Trump Has It
Donald Trump's spot on the general ticket against Hillary Clinton is almost 100% certain. At this point, there are few situations that could upend Trump's road to winning the GOP nomination. Many Republican voters appreciate his views, his straight talk and his fearless fight against the Bush-era establishmentarians, but that “many” is only between 25% and 35% of registered Republicans. Even though a majority of Republican voters haven't coalesced around Trump, there is only a very small window of opportunity to defeat him. A Trump win only becomes more realistic because of the ongoing rift between Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz.
This will be published on the exact day of Super Tuesday, so the results aren't factored here, but if Trump wins only 1/3 of the delegates on Super Tuesday, he could go on to lose the nomination at convention. As candidates continue to drop out, the delegates they've won will be distributed in unpredictable ways that could change the entire end result. It's unlikely that much will happen that could derail Trump's win – besides a backroom deal between GOP establishmentarians – but the opportunities are still there.
The only reason Trump has held a lead is because of the high number of candidates in the field. Trump has never won a primary or caucus with a 51% majority like Hillary Clinton in the small Democratic field. As the Republican field slims down, the numbers may stack higher against Trump going into the final 26 states after Super Tuesday, but by the time half of the 50 states have made their choice, it will be too late to stop Trump.
I was asked by Poletical's editor if I thought Trump could still lose. My answer is no, so I've been asked to crunch some percentages and explain to a Canadian audience how it's almost impossible now for Trump to lose the Republican nomination. To start, let's take a look at the polling averages for the candidates that remain before Super Tuesday.
Here is the Real Clear Politics polling average for the GOP national numbers:
Trump 34%, Cruz 21%, Rubio 16%, Kasich 9%, Carson 7%, Bush 5%
The key to any potential loss for Trump is in the establishment numbers (establishment candidates). Ted Cruz and Ben Carson are right at the top of the anti-establishment field with Donald Trump. Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio and John Kasich make up the solid establishment vote. The caveat here is that the anti-establishment candidates are not solidly representative of anti-establishment GOP voters. Both Cruz and Trump have shown to hold small shares of the establishment support as well.
As these remaining candidates drop out, it can be assumed that their percentages will move to the next remaining candidate with the most similarities. This means it is unlikely that Jeb Bush's 5% will go to Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, or Ben Carson. That doesn't, however, mean that some of his supporters wouldn't shift to Cruz. The end of Bush's campaign will likely send his support to the most electable GOP candidate that isn't Donald Trump. This could be either Rubio or Kasich. Hypothetically, we will equally divide Bush's support between Kasich and Rubio, giving each candidate a 2.5% boost.
After the Bush campaign, we could see new national numbers that look like this:
Trump 34%, Cruz 21%, Rubio 19% (+3), Kasich 12% (+3), Carson 7%
As you can see, Bush's support doesn't impact the national numbers very much. It's also important to note that these are only national numbers. The ground numbers in each individual state could differ significantly and could change the final delegate count by convention. We are still going to look only at national numbers because they still give us a good, accurate indication of who will win.
The next candidate most likely to withdraw is Ben Carson. Due to Ben Carson's poor likelihood of winning the nomination, his campaign is less likely to receive any positive gains from other candidates. His support is most likely to shift to Trump and Cruz. We have to also keep in mind that who these candidates choose to endorse could significantly change how their support is distributed. In this case, we'll assume Carson chooses not to endorse anyone and we'll equally distribute his support between Trump and Cruz.
After Carson, the national numbers could look like this:
Trump 38% (+4), Cruz 27% (+6), Rubio 19%, Kasich 12%
Even after this, Trump holds a significant lead. By the end of Super Tuesday, we should assume that the GOP race will become a three-way horse race. By the end of March, it's likely that Kasich will have dropped out. His numbers would more likely go to Marco Rubio with a large majority. To be fair, we'll give 6% of Kasich's support to Rubio and divide the remaining 3% between Trump and Cruz.
After Kasich, the new numbers might look like this:
Trump 40% (+2), Cruz 29%(+2), Rubio 25% (+6)
By the time the GOP race comes down to Trump, Cruz and Rubio, I imagine that Cruz and Trump will fight for each other's support harder than we've seen. Rubio will work to chip away at Cruz's support while trying to ignore Trump.
This scenario creates a terrible situation for both Cruz and Rubio, because their support splits and allows Trump to win the remaining delegates. Without factoring in delegates and the likelihood of a brokered convention, the national percentages favor Trump but leave Marco Rubio as the wild card. In terms of delegates, there's no guarantee that Trump will win all of the delegates after Super Tuesday. He could win only 1/3, which would change the dynamic of the entire race and open the door to a delegate defeat for Trump. The likelihood of this scenario depends on the strength of Marco Rubio.
The Cruz/Rubio Split and The Convention
If all three candidates hold out until convention, Trump could still lose at convention despite holding a national lead in delegates. If Trump falls just short of the required majority of 1237 delegates, a fight will ensue at convention. There is no way to tell what kind of deal Ted Cruz would broker with Marco Rubio if the two make it to convention. There is no way to tell that Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio would even choose to endorse one another at all, before or during convention. In order for Cruz or Rubio to have any power in the first place, they'll both need to have enough delegates going into convention.
If neither Rubio or Cruz win a number of delegates that combine to total more than Trump, there will be no battle at convention. If Trump wins 1237 delegates, there won't be a brokered convention.
In order to beat Trump with a guarantee, Cruz or Rubio would have to drop out immediately after Super Tuesday and find a way to consolidate the anti-Trump vote. Even then, there is no telling where either candidate's support would go. Ted Cruz supporters could flock to Trump if he drops out, and even a good margin of Marco Rubio supporters could shift to Trump. This, of course, doesn't factor in the effects of any future endorsements.
If we were to assume that 100% of Rubio's supporters would shift to Cruz, only then would Cruz be able to beat Donald Trump. In such a case, the national numbers would look something like this:
Cruz 54%, Trump 40%
Depending on the timing and the number of delegates remaining, even 54% might not win Cruz enough delegates in time for convention after Super Tuesday.
If Cruz drops out and we assume 100% of his support goes to Rubio, the national numbers could be 54% in favor of Marco Rubio. However, it is less likely for 100% of Ted Cruz supporters to shift to Marco Rubio, since Ted Cruz is considered to be the other anti-establishment candidate.
Trump For The Win
By November, Americans will see a Clinton versus Trump election. The likelihood of this outcome is almost 100%. Trump will likely lock up the GOP nomination by April. In order to lock up the nomination, he will need that unbeatable majority of delegates. The likelihood of Donald Trump winning that unbeatable number of delegates, as of March 1st, is 80%.
Without a last ditch effort among Republican establishmentarians to coalesce around a Rubio or Cruz, the chances of Trump winning the nomination won't change. The unpredictable nature of American politics could throw us a curve ball, but that curve ball would have to come immediately before or after Super Tuesday.