You cannot beat somebody with nobody

Thanks to the guest author formerly known as fladem for another well-informed look at the Republican delegate race. This piece follows up on his analysis from shortly after the Wisconsin primary. -promoted by desmoinesdem

There is an old line in politics: “You can’t beat somebody with nobody”.

Ted Cruz and John Kasich seemed determined to prove this adage true.

On April 5th Ted Cruz won Wisconsin decisively. When I wrote a piece here on April 7th, there seemed good reasons to think Trump could be stopped. I outlined some of them. Keeping Trump under 50 (as seemed possible then) in New York would deny him 27 delegates. Winning or coming close to Trump in Pennsylvania could deny him 25-35 more, and given the fact that 54 delegates in that state are not bound to any candidate, it was not impossible to see a majority of delegates siding against Trump.

But I could not foresee just how hapless and incompetent the Kasich and Cruz campaigns would be. In fact there are precincts in New York where Cruz struggled to beat Ben Carson. Consider the following:

Between April 7th and April 26th the GOP establishment had a chance to make it very difficult for Trump to ever get a majority. The extent of their failure is stunning. I know something about polling history. Donald Trump is one of the most disliked presidential contenders in modern political history. His favorable ratings in the most recent polling are not significantly different from Richard Nixon’s the day before he resigned!

And yet this morning it looks very difficult to stop him. The GOP at this moment resembles nothing so much as a species determined to bring about its own extinction.

It’s not that the math can’t work, as I will show below it can. Trump as of this morning still needs to win 55% of the remaining delegates. But as I said here in March:

“In politics we often talk of the narrative. The narrative is not about delegate math, it is about momentum. It asks who is winning and why. It is unforgiving: you either win or you lose. It is difficult to lose and maintain any semblance of energy in a campaign (something seen in Rubio’s implosion) but it also means no more money for future primaries.”

Stopping Trump isn’t about the math at this point. It is about either Cruz or Kasich showing that they can actually beat Trump. This is why Indiana has become so important. It is not that the 57 delegates will be dispositive – it is showing that Trump can be beaten.
Perhaps the best set of numbers that show how badly Trump has beaten the GOP field is this table:

The problem, as this table shows, is there are no more caucuses. What is astonishing is how badly Trump has beaten the field in primaries. If you take out Texas and Ohio, Trump has destroyed the rest of the field in primaries. One can easily create scenarios that show Trump not getting a majority, but they all depend on winning.

And yet, despite all of this, the chances of stopping Trump on paper are still better than people think. Two of the next three states, Indiana and Nebraska, are close in demographics and geography to states Cruz has already won. Indiana is similar to Wisconsin (which Cruz won) and Missouri (which he barely lost). Nebraska borders Kansas (which Cruz won) and is similar in some ways to Oklahoma (which Cruz won).

If Cruz can win the next two primaries, then it will be impossible for Trump to wrap up the nomination before June 6th. But even if this happens, stopping Trump seems problematic. It seems difficult to imagine Trump losing New Jersey (51 delegates). More importantly, Trumps has leads of 18 and 26 points in the most recent California polling (172 delegates).

Here are updated scenarios:

I have run the math over and over, and while it is possible to hold Trump under 1237 without winning California, he will be so close that as a practical matter I believe it will be impossible to deny him the nomination.

And yet is there a worse candidate for California than Ted Cruz?

The stop-Trump forces need Trump to make a mistake that will actually matter. They need to find a strategy that actually appeals to the rank and file. If they do, they can stop Trump.

But as I began, you can’t beat somebody with nobody.

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