There’s something I need to nip in the bud. Perhaps it’s too late, or it won’t matter, but I’ll do my best.
There’s a narrative, which has been under construction for the last few weeks, and it goes like this: If no candidate has 1,237 delegates at the time of the convention, and Trump loses the nomination, it will have been “stolen” from him.
From the campaign outward, the idea of the nomination being “stolen” from Trump has been blown into the wind like dandelion spores with the hope that it would disseminate among enough of Trump’s supporters and media acolytes to create waves. And just like dandelions in spring, it’s sprouting up everywhere you look.
The word “stolen” or “steal” is absolutely necessary in order for Trump’s narrative to function; that’s why you keep hearing it on TV, and reading on the Internet over and over again. But if Trump doesn’t reach 1,237 delegates on the first ballot, and subsequently loses, will the nomination actually have been “stolen” from him?
Short answer, no. Now prepare for the long answer. I swear it’s worth it.
For 156 years, the rules have stated that to win the nomination outright, a Republican candidate must reach a majority of the delegates. The number 1,237 isn’t arbitrary, it’s exactly half of the 2,472 delegates, plus one. That’s what a majority is–50 percent plus. This is not to be confused with “plurality.” Donald Trump will almost certainly enter the convention in July with a plurality of delegates, but if he does not have the majority, he will not win on first vote.
Now, there are rules that delineate what’s to happen after the first vote should a majority candidate not emerge from the field. There’s a second vote. However, on the second vote, approximately 60 percent of the delegates will be unbound–this is dependent on various state rules.
What this means is that if a delegate was bound to a particular candidate (say one of the 104 delegates Ted Cruz won in Texas), they are free to vote for whichever candidate they choose on the second ballot. They are no longer bound to cast their vote for Cruz.
This mechanism is necessary because if the delegates were permanently bound to one candidate, and no one had the majority, it would simply be a stalemate. This is where delegate elections come in.
Every state has different delegate selection rules, but let’s take for example the state of Georgia, because that’s one of the primary states over which Trump is crying foul. Georgia had a primary on March 1, and Donald Trump won with 38.8 percent of the vote. The outcome of Georgia’s primary left Trump with 42 delegates, Cruz with 18, and Rubio with 16.
All 42 of Trump’s delegates will be bound to cast their vote for him on the first ballot. However, when they become unbound on a possible second ballot, they can choose another candidate. Here’s where delegate selection comes into play.
On April 16, Georgia held 14 district conventions in which they selected approximately half of the 76 delegates who will represent the state at the convention. Those who wanted to be delegates had to go through an application process in order to be eligible. The Gainesville Times notes that “district leaders began sending instructions earlier this year about the application process…”
Then, Republican voters at each of the 14 conventions throughout the state voted for delegates. This is where organization is a must on the part of campaigns. Candidates typically print out what are known as “slates,” which are simply lists of preferred delegates. So if Ted Cruz wanted John Doe to get elected as a delegate because he knows Doe would support him on a second ballot, he would make darn sure that John Doe’s name and delegate voting number are on his slate.
In Colorado, for example, Cruz volunteers passed out slates with the names and numbers of their preferred delegates on them. Trump did the same. Here’s the difference. Cruz’s slate was without flaw, while Trump’s was riddled with errors, including accidentally having the name of at least one Cruz supporter on it. Trump’s team reprinted the slate, but it still contained errors. Team Trump was a mess.
In addition, team Cruz had volunteers wear neon orange tee shirts with the preferred delegate names and numbers on the back.
Impressive CO organizing by Cruz camp continues with these fluorescent orange slate shirts @ state convention pic.twitter.com/e8lItDxVHX
— Alexandra Jaffe (@ajjaffe) April 9, 2016
Between the flood of volunteers, the slates, and the tee shirts, everyone knew which delegate candidates would support Ted Cruz on a second ballot. The conventions voted, and chose their delegates. Cruz swept.
In Georgia, the delegate process is similar. Slates are handed out, volunteers flood the conventions, delegate candidates usually make a quick pitch, or talk to voters on the floor, and the voting commences.
The Gainesville Times wrote (prior to the conventions):
“Brant Frost V, the grassroots coordinator for Cruz in Georgia, said supporters are running for delegate spots in all 14 congressional districts in Saturday’s conventions. He also expects attendees of the state convention to closely scrutinize delegates elected there, going beyond name recognition.”
In Georgia, Cruz snagged as many as 32 friendly delegates, while Trump grabbed between 12 and 14. More conventions will be held in June to elect the remaining delegates. If those conventions have similar outcomes, Cruz may have as many as 50 friendly delegates, and Trump may have 26. This means that on the first ballot at the convention, 42 of the delegates will vote for Trump as pledged, 18 will vote for Cruz, and 16 will likely vote for Rubio, despite his dropping out of the race.
However, should it come to a second ballot, the balance will shift, and Cruz may get 50 delegates, with all of Rubio’s, and many of Trump’s original delegates moving to the Texas senator.
These rules have been the same for a long time, although each state has varying quirks. In Colorado, for example, the delegate selection process has been virtually the same since 1912.
This is to say that every campaign had ample opportunity to study the rules of each state, and play within those boundaries to win the nomination in a contested convention. Team Cruz knows the rules, and team Trump does not. As in any strategy game, the person who studies the rule book will be the best equipped to win.
There is no stealing of delegates. That’s smoke and mirrors. Aside from a few states, every elected delegate is bound to their candidate on the first ballot. The second, however, is where the rules really begin to matter.
Now, onto the convention. If Trump goes into the convention with 1,150 delegates, he doesn’t win. As I stated above, since 1860, the rules have been the same. A majority must be made. Despite this, many Trump supporters–and even non-Trump Republicans–think the candidate with the plurality should win.
A recent Associated Press/GfK survey found that 58 percent of Republican voters believe that the candidate with the most delegates should win the nomination, regardless of whether or not it’s a majority. Here’s the thing. The system has been the same for 156 years, and there’s a reason why. If a candidate cannot win even a majority of GOP inclined delegates, how can they possibly win a general election? A candidate needs to prove that they can not only win votes, but organize, galvanize, and mobilize voters in a general.
Let me put it this way. A group of people are playing Trivial Pursuit, and it’s down to two real contenders. The person in the lead has five of the six wedges needed to win. The person in second place has four of the six. In a sudden turn of events, the player in second place gets two successive questions right, while the player in the lead whiffs both of their questions. Player two wins the game. Did he steal the win? No. He won within the framework of the rules that were clearly established at the outset.
Ted Cruz isn’t stealing any delegates; he’s not going to “steal” the nomination from Trump at the convention. If no one reaches a majority, and Cruz wins on a second or third ballot, he will have won on the merits of his organizational efforts, and within the parameters set by the Republican Party 156 years ago.
Allow me to add an additional point just to put a strong period on the end of this argument.
In Wisconsin, Ted Cruz won 531,129 votes, while Trump won 386,370. Cruz received 36 delegates, and Trump got six. In New York, Trump won 524,932 votes, while Cruz won 126,151. Trump got 89 delegates, and Cruz got zero.
Does that necessarily make sense? No. However, that’s how the two states are weighted in delegate allocation. For the same number of votes, Cruz received 53 fewer delegates. He’s not whining about it. Do you know why? Because those are the rules, and he knew them going into the race.
So to Trump, as well as his incensed supporters, you can rage against the system, but that doesn’t make you right. You can call Cruz a cheater as many times as you’d like, but that doesn’t make him one.
If you don’t like the way the game is played, organize, and get the rules changed. Otherwise, shut your gigantic mouths.