I hear every day how Trump supporters will be very upset (to put it mildly) if, in their words, their candidate is “robbed” of the nomination. They claim a Trump loss will mean the “disenfranchisement” of his supporters should he only have a plurality of the delegates going into the convention, and not leave with the nomination. The fact of the matter is that the nomination of a presidential candidate for either of the two major parties is not a result of direct democracy, and even if it was, elections are not won by pluralities. Elections are won by majorities.
At this time, Trump has received about 37% of the votes cast in the Republican primaries so far, and for this he has gotten about 47% of the delegates. To put it another way, the rules by which delegates are awarded has hurt Cruz and Rubio and helped Trump. However, you don’t hear Cruz or Rubio whining about how the system is screwing them, or threatening riots if they don’t get their fair share of delegates. The other candidates understand the rules and have employed a strategy based on those rules.
Presidential nominations are governed by the rules of the party conventions. According to the rules of the Republican National Convention (as passed by the body of the 2012 Convention), in order to secure the nomination a candidate must have the votes of a majority of the delegates. This year that number is 1,237 votes. On the first ballot, the delegates are bound by their state party rules to vote a certain way. For instance, Texas has 155 delegates. One hundred four (104) of those are committed to Ted Cruz, 48 to Donald Trump, and 3 to Marco Rubio. So on the first ballot, the delegates from Texas will be obligated to vote that way. If after the first ballot, there is a candidate with a clear majority of the votes, this person will be crowned as the party’s nominee. If not, there will be further ballots until one candidate can claim a majority of the delegates.
So Mr. Trump’s first option is to try to obtain the 1237 delegates required for a majority. In order to do this, he will have to draw 59% of the remaining delegates. While this is possible, it will not be easy and, in my opinion, will require a change in strategy on the part of Mr. Trump. The people who are opposed to him within the Republican Party (including myself) have serious concerns about his temperament, his understanding of the Constitution and its limits on Presidential authority, and his commitment to conservative principles. And to be quite honest, veiled threats of riots if he does not receive the nomination hurt rather than help his cause in winning over these voters. If he is to win over voters who have questions about him and live in states that have not had their primaries yet, he must address their concerns. I am not sure he is temperamentally capable of doing so. His tendency so far seems to be to attack and insult those who disagree with him, calling them stupid losers. This does not help with the temperament argument cited above.
If he wants to prevent a floor fight, he will need to acknowledge the concerns that many have regarding his fitness to be the Republican nominee for President of the United States. He cannot address or alleviate those concerns without first acknowledging them and accepting some degree of responsibility for the existence of those concerns. The problem here is that one of the things his supporters love about him is that being Trump means never having to say you’re sorry. So if he apologizes for saying he’d like to punch demonstrators in the nose or the multitude of insults he has lobbed at Megyn Kelly, Mexicans, or Muslims, he may lose some of the support of the people who love him because he is so unapologetic. From my perspective, he is in a Catch-22, and may very well have a difficult time reaching 1237.
The other option is to win on the convention floor after the first ballot. This will likely be even more difficult than winning it in the remaining primaries. The concerns about temperament, understanding of the Constitution, and commitment to Republican principles will be even more of an issue for the delegates than for the majority of primary voters. The delegates are, for the most part, very politically active and have been so for a long time. That is why they are sent by their peers to the National Convention. Each Congressional District is allowed 3 delegates plus some number of at large delegates from each State. In Texas at least, these delegates have to be nominated and elected by the other delegates from their Congressional District usually by giving them a resume of political activism.
Since a large number of Trump supporters are recent activists, they will not have much of a resume and will have a difficult time convincing the other delegates at the state conventions to send them to the National Convention. However there are no rules that say a Trump delegate slot MUST be filled by a Trump supporter. Another thing to consider is that these delegates want to win in November. Right now, nearly every poll has Trump losing to Clinton by double digits. If that is still the situation come July, the National delegates will be far more likely to select someone who polls better against her.
But in order to secure the nomination Trump (or anyone else) needs that majority of the delegates. Requiring a majority is not disenfranchising anyone. The use of multiple ballots to select the candidate is analogous to a situation in which there are three or more candidates for an office that is directly elected. If none of the candidates can garner a clear majority, there is a runoff. During the time period between the regular election date and the runoff election date, the two candidates who had the largest number of votes in the general election will try to get people who did not vote for them the first time to change their votes. If the first ballot does not result in a clear winner, the candidates and their surrogates will begin trying to convince the delegates that previously voted for other candidates that they (or their candidate) is the best choice.
Threatening riots and insulting the other candidates and their supporters is not an advisable strategy. In the case of a contested convention, Trump and his supporters will have to convince the delegates that he has the temperament to be President, understands the Constitutional powers and limits on the powers of the President, is committed to Republican ideology, and that he can beat Hillary in November. If he does not win the majority of the delegates going into the convention and is unable to convince a majority of the delegates at the convention of these four things, they will choose another candidate who they do believe meets these criteria. This does not mean that anyone has been disenfranchised. It means that the delegates did the job they were sent to Cleveland to do. So if you are a Trump supporter, rather than whine and threaten riots, convince me and all the other anti-Trump Republicans that he will be a good general election candidate and a good, conservative President.
Watch RNC Committeewoman Toni Anne Dashiell explain the delegate process for National Convention: