump vote and allow Trump to sweep up plurality victories across the state, Sen. Cruz came out firmly on top. Because Wisconsin votes winner-take-all by district (like most states in the second half of the primary season), Cruz was able to win 36 delegates to Mr. Trump's 6 with only 48% of the popular vote. This was not considered likely a few weeks ago, and it makes Trump's delegate math quite a bit more difficult. Notice that the actual results are now the mirror image of the Nightmare Scenario: in reality, we're 73% of the way to a brokered convention, while, in the Nightmare Scenario, we were 73% of the way to a Trump clinch. That's thanks to Wisconsin.
However, it's not time to celebrate just yet: as Nate Silver observes today, Trump only needs to get to about 40% of the vote in a three-way contest to come out with large delegate majorities, and, as Nate Cohn pointed out a few weeks ago, Trump is poised to break 40% in a large number of upcoming states, where he has far more "natural" supporters than he had in Wisconsin. Many of the commentators who were treating Trump as inevitable a few weeks ago are now claiming that a contested convention is "almost certain." Hogwash. I said they were being foolishly pessimistic in March, but that's no excuse for becoming unjustifiably optimistic in April.
In reality, the stop-Trump delegate margin is razor-thin, and, if Kasich divides the anti-Trump vote in Indiana (May 3rd), Montana (June 7th), and all-important California (June 7th), Trump could still pretty easily walk into the convention with 1250 bound delegates -- enough to clinch on the first ballot with no help from unbound delegates. Of course, if voters in those states follow Wisconsin's lead and rally behind the single viable anti-Trump candidate, Sen. Cruz, we won't have so much to worry about.
For the next few weeks, we don't have too much to look forward to, but we also don't have much to worry about. We are heading into the final Northeast primaries. Kasich's entire justification for staying in the race is his appeal in the Northeast, with its 200-or-so bound delegates. Polls say he doesn't have enough appeal to actually win, but he does have enough appeal to prevent Cruz from getting traction. Thus, I expect Trump to win virtually all the delegates in those primaries; so do most analysts. This wouldn't be all that bad, either, as long as it drives Kasich definitively out of the race before the pivotal (and very competitive) Indiana contest on May 3rd. In fact, because the entire Northeastern bloc, combined, delivers only a few more bound delegates than California does on its own, a crushing Trump win in the Northeast (which would give Trump about 200 delegates but drive Kasich from the race) is probably better for the stop-Trump campaign than a narrow Kasich upset (which would hold Trump to about 100 delegates but allow Kasich to stay in the race to do much more delegate damage later on).
So it'll be a while before we have a chance for another Wisconsin. Use the time to thank a Wisconsinite for their great work on Tuesday, and I'll see you on April 19th, when New York votes and, quite possibly, awards every single one of its 95 delegates to Trump.
Colorado elects delegates April 8th. They are officially unbound, but preliminary signs are good for Cruz taking the vast majority, and perhaps all of them. Meanwhile, there are a couple other minor behind-the-scene shifts in the delegate count, most notably with Alaska un-re-allocating Marco Rubio's delegates, which I'm not sure has ever happened before anywhere.
1596 delegates allocated so far (65% of total) Candidate "Nightmare" Result Actual Result Trump 852 754 Cruz 348 465 Kasich 292 144 Other 104 232 Progress to Trump Clinch 69% 61% Progress to Brokered Convention 60% 68% Comment: Kasich didn't manage to ruin the night for anyone, so I am happy. Trump won Arizona's 58 delegates, which turned out to be inevitable given Arizona's long early-voting window (Kasich actually lost Arizona to Rubio, which is pretty funny since Rubio dropped out a week ago), but Cruz came back with a massive win in Utah to secure all 40 of its delegates. (Utah is normally proportional, but switches to winner-take-all if a candidate gets 50%.) Thus, the night finished more-or-less even, and Trump missed his delegate targets. There are no more delegate-awarding contests until Wisconsin on April 5th, so the question of the next two weeks becomes: how fast can Kasich be driven out of the race after his disastrous showing tonight?
There were some minor delegate reallocations this week, particularly in Alaska; I have updated the counter accordingly (except for the Virgin Islands, because that race is still a mess).
March 15th 1480 delegates allocated so far (60% of total) Candidate "Nightmare" Result Actual Result* Trump 769 693 Cruz 337 422 Kasich 280 145 Other 95 219 Progress to Trump Clinch 57% 56% Progress to Brokered Convention 58% 64% Comment: The good news is, while he made up some ground tonight, Trump missed his targets here by a significant margin. 60% of the delegates have been awarded, and yet Trump is only a little over halfway to clinching... while his opponents are nearly two-thirds of the way to forcing a brokered convention. Meanwhile, the four-man race we've been suffering through lately finally shrank to a three-man race, with Rubio knocked out after a defeat in Florida.
The bad news is, because Kasich won in Ohio, we still have a three-man race. As the nightmare scenario shows, a three-man race will eventually hand Trump enough delegates to clinch a majority -- even if he only wins 35-40% of the popular vote (a consistent trend that has continued tonight). Indeed, tonight's results saw Trump win literally dozens of delegates outside Ohio that he would not have won except for the Kasich/Rubio spoiler effect. That trend will continue and accelerate now that we are in the winner-take-all portion of the GOP primary calendar.
Fortunately, the candidates have bought themselves a little breathing room with their defeats of Trump earlier this month. Whereas the original "nightmare scenario" predicted that Trump became unbeatable if it was still a three-man race on April 25th, I now project that Trump's nomination can still be blocked as long as someone drops out by May 2nd.
However, it would not be an easy path, by that late date, and it could easily fail. Gov. Kasich has literally no path to victory; it is impossible for him to achieve 1,237 delegates given that there are only 992 delegates left on the calendar, and it is almost impossible to foresee how he might plausibly reach the Rule 40(b) threshold even to have his name entered into nomination on the convention floor. Every second Gov. Kasich remains in makes it more difficult to stop Trump; he should drop out immediately. Preferably before his delusional campaign hands Trump another 74 delegates on March 22nd, one week from today.
March 12th 1114 delegates allocated so far (45% of total) Candidate "Nightmare" Result Actual Result Trump 517 464 Cruz 311 372 Rubio 248 165 Other 38 108 Progress to Trump Clinch 42% 37% Progress to Brokered Convention 48% 52% Comment: Not a ton of delegates awarded tonight, but, of those awarded, Trump got only 1. Others got 47. That's a good night by any standard.
This is a long comment, because we are now two days away from March 15th. March 15th is almost certain to be a bad night for #StopTrump. Trump will very likely make up much of the ground he has lost in recent weeks, and it is entirely possible he will make up all of it. Worse, much of the chattering class (as I have griped) is still insisting that the whole race hinges on Trump losing Ohio and/or Florida and their combined 166 delegates. If he wins, they say, it's all over. So if he does win them both -- still very much a possibility -- there will be an overwhelming urge to panic and/or surrender to Trump.
But remember this: just to make his benchmarks for the "nightmare scenario" -- just to make them, not exceed them -- Trump needs to get to 769 delegates. Ohio and Florida only get him to 630. Sacrificing them may actually be best, since the biggest threat to the #StopTrump movement right now is the possibility that Kasich and Rubio will stay in the race, preventing vital consolidation. Losing Florida and Ohio knocks them both out of the race, definitively. In my mind, that's worth the 166 delegates it costs.
North Carolina is also voting on March 15th, but its delegates are allocated proportionally, so, even if Trump wins there, he won't be able to get too many of its 72 delegates -- not less than 20 and not more than 35.
Missouri and Illinois are also on the line Tuesday. They use more complex allocation formulae than Ohio and Florida (which are simple winner-take-all states), but the plurality winner in each will win most and possibly all of their 121 delegates. If Trump wins those plus Ohio and Florida, it puts him right back on track for the Nightmare Scenario. That would be very unfortunate.
It would not be the end of the world. That's right: thanks largely to the buffer the other candidates have steadily built up over the past several weeks, Trump can sweep all six elections on Tuesday (I didn't mention the Northern Marianas Islands, which allocate 9 delegates, winner-take-all) and still be stopped by a rival candidate in May or June, as long as the field consolidates behind that candidate quickly after March 15th and that candidate starts consistently beating Trump, even by narrow margins, in most (not all) states. Still, I would love to see somebody other than Trump win large delegate hauls in Missouri or Illinois; it would make the math a great deal easier.
Note that I allocated all of Wyoming's delegates to "other" when they held precinct caucuses on March 1st. I am reallocating them as they are bound to particular candidates. (Cruz won 9 of 11 tonight, with 14-17 more very likely to fall into his camp at the state convention.) I am also treating Guam's officially-unbound-but-pledged-to-Cruz delegate as a Cruz delegate.
March 8th 1086 delegates allocated so far (43% of total) Candidate "Nightmare" Result Actual Result Trump 510 463 Cruz 305 362 Rubio 242 154 Other 29 106 Progress to Trump Clinch 41% 37% Progress to Brokered Convention 47% 50% Comment: At first blush, this was an awful night. The crowded three-way battle to be the anti-Trump was a bloodbath in Trump's favor. Trump won 13 more delegates than he would have won without Rubio in the race... and it would have been worse in states with slightly larger delegations. Rubio. Out. Now.
Meanwhile, even as it became clear that this race must become a two-way battle and must be led by Ted Cruz, Kasich continued to be so much of a spoiler that the "other" category is now threatening to overtake Rubio!
But take a longer look at the results, and they are not so awful after all. Cruz won Idaho outright, Trump was held to an average 35% of the vote (instead of the 40% expected by the Nightmare Scenario), and nothing could have made it clearer that other candidates must drop out and rally to Cruz. The brokered-convention camp grew its lead over Trump by a percentage point, and even reached the halfway point on its overall goal of denying Trump a nomination "clinch." More padding would be nice, with March 15th's winner-take-all romp coming up, but every step to keep Trump off his targets helps.
March 6th 913 delegates allocated so far (37% of total) Candidate "Nightmare" Result Actual Result Trump 447 390 Cruz 260 303 Rubio 206 153 Other 29 89 Progress to Trump Clinch 36% 32% Progress to Brokered Convention 39% 44% Comment: What a wonderful weekend. Cruz took Trump to the woodshed and gave the stop-Trump coalition a very considerable buffer. It is vital to build up as large a buffer as possible before March 15th, when Trump is likely to make a large comeback if the field has not yet consolidated. Cruz did yeoman's work on that buffer, though his rivals prevented him, in some cases, from building an even bigger lead.
It was an unspeakably bad weekend for Rubio, though, who is now running well behind even the worst-case numbers proposed by this "nightmare scenario." This is thanks mainly to Kasich, who took many of Rubio's would-be delegates despite having no viable path of his own. Rubio's campaign is now on life support.
March 1st (Super Tuesday) 757 delegates allocated so far (31% of total) Candidate "Nightmare" Result Actual Result Trump delegates 377 337 Cruz delegates 205 234 Rubio delegates 146 112 Other delegates 29 74 Progress to Trump Clinch 30% 27% Progress to Brokered Convention 31% 34% Comment: Super Tuesday could have gone better, certainly, as Trump broke 40% in several states and nearly broke 50% in Massachusetts -- which explains why Republicans never win there -- but losing four states, including the delegate pinata of Texas, measurably slowed his progress.
If 1,236 delegates are won by candidates not named Donald J. Trump, then there will be a brokered convention, where Trump seems unlikely to prevail. On Super Tuesday, those delegates leapt out to an early lead, 27%-34%.
*NOTE: The rest of that article is quite good, and very helpful to understanding the convention process. I mean, of course it is; it's Ben Ginsberg, who practically is the convention. However, the second paragraph is just parroted conventional wisdom, and it's wrong.