Trump falls short of 1,237 in June, but gets to the majority before the convention in July.
There is a strong enough norm that the winner of the popular vote and the leader in delegates should be the nominee that a clear Trump lead after the primaries and caucuses end—say, over 1,100 delegates, to Cruz’s 900 or less—will bring a strong push at the grass roots to accept his victory and avoid the contested convention in Cleveland and the bloody mess that would accompany it. Indeed, 56 percent of Republicans in the Wisconsin exit poll—the state where Trump was thumped—said the leader in delegates should get the nomination. So the hostility of the party establishment aside, it is entirely possible that enough unpledged delegates or delegates pledged to others but released by defunct candidates would go to Trump to validate the norm that the popular leader should prevail. Which won’t reduce the numbers of those appalled and angry.
Trump falls short and Cruz trails—but Cruz wins on the second ballot.
This is a scenario raised by Josh Putnam, a political scientist whose website on delegate selection rules, Frontloading.blogspot.com, is the go-to site for the arcane but important subject. The actual selection of delegates on the Republican side is detached from the primary and caucus results (Democrats, by the way, are different.) And Cruz has been far more clever, organized, and adept than Trump at figuring out how the process works, and getting delegates who will lean toward or be loyal to him. Since delegates are pledged only on the first ballot, and in many states, Trump’s pledged delegates will not be Trump people, it could well be that enough gravitate to Cruz to give him an early victory. And in this case, Cruz would be abetted by the establishment figures like Lindsey Graham and Jeb Bush who would rather go down with a genuine conservative than get saddled with Trump’s erratic positions, ignorance about fundamental public policy, and isolationist and protectionist bent. The genuine Trump supporters would no doubt go ballistic—and that could make the convention floor itself a battle zone—but it is a plausible scenario.
Trump and Cruz form an alliance against the chicanery and evil of an establishment bent on choosing someone else.
So imagine that Trump ends up with 1,100 delegates in June, and Cruz follows with 900—meaning the two of them have between them 2,000 of the 2,473 delegates, or 80 percent. And further imagine that in the convention rules committee meeting before Cleveland, party leaders stack the deck and propose a set of rules that allow other candidates to be put in nomination and that make it more difficult for either of the leading candidates to win the nomination, so that they can pave the way for Paul Ryan or John Kasich or another figure more palatable to the congressional, state, and party leaders. Despite the growing poison between the two men, one can imagine them joining forces to stick it to an establishment they both despise, one that would be perfectly happy going to a candidate who did not run in a single primary or bloody himself on any of the battlefields. A Trump/Cruz alliance, including possible a Trump/Cruz ticket, would easily prevail. Sounds crazy, no? What has not been crazy this year?