I’ve been kind of geeking out a bit on this, during a year when many people (including a couple candidates) seem to be waking up to the idea that we don’t actually pick our political candidates by direct popular vote.
It’s also the first year in modern times when the actual delegate count is becoming a real issue, for both parties. (I’ll say, if you’re at all interested in this, fivethirtyeight.com has been doing real-time delegate tracking with each primary; worth a look). It’s rather interesting, and there’s lots of little details that get overlooked.
For example: I haven’t seen anyone point out the fact that Ted Cruz will not win a majority of delegates in the primaries. No way, no-how. The die was cast when the fly named Ted Cruz met the windshield named New York Values. If he’d pulled his head out of his ass long enough to consider that he might need some of those New York delegates later on, he might have decided not to take a trip down Dogwhistle Lane. But that implies careful consideration and a deft political touch. He ain’t deft. The human version of a Reddit troll got pwned.
Here’s the math: There are 2,472 total delegates on the Republican side, so a candidate needs the magic number of 1,237 to secure an outright majority in advance of the convention, when those delegates are required to vote with the way their state went (“pledged delegates”). Trump has 846 to date. Cruz has 544. Kasich has 149. There are 674 delegates still at large. Trump could get above 1,237, but only on June 7, the last day of the Republican primaries, when California and its 172 delegates goes to the polls. Cruz… can’t. 544+674=1,218, or 19 delegates shy of the majority. He could win every single delegate in every race from here on out and it won’t be enough. And given recent trends, he’s unlikely to get anything other than a token minority of delegates.
So therefore Cruz has only one strategy left: stop Trump from getting to 1,237, forcing a contested convention and then trying to wrest delegates away on second or subsequent rounds of voting, when those pledged delegates will be free to vote for whoever they want. And Cruz has played a very good game of working state parties and conventions to make sure that HIS supporters get appointed delegates to the national convention.
It sounds far-fetched, and maybe it is (considering Trump’s implicit warnings of rioting should he not win). But consider this: Cruz has 544 delegates, Kasich has 149, and Rubio (remember him?) has 172, who are STILL going to vote for Rubio at the convention, or for whoever Rubio decides they should support. Taken together, the three other Republicans have 865 delegates… 19 more than Trump. So this game isn’t over yet. States to watch, with big delegate counts: Pennsylvania on April 26 (71), Indiana on May 3 (57), and on June 7: California (172) and New Jersey (51), the latter of which is one of those winner-take-all states. There are a few smaller winner-take-all states left too, but I’d guess Nebraska (with 36) is the one Cruz is most likely to take, it being somewhat Bible-Beltish, if not properly within said belt. Indiana might also be fertile territory for Cruz, but Hoosiers award their delegates in a mix of proportional representation and other factors, so it’s unlikely Cruz will win all 57.
On the Democratic side, it is a different kind of race: The magic number to hit to clinch the nomination is 2,025. Clinton has 1,444, Sanders has 1,207, and there are 1,400 delegates still in play in the upcoming primaries. Both candidates have been playing up some rather “non-voting” issues to try and sway the race, Clinton acting as if she’s already won, Sanders as if she’s doing something underhanded to steal it. Neither is true. There’s plenty of room: Clinton theoretically could clinch it on May 17 when Oregon and Kentucky vote, and Sanders could clinch it on June 7, with California, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, South Dakota, and North Dakota vote.
However, because the Democratic Party allots delegates proportionally, it’s unlikely either candidate will clinch it until June 7, and maybe little ol’ Washington D.C.’s 20 delegates will actually matter for once on June 14.
What is also true is that Bernie still has an uphill battle: he needs to win 819 delegates, or 58.5 percent of all remaining delegates, while Clinton needs just 582, or 41.6 percent. In other words, Bernie needs to win big from here on out. Each race that isn’t a win by 58-42 raises his must-win threshold on each race afterward. Looked at another way, Clinton could lose every state here on out, and as long as they’re not blowout losses, she’ll still win it.
Looking at the states still in play, I’m guessing Bernie will find most fertile territory in West Virginia on May 10 (29 delegates at stake), Oregon on May 17 (61 delegates), and on June 7, Montana (21), South Dakota (20) and North Dakota (18). Given the trend so far, it will be difficult for him in many of those to crack 58 percent (or whatever his new threshold will be next week when a slew of Clinton-friendly states vote. Oregon should be fun.
A word about superdelegates: there are 712 of them, most pledged to Clinton, but they’re free to vote however. Most are elected officials already, so they’re likely to remain pledged to the likely winner, no matter who that is, because they WILL be watching the political weathervane. Therefore I don’t think they’ll necessarily play the role of spoilers that the Sanders campaign fears; Clinton (or Sanders) could win the race without them. This is the first time since the party created the superdelegates (as a hedge against populist candidates like Sanders, naturally) that they’ve appeared to be in play. But they’re politicians. They risk blowback if they don’t follow the popular vote, at least nationally if not in their own states. It is possible they could split the vote (along state lines, for example) and push BOTH candidates above the 2,026 threshold. I don’t think the overall race will be close enough that, even if they do split the vote, that it would alter the outcome. They’re each individuals, they each can vote however they want, and it’s not a violation of any rule that they can do that, if it it does the unthinkable and hands the nomination to someone winning the smaller number of delegates in the primaries. It’s a sucky system, in my personal opinion, and Democrats should ditch superdelegates (just as the Republicans wish they had something like that to stop Trump), but it’s the system the party adopted.
One final note: except for a few states which have open primaries, the primaries are a creation of the political parties. There’s nothing in the Constitution that tells parties how to run primaries (there’s nothing that says there should be only two parties either, but that’s another issue), and the two parties have the ability to set their own rules (and both parties have deferred a lot of that to their state committees, creating the hodgepodge system we have now). If those rules are followed, winning still winning, no matter how odious it is, even if Cruz surreptitiously plants delegates at the convention to swing the vote his way after the first round, or if the Democratic superdelegates band together to turn a Clinton loss into a win. I don’t like it, and this year, more than any in my lifetime, all these tiny little nuances and rules suddenly matter a great deal. But it’s the only deck we have to play with, Sanders’ “political revolution” not withstanding. So I’m not going to get too worked up over the result of the primaries (either of them). I’m looking at November.