Trump's Path Won't Lead To The GOP Nomination Anytime Soon
As it stands, Republican front-runner Donald Trump is about 60 percent of the way to the 1,237 delegates needed to clinch the GOP nomination before the Republican National Convention is held this July in Cleveland, but he cannot reach 100 percent of what he needs until the last day of primary voting in June.
Beginning with Tuesday's Wisconsin primary, if Trump banked every single delegate up for grabs in every single state, he would still enter the last day of the primary calendar short of the majority of delegates needed to clinch the nomination: 1,237.
If he strikes out in Wisconsin, where 42 delegates are at stake, it'll be that much harder to get to 1,237 at all.
Trump is the only Republican candidate with a realistic shot at walking into the convention with that many delegates in hand. Cruz is 273 delegates behind Trump, and would need to claim more than 80 percent of the remaining delegates to win the nomination in any scenario other than a convention floor fight.
Trump certainly could cross the threshold on June 7, when Republicans in California, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico and South Dakota vote.
More than 300 delegates will be up for grabs that day, including a winner-take-all contest in New Jersey. The big prize will be California and its 172 delegates, though there's a catch: the vast majority of the state's delegates are handed out on a congressional-district-by-congressional-district basis. "So, really, it's going to be like having 53 individual elections going on there to watch," said Geoffrey Skelley of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics.
Skelley and his UVA colleagues have mapped out a projection of the remaining primary calendar that shows Trump winning the delegates he needs to stave off a contested convention. Their model gives Trump a whole two extra delegates to spare.
But those projections — like many others put together by political analysts, academics and various news outlets — assumed Trump would win Wisconsin. There are plenty of Republicans in the state working to prevent that.
When former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson took the stage at a Republican Party dinner in Milwaukee last week, he got right to the point. "I'm here to tell you, ladies and gentlemen, there is no candidate that is going to have enough delegate votes going into Ohio to get the nomination," the John Kasich surrogate said. "We are going to have a contested convention."
Ted Cruz has been leading in the polls in the Badger State. "If someone not named Donald Trump can win statewide in Wisconsin, that runs counter to how we sort of gamed it out," said Skelley. "So, suddenly it's very questionable that he could get over the majority hump, if he loses statewide."
To put it more bluntly, Wisconsin's results will give us a big indication of whether or not the GOP is headed for a historic floor fight in Cleveland.
Which is why both Cruz and Trump have blanketed Wisconsin in recent days.
The main chunk of the state's Republican voters live in the suburbs around Milwaukee. But both Trump and Cruz have been everywhere: Eau Claire, Ashwaubenon, Kenosha, La Crosse, Janesville, Racine.
Charles Franklin, who runs the Marquette University Law School poll, says that's because the winner of each Wisconsin congressional district will pick up three delegates. "When you have a statewide race that's essentially winner-take-all in the state, it doesn't matter where you get your votes from," Franklin said. "But in this congressional district-based allocation of delegates, it means you need to do well all over the place."
With months to go before a firm answer on whether or not Cleveland will be contested, both Trump and Cruz are beginning to operate under the assumption it will.
That's why, in the days before a pivotal Wisconsin vote, Cruz flew to Fargo, N.D., to personally campaign at the state convention electing 28 delegates who will be officially unbound to any particular candidate at the RNC. "It's entirely possible the men and women gathered here will decide this entire primary, will decide this entire nomination," he said.
Many of the Cruz-aligned delegates were elected. But they're under no obligation to declare for Cruz or any other candidate before the convention.
Meanwhile, Trump is arguing that even if he doesn't clinch the majority of delegates, he deserves the nomination because he's gotten the most votes. "We have millions of votes more than Cruz, millions of votes more than Kasich," he said in Wisconsin last week.
"We'll have definitely the largest number of votes, and we'll also have definitely the number of delegates by far. Nobody's even going to be close. Will we get to 1,237? I think so," Trump told MSNBC's Chris Matthews in a televised town hall. "But for the last six months, we've been running against many, many people," he argued. "So it's really a very unfair standard. But if I'm a little bit short, but I'm millions of votes and hundreds of delegates ahead of other people, I think you're going to have some very unhappy people. I hope nothing bad happens, but I think you're going to have some very, very angry and unhappy people."