Sunday, August 30, 2015

Could Donald Trump win the Republican presidential nomination

Sandy Levinson

The quick and dirty answer to the question is yes.  And the reason has to do with the formal rules adopted by the Republican Party with regard to the allocation of delegates to the 2016 Convention, to be held in Cleveland in June.  Four states are allowed to have their primaries in February--Iowa, South Carolina, New Hampshire, and Nevada--and then the scramble begins.  A whole bunch of states will have their primaries before March 15.  AND THE RULES REQUIRE THAT ALL OF THESE STATES OPERATE ON THE BASIS OF PROPORTIONAL REPRESENTATION (as is true for the first four states).  Then things get interesting, for it is up to the states themselves to decide whether delegates will be allocated by proportional representation or winner take all.  The current calendar for the Republican primaries indicates that the following states will be holding their primaries after March 15:  Arizona, Utah, Wisconsin, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Indiana, Nebraska, West Virginia, Oregon, California, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, South Dakota, and DC.  Apparently dates are not yet firmed up for New York, North Dakota, Utah, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Maine, Washington, and Wyoming.  Game theory suggests that there will be advantages to coming late precisely because it looks almost certain that there will be at least five or six candidates still duking it out by the Spring.  (I was on a program several weeks ago with the leader of the Travis County Republican Party, who predicted that there will be at least 5 or 6 candidates in the Texas primary on Super Tuesday, March 1.  It seems altogether likely that Trump will have more delegates on March 15 than any other single candidate, even if, as I am assuming, he has, say, "only" 30% of the total.  But if six or seven others are dividing up the remaining 70%, that obviously means that none of the others is likely to be all that close to Trump.

 More to the point, it seems highly unlikely that there will be any selfless falling on the sword by the others who decide that the way to stop Trump is to agree on the most plausible alternative, who, I must say, seems to be John Kasich.  But that requires, obviously, Jeb! to realize that his campaign is a disaster and that he is not going to be 45.  There are no conceivable circumstances under which Ted Cruz will join a top Trump movement in favor of a more electable candidate since Cruz really cares far more about 2020--and picking up the pieces of a totally destroyed GOP--than about helping Kasich or anyone else other than Ted Cruz who not only might win but presumptively would mean that Cruz has to wait until 2024 to run.  One can offer similar, though somewhat more generous analyses, of, say, Rand Paul. 

So it becomes crucial whether states chose to run proportional representation or winner-take-all votes.  The allocation of delegates can be found here.  The key to winner-take-all, obviously but crucially, is that all that Trump has to do is come in first, and it doesn't matter what his actual percentage is.  If he gets 30% of the vote in California, which traditionally does winner-take-all and has he gets 100% of the 172 delegates, unless the three "party leaders" are entitled to vote independently.  New York could give 95 delegates to their "favorite son" (assuming they reject Pataki!), while Pennsylvania could also contribute another 71 delegates. 

I am assuming that Trump could not possibly win a two-candidate race within the Republican Party, and perhaps he couldn't even prevail in a three-candidate showdown.  But, at least right now, it seems far more likely to be seven or eight (Jeb!, Kasich, Walker, Paul, Carson (!), Cruz,Rubio,  perhaps even Fiorina), and Trump seems to be a good bet to come in first unless one of the others unpredictably catches fire.  So under this scenario, he arrives in Cleveland with a hefty lead over the second-place candidate.  To be sure, Trump can easily be stopped, if but only if, a great spirit of self-sacrifice manifests itself. 

So the real question at the next debate should not be whether Trump will pledge to support the nominee, but, instead, whether each and every one of the others will promise, on national TV, that they will support Trump.  Enquiring minds want to know.

Once again, we should realize that FORMAL RULES MATTER.  There are no fancy theories of constitutional interpretation to be addressed.  There may be play in the joints inasmuch as states "may" (rather than "shall") adopt winner-take-all after March 15.  Should California, e.g., change its historic practice of winner-take-all, Trump will certainly be entitled to view this as an unfriendly measure and, more to the point, it will make far more likely what all of us political junkies are praying for, which is a "genuine" convention where it will take a number of ballots to decide who the candidate is.

I am not at all interested in sparking a debate about whether Donald Trump is qualified to be President.  He isn't (but, then, neither are most of the Republican candidates).  And, at this time, I'm not interested in debates about whether he would in fact be a viable candidate against Hillary Clinton.  (I doubt it, but who really knows?)  What I am interested in is whether anyone strongly objects to the empirics of this analysis. 


Prof. Levinson might be right. But his main premise -- that many of the Republican candidates will stay in the race regardless of the consequences for the party -- is yet to be tested. I lean in the other direction. I think that when the time comes a combination of carrots (vice-presidential nominations, cabinet seats, etc.) and sticks (ostracism by the party hierarchy, donors convinced to spend elsewhere) will bring all but a couple of the others into line behind either Bush or Kasich. Of the various carrots and sticks, the most potent is money. The candidates may not be persuadable but their funders probably are. My own fearless prediction is that after the middle of March there will be four candidates with meaningful financing left: Trump, either Bush or Kasich, either Cruz or Walker, and Paul.

I agree with Prof. Levinson that Kasich is a stronger candidate than his current poll numbers suggest.

Trump really doesn't like Jeb, or Hispanics...

I would think that the states would for that reason, including given the pressures stated in the first comment, use proportional representation. It does show the importance of the voting format used but the flexibility also shows a desire to work the situation. With multiple candidates with some staying power, a winner take all policy would be foolhardy given the "winner" would have so few votes.

On August 31, I still really don't know what Trump will be doing early next year.

The GOP establishment generally likes winner take all primaries so the candidate they back can win all the delegates with plurality votes. However, IF voters actually cast ballots for Trump (as opposed to simply expressing their deep dissatisfaction with the political ruling class by telling pollsters they support him), but not for Bush, then I suspect that the establishment Elephants will suddenly become big fans of proportional distribution of delegates to keep Trump from running away with the nomination.

Proportional distribution of delegates would open the doors to a well organized Tea Party alternative with staying power.

Sandy, do not be so quick to dismiss Ted Cruz. The man has raised over $50 million dollars by convincing many of the conservative/libertarian money men that he is the only one who will actually do what he says and is the only candidate not named Bush who is assembling a national organization.

Cruz is also the only candidate refusing to wrestle in the mud with Trump because he plans to grab anti-establishment Trump voters when the Donald finally implodes.

I am curious who the establishment Elephants will gather behind when Bush crashes and burns. It will not be Cruz.

In my first comment I forgot to add that, in spite my disagreement with Prof. Levinson's predictions, I agree completely with his emphasis on the conceptual point that the rules matter -- a lot.


I appreciate all of the comments except Bartbuster.

As to Mr. DePalma's point, I will stick to my own constraint and not get into debates about the merits of Texas's junior senator; not surprisingly, we disagree. The analytic question, though, is whether the Koch brothers, realizing that their investment in Walker will not pay a good return, will switch to Cruz or instead, say, Rubio, who I think many people (rightly or wrongly) find a far more tolerable personality than Cruz (and, I have no doubt, quite malleable in terms of shaping his views to fit the Koch's requirements). I notice with interest that Rubio doesn't appear of Mr. Richards' list of likely March candidates. I wonder....
Or, because he does include Paul, is he suggesting that the Kochs will have the courage of their convictions and pump up Rand Paul's faltering campaign? Cruz is no "libertarian," nor is it likely that he will criticize the bloated military budget or call for a more restrained role of the US in the world, as Paul has, at least in the past.

I take cold comfort in the fact that so far no one has strongly disagreed with the basic analysis.


I have not discussed the merits of Mr. Cruz or his competitors. I am talking about dollars and cents.

The Koch brothers are just two among hundreds of libertarian/conservative major donors and those donors hardly limit themselves to one candidate. They hedge their bets and contribute to multiple acceptable candidates.

Cruz is winning the super-PAC race for those dollars, raising as much as Rubio and Walker combined. In fact, the Cruz super-Pac is out-raising the Clinton super-Pac and trails only Bush, who has a near monopoly on GOP establishment money.


I should do the research, but I'm just to lazy. How often in the past has there been more than 3 candidates left after Super Tuesday?

I included Paul in my list of survivors because he represents a libertarian constituency that none of the others appeal to, and because (as a result) he will continue to have at least some money. Maybe I should have said, "Cruz or Walker or Rubio" rather than "Cruz or Walker". But I'll stick with the idea that there will be four still raising useful amounts of money (from others or their own fortunes) after Super Tuesday. They will be Trump, a libertarian (Paul), one of the "moderates" (in relative terms only), and one of the arch-conservatives.

In " ... talking about dollars and cents," why ignore the cash-comfortable leader Jeb! rather than stressing Cruz mentioned numerous times - 6 - in two comments, the first of which concludes with " ... when Bush crashes and burns." Sounds like a leaning towards Cruz to me, especially with the background of comments on prior threads at this Blog. Not very subtle, but a consistent modus operandi.

In Sandy's closing paragraph, he seeks self-moderation of comments, including this:

"I am not at all interested in sparking a debate about whether Donald Trump is qualified to be President. He isn't (but, then, neither are most of the Republican candidates)."

Sandy's preceding post got way off topic (including by me) in the comments thread. One of my comments there included this:

"Our own 'rhoidless one's view of the GOP 'Sweet 16 + 1':

'The most talented slate of candidates offered by either party in a generation.'"

which contrasts with Sandy's view expressed in the current post.

I plan to honor Sandy's goal of self-moderation, although I do plan to follow the thread though I am not a political junkie.

Meantime, I plan to read Jack Balkin's latest draft article, keeping in mind balancing it with Steve Griffin's postings on the new originalism and living constitutionalism. Jack credits Sandy for comments on earlier drafts. I would hope that at some point we could get Sandy's views on the subject of Jack's draft article.



The GOP is generally a next in line party where, over the past few cycles, a single establishment candidate wins with pluralities while the majority libertarian/conservative base is divided between multiple candidates. The twist in this election cycle is that Donald Trump and Ben Carson are leading in the polls, while Bush is well back in the pack.

I expect both Trump and Carson to implode - the former because he has enormous negatives and will finally say something that goes over the line even for his pissed off supporters and the latter because of his inexperience and lack of organization. This would open up the GOP race to the base in a way we have not seen in my middle aged lifetime.

Thus, I am looking for candidates with national organization and money who can play a long game. Right now that is Bush and Cruz. Bush does not appeal to the base or apparently not much to even the establishment voters. Two Bushes was enough. Cruz is currently the best positioned to exploit that opening.

Of course, if one of the other candidates takes off, the money can shift, although they are behind the eight ball setting up organization.

As a point of disclosure, I am looking at Walker, Rubio and Cruz and am not close to making up my mind.

So I take our own MRO's:

"As a point of disclosure, I am looking at Walker, Rubio and Cruz and am not close to making up my mind."

as an admission that he is not self-moderating. It is said that "A mind is a terrible thing to waste," but not in the case of our own MRO.

Now back to Jack.

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I plan to honor Sandy's goal of self-moderation, although I do plan to follow the thread though I am not a political junkie.
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