Businessman Donald Trump's resounding victory in Arizona's winner-take-all primary on March 22 dealt a setback to his opponents' hopes of denying him the 1,237 delegates needed to secure the Republican presidential nod. But his shellacking in neighboring Utah that same day, where Ted Cruz nabbed all 40 delegates, underscored that his path to a delegate majority will be far from seamless.
To emerge victorious before the July convention in Cleveland, Trump must win a little more than half the remaining delegates up for grabs, compared with the more than 75% that Cruz needs to win, according to the Washington Post.
That math virtually guarantees that Trump will arrive in the Buckeye State with at least a healthy plurality of delegates — but if his opponents can keep him under 1,237, that could spell mayhem. Delegates are pledged to their candidates on the first ballot but are unbound after that.
There are a number of conceivable scenarios if the race makes it to a second ballot. Through wheeling and dealing, Trump could still parlay his plurality into victory. Or a party skeptical of his general election chances may opt to bite the bullet and deny him the nomination — thereby risking the wrath of Trump's impassioned supporters.
So, what are the odds Trump falls short? Mic asked five experts for their assessments of the state of the race. Here's what they had to say.
Darrell West, Vice President and Director of Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution
"Denying him the nomination when he is very close would be grounds for bolting the party."
The odds are low that Trump does not get the nomination. He has a huge delegate lead and will add to his margin over the next couple of months. He will arrive at the convention either with the number he needs for the nomination or perhaps a bit short. At that point, the party will not be able to stop him because he will threaten to run as an independent if he does not get the nomination.
When he pledged to support the GOP candidate, he noted that his support was contingent on the party treating him fairly. [Editor's note: On Tuesday night, Trump reversed and would not pledge his support to the eventual Republican nominee.] Denying him the nomination when he is very close would be grounds for bolting the party should he not win the Republican nomination. Faced with this situation, the party will rally around him even while some elements will continue to protest his suitability for executive office.
Cheri Jacobus, Republican Strategist
"What he is attempting to do is bully the RNC into making an exception just for him."
As someone so perfectly explained it on social media, "more than" does not equal "majority."
Seven friends vote on where to eat. Three vote for A, two vote for B and two vote for C. B people hate A. C's like B over A. A vs. B — who wins?
With Cruz winning all 40 Utah delegates and the map is looking favorable for him, the odds are increasing that Trump arrives in Cleveland shy of the 1,237 required to secure the nomination. While he is whining, threatening and even (shock) misrepresenting the facts, what he is attempting to do is bully the RNC [Republican National Committee] into making an exception just for him.
He has maligned the Republican Party and all we stand for, has shown himself to be uncouth, dishonest, uninformed and unfit for office in so many ways that it is almost comical he is now claiming he can "unify" the party. Polls show he is unelectable. The majority of Republicans don't want him. A significant portion of Republicans as well as most voters find him repugnant.
The RNC delegates may very well (and wisely) decide that it's better to take a momentary hit from angry Trump supporters — many who are one-time voters and will only vote for Trump — now than to allow Trump to destroy the party long-term. Playing the long game may win out.
Mary Anne Marsh, Democratic Strategist
"Securing uncommitted delegates is the 'Art of the Deal' on steroids."
Trump controls his destiny by winning the 1,237 delegates necessary to secure the nomination. By my calculation he could reach 1,236 by May 24 and could secure the nomination easily on June 7. So it should be a moot point.
If Trump somehow fails to secure the nomination during the primary season, then his reputation as a dealmaker will be tested in the highest stakes poker game Trump has ever played. Securing uncommitted delegates is the Art of the Deal on steroids. Trump will have to use every weapon in his arsenal to persuade and secure enough delegates to vote for him on the first ballot and stay with him on any remaining ballots.
When it comes to delegates at conventions, the difference between winning and losing is not only the first ballot commitments but the second, third and more ballot commitments. Persuading someone to be their second choice if the ballots go beyond the first round is just as important as securing and retaining the first ballot commitments. That is a test unlike any other Trump has faced.
Steve Schale, Democratic Strategist
"The fact that over 60% of Republican voters are embarrassed by their primary should give them pause."
The GOP is in a horrible place. Odds are that Trump will end up a few delegates short of the nomination, leaving them with the choice to either rip the nomination away from Trump, and risk that his people revolt, or give him the nomination, and the GOP becomes truly the party of Trump. Both are terrible options.
While I am sure my advice means nothing to the GOP, regardless of which direction they go, the fact that over 60% of Republican voters are embarrassed by their primary should give them pause, and hopefully for them — and for America — they will work to tone down the loud voices on their fringe, which have helped lay the foundation for the rise of Trump.
Geoffrey Skelley, University of Virginia Center for Politics
"If he has a large plurality, stopping Trump could cause the party to implode."
At this point, it seems more likely than not that Trump will be the Republican nominee. I recently gamed out the rest of the calendar, and with fairly reasonable assumptions about Trump's performance level, I found that it's very plausible for him to reach the 1,237-delegate mark on June 7, the final election day on the GOP calendar.
Wisconsin is a crucial state in these calculations; if Trump doesn't win statewide there, it's more likely that he will fall short of an outright delegate majority. Still, even if he doesn't manage to win a majority, he's likely to be close enough that it might be riskier for party leaders to stop him than to just accept his nomination as fait accompli. If Trump is a bit short of the 1,237 mark, there will be 40 days between the last primaries and the start of the Republican National Convention, which could provide time to hammer out a deal between Trump and GOP national and state-level leaders.
No other candidate is likely to be close to Trump in the delegate count, making it difficult to turn to Cruz or, particularly, Kasich as an alternative that would be acceptable to GOP voters. If he has a large plurality, stopping Trump could cause the party to implode. Trump's supporters would be furious, and he will have undoubtedly won a plurality of the total primary and caucus vote. If he is the nominee, Trump would start the general election campaign as an underdog, and it's possible that a third-party Republican might run, but it may be that the GOP stands a better chance of beating Clinton in November with Trump than without him, given the potential consequences of blocking him.