Why even a big night for Donald Trump could lead to a tighter GOP race

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Super Tuesday is getting a great deal of hype, what with its bounty of almost one-fourth of the delegates to the GOP convention this summer and its regional flavor as the so-called SEC Primary. But there’s a possibility, maybe a strong one, that Donald Trump finishes the night both closer to winning the nomination and with a smaller lead over his rivals — giving him less margin for error as the race enters the winner-take-all phase in two weeks.

Georgia offers a good example of what I’m talking about. I looked back at the results from 2012, when Georgia had a clear front-runner in Newt Gingrich, a clear “establishment” favorite in Mitt Romney, and a candidate making his pitch to evangelicals in Rick Santorum. Gingrich won 47.2 percent of the vote here, Romney 25.9 percent and Santorum 19.6 percent — with Ron Paul getting 6.6 percent and the rest going to other candidates no longer operating campaigns by that point.

One difference this year is that there are five candidates still in the running. Let’s say for the sake of argument that Trump hits 40 percent (I will actually be a bit surprised if it’s that high), with the other 7.2 percentage points of Gingrich’s share going to Ben Carson; Marco Rubio matches Romney’s share; Ted Cruz more or less hits Santorum’s share but actually hits 20 percent (this is important, as you’ll see shortly); and John Kasich gets Paul’s share. Don’t get caught up in whether Gingrich is actually similar to Trump, or Paul similar to Kasich. The point is that the proportions of the vote for each pairing seem about right. You could argue Cruz will finish higher than Rubio, but for the purposes of this exercise it doesn’t really matter. Let’s also assume that, with an additional person in the race, no candidate gets 50 percent in any single congressional district, a bar Gingrich cleared in five of 14 districts last time.

The Nitty Gritty

Here are the delegate-allocation rules for Georgia’s GOP:

  • 42 of the state’s 76 delegates are divided up by congressional district (two for the winner and one for the runner-up, although a winner who clears 50 percent gets all three);
  • 31 are divided proportionally among those candidates who receive at least 20 percent of the vote (as I referred to earlier);
  • the other three go to the overall statewide winner.

In 2012, Gingrich won 12 of the state’s 14 congressional districts and finished second in the other two. So, with our assumption about no one clearing 50 percent in any district, Trump would get 26 delegates that way. Rubio, following Romney’s lead, would win the other two districts and finish second in eight others to claim 12 delegates; Cruz, filling in for Santorum, would nab the other second-place prizes to get four delegates.

Again using 2012 as our guide, with the aforementioned modifications — especially the one about Cruz hitting the 20 percent threshold — the 31 at-large delegates would be divided as follows: 15 for Trump, nine for Rubio, seven for Cruz. Then give three more to Trump as the overall winner.

The Bottom Line

In this scenario, Trump would end up with 44 of Georgia’s delegates, or 58 percent; Rubio 21, or 28 percent; and Cruz 11, or 15 percent (percentages don’t add up to 100 due to rounding). Pretty good for Trump, right?

That depends on how you look at it. Through the first four states, here are the percentages of delegates won by those three (Kasich and Carson also have delegates, so these percentages don’t add up to 100, either):

  • Trump 66 percent;
  • Cruz 14 percent;
  • Rubio 13 percent.

In other words, Trump’s percentage lead over his closest rival could actually shrink tonight. With Cruz expected to win in Texas and perhaps Arkansas, and with Rubio making a run at winning Minnesota and maybe Virginia, and with Oklahoma looking like it could yield a fairly even three-way split, the delegate race might tighten a good bit. And that’s before we get to the winner-take-all states, amid a potentially smaller field depending on how each campaign assesses its chances Wednesday morning. At that point, anything can still happen.

I don’t know if that 2012 comparison will bear out; that’s why we count the votes. But if it does, it goes to show how the complicated delegate math in these proportional states could keep Trump from breaking away from the pack just yet, fueling hope that he can eventually be stopped.

Reader Comments 0

18 comments
skruorangeclown
skruorangeclown

Georgia cons naturally pick the biggest loser and bigot in the bunch of GOP losers and give Kasich who is the most qualified,a consolation prize.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

Ahem. My "tortured logic" and "wishful thinking" more or less mirror the results in the exit polls: Trump 40, Cruz 23, Rubio 22. That could leave the latter two with nearly half of Georgia's delegates, depending on how the congressional districts shake out. And Trump is tied with Rubio in Virginia and with Kasich in Vermont.


Long way to go, but there's a very good chance Trump's share of the delegates will be smaller Wednesday morning than it was going into today.

mick jaggard
mick jaggard

Hillary could be measuring new drapes for the oval office too. 

bu22
bu22

Got to agree with the consensus.  This is seriously wishful thinking.  Almost as bad as thinking the smart aleck boy in the bubble would have Republicans who respect competence unite behind him.

mick jaggard
mick jaggard

@xxxzzz neither cruz or rubio will unite a shattered party, which will be the result. Trump voters would sooner vote for Hillary or just stay home than support either one of these two. One lies worse than Hillary the other can't show-up for work.

tomkat1111
tomkat1111

Kyle: You need a new career if this is the best you can do.

RafeHollister
RafeHollister

Somewhat tortured logic Kyle.  I think you are just whistling past the graveyard. 


The establishment may have to run a third party independent campaign EGOP against GOP nominee Trump and Hillary.  Boy, talking about suicide.

Bill Ott
Bill Ott

We are voting for Trump 

TicTacs
TicTacs

@Bill Ott I think you picked a winner, for today.  Bet any money ?

Eye wonder
Eye wonder

As far as humor goes, this one's a doozy!

RoyalDawg
RoyalDawg

Kyle- you have become completely transparent, whether you realize it or not. Recently, you have been writing about what you WISH would happen instead of what the tea leaves suggest is GOING to happen.


Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@RoyalDawg "Recently, you have been writing about what you WISH would happen instead of what the tea leaves suggest is GOING to happen."

I obviously disagree. That said, this is why I explain my vote, for transparency's sake. No one can say I'm holding anything back.

Finn-McCool
Finn-McCool

Kyle is clinging to any sign of hope.

FredJohnsson
FredJohnsson

I could see Trump going into the convention with a plurality (say 40% to 45%) of the delegates, but not an outright majority.  That will put the GOP establishment in a real dilemma.   If they end of giving him the nomination, that could taint the whole brand.  But, if they give it to someone else, there will be a lot of mad Trump voters who might refuse to vote for what they would view as an illegitimate replacement.

TicTacs
TicTacs

The GOP MO, when you can't win change the game or cheat.  Go home with the ball if you can't compete. 

Bhorsoft
Bhorsoft

Wishful thinking and using past history to predict future results. Problem is that Trump is being disruptive to the political process in the same way that Amazon was disruptive to retail.  Conventional "wisdom" isn't working for Trump's competitors this time around. It may change if/when Trump is nominated and is in a national election.  My real fear is that Trump will be disruptive enough to beat Hillary.