What Is Trump's Real Magic Number?

[ Posted Tuesday, April 19th, 2016 – 16:35 UTC ]

I'm going to make this short today, since once the primary results start coming in from New York, I'm going to be too preoccupied to write coherently. I'm really just tossing this subject out for discussion, if truth be told, because it may become a lot more important once the New York results are in.

What is Donald Trump's real threshold for gaining the Republican nomination on the first vote at the convention? We've all (well, the wonkier among us, to be accurate) had the number 1,237 burned into our brains from all the punditry obsession with the subject (indeed, I didn't even feel the necessity of fact-checking that number, because it has become so prevalent). But because we're so deep into the minutiae of Republican nomination practices, there's an open secret that few have yet noticed: Republicans also have "unbound" delegates at their convention. They aren't "super" (like the Democrats), since nobody gets one of these seats just for being a current member of Congress, but they are just as free to select whichever candidate they feel like. I've seen numbers from the low 100s up to about 200 for how many of these there are (again, too lazy to fact-check that one), meaning they are an extra reserve of possible votes that could be drawn upon if a candidate is close enough to the outright majority of 1,237.

Let's say, for the sake of argument, that Trump wins 1,215 pledged delegates, throughout the remainder of the primary calendar. If he's 22 votes short of the nomination, it won't be impossible for him to round up these votes from the unbound pool. Trump is currently deploying a strategy (well-known to sports fans) of "working the refs." He is complaining about the "rigged" system of allocating delegates, which is an arcane construction that is indeed almost impossible for a regular person to comprehend. Trump has been making inroads with this argument, not with the Republican National Committee (Reince Priebus is fighting back hard against Trump's contentions), but rather with average Republican voters. Polling indicates that a growing majority of Republican voters agree that "the candidate with the most delegates should get the nomination." Working the refs helps with future calls, to stretch the sports metaphor a bit. If the voters (and, more importantly, the convention delegates) overwhelmingly believe this by the time the convention starts, it's going to be that much harder for the party to "steal" the nomination away from Trump.

How close Trump gets to 1,237 will be important, though. Of course, he still does have a path to winning outright with only pledged delegates, but if he does so it'll be by a very thin margin (which is why the whole "open convention" subject has been such a big one in the punditocracy). But if Trump winds up with only (say) 990 delegates -- leaving him 247 short -- then it'd be a lot easier for someone else to make a viable bid for the nomination. Once Trump gets more than 1,000 delegates, the argument becomes harder to make. And at some point, it becomes almost impossible to politically deny Trump the nomination.

So what would Trump's new (lower) magic threshold be? I've heard a few discussions about this in the past few days, with estimates ranging from 1,100 up to "just a few votes short." So what does everyone think? How many pledged delegates would constitute an irrefutable argument that Trump should be the party's nominee? I'll start the bidding at 1,138. This would leave Trump with fewer than 100 votes to corral before the convention. I think the psychological aspect of being short by only double (rather than triple) digits would mean that Trump could easily convince everyone -- the voters, the pundits, and the convention delegates -- that the nomination should rightfully be his. I think he could still make the argument if he's below 1,138, but I think it would become more than just convincing at that point.

As this becomes a hotter topic (again, after tonight's New York results are in), I promise I'll do my homework and seek out the official number of unpledged Republican delegates. But for now, what do you think Trump's magic number will actually be?

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


26 Comments on “What Is Trump's Real Magic Number?”

  1. [1] 
    Speak2 wrote:

    I agree, CW.

    In my opinion, though, the number isn't the question. The actual question is how close does Cruz have to get to deny him the nomination. If Cruz isn't within 100 delegates, given the electorate's opinions, then denying Trump the nomination becomes a much nastier political football. That's where I put the two-digit vs three-digit question.

  2. [2] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    Speak2 -

    Interesting take. Cruz lags by about 200 right now, doesn't he? That's about to be almost 300 after tonight...

    But that is another good way to look at it, I have to admit.


  3. [3] 
    Paula wrote:

    [1] Yep. It's as much a matter of how close anyone else is as what Trump's total is. Although, if he had less than 1000 I think its easier to argue he just doesn't have enough across-the-board appeal. But over 1000 and it changes. Kind of like the difference between $19.00 and $20.00.

  4. [4] 
    Paula wrote:

    Today's anecdote: white man -- looked like Popeye, but with a buzz cut. Short, muscular, blonde, square chin, wearing tank top, arms covered in tattoos. Age: 55? Working on a neighborhood house.

    What do you think about the season to date? He was happy to be asked!

    "I think it's ridiculous. I think it's the biggest mess this country's ever seen. And I really do not -- just my personal opinion -- believe there's one person anywhere on that stage that can fix it all. You need a unit. Everybody attack their strong points. It's like if you have, say Sanders, put him on healthcare and education. Donald Trump: put him on turning these finances around. Hillary Clinton: put her on dealing with other foreign countries."

    At that point a car came zooming by so fast this guy pulled me out of the way. After we regrouped, he went on.

    "For instance, Donald Trump. I really believe he could fix things financially but with him we'd be at war with everyone from Barberton (a small Ohio city) to Korea!"

    We laughed then I moved on.

  5. [5] 
    Paula wrote:

    [3] I meant $19.99 versus $20.00

  6. [6] 
    Speak2 wrote:

    Hey CW:

    Today's post came up mid-commenting, so I was hoping to move to today.

    I do really hope you're right about the end game for Sanders should he come up short.

    Sanders campaign is in a strange boat. They entered b/c there was no left challenge to move the "Overton window." No one at the time thought it would be a real challenge. I strongly doubt that at the time Sanders expected the race to be where it is at present.

    I do think that somewhere in the last few months, ego has come into play. Once he had a shot, he started playing differently and thinking differently, and not for the "better."

    Like I said, I hope you're right, but we'll see.

  7. [7] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    Well, it took about three-tenths of a second for everyone to call it for Trump. Not much drama there...


  8. [8] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    Over 10% in, still not called for Hillary, but she's been maintaining about a 60/40 split or better so far...

    Trump is crushing everyone, up above 70% at times...

    Speak2 -

    I think you answered your own question. Sanders is indeed moving the O-window for Dems (and for Hillary). He's going to continue doing that, right up to the convention. But he'll also do what he can to convince his supporters to support her. Whether they listen to him or not, that's another question. But he's said all along "Hillary would be miles better than any of the yahoos on the other side," and I think he really believes that.


  9. [9] 
    Paula wrote:

    I'm reading Kasich is winning in Manhattan -- may net enough to deny Trump a sweep.

  10. [10] 
    Paula wrote:

    They're starting to call it for Hillary --

  11. [11] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    ...and they all just called it for Hillary.

    It'll be interesting to see the final margins, on both sides. Trump seems to be doing OK upstate -- most counties are over 50%, so a sweep (or near-sweep) is looking possible.


  12. [12] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    Paula -

    Interesting, about Manhatten. The maps I'm looking at are not good enough to show this...


  13. [13] 
    TheStig wrote:

    On Feb 22 of this year, on at this very Website I wrote:

    "Primary prognostication is a lot harder than presidential progging (new word), due to both the larger number of candidates involved and the need to understand the arcane rules of both the National Republican Party and the 60 or so local GOP chapters in States and Territories."

    I couldn't figure out the rules then, and I can't figure them out now. All my research has made me more confused, but on much higher plane. As far as I can determine, the Republican Party operates like the Outback Steakhouse - no rules. Or maybe it's more like the Pirate Code: "more what you'd call "guidelines" than actual rules." In other words, serving suggestions. Just winning primaries or precincts within primaries doesn't necessarily get you delegates.

    Cruz has sussed this for a while, Deal Maker Trump is figuring it out late in the game.

  14. [14] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    TheStig -

    OK, your "pirate rules" quip was funny!


    Looks like Clinton's going to win by 15-16 points.

    GOP del count (so far):

    Trump: 89
    Kasich: 3
    Cruz: 0

    Three more to be awarded...

    Boy, Cruz got shellacked! So much for those "New York values," eh?



  15. [15] 
    Mopshell wrote:

    I think Trump's magic number will depend far more on the optics of his performance in the remaining primaries. Let me try to explain what I mean...

    In order to prevent Trump getting to 1237, Kasich and Cruz combined will have to win 281 of the remaining delegates - that's the equivalent of winning 42% (plus change) of the remaining primary races.

    Now, let's take CW's magic figure of 1138. In order to keep Trump down to that 1138 figure, Cruz and Kasich combined would need to win 380 of the remaining delegates - and that translates to an average of 57% of the remaining primaries.

    The optics of their winning the majority of the remaining delegates (and the nearer such wins are in time, the more psychological impact they have) will dwarf the fact that Trump came within double figures of the magic 1237.

    It would mean that he could only gain less than 300 delegates (while Cruz/Kasich pulled in 380) and only average around 42% of the vote. That's going to look and "feel" like losing so 1138 is not likely to be a magic number for him.

    I think Trump needs to pick up more than half of the remaining delegates in order for unbound delegates to feel sufficient confidence in his ability to be a winner.

    Half the delegates would be 337 but to only get that would look like he could barely stay neck-and-neck with Kasich/Cruz -- not good optics for him.

    I believe he needs to win at least 360 of the remaining delegates (53.5%) for him to be viewed as a winning proposition -- and that would net him 1200.

    Of course it would be better for him if he can reach that 1237 figure and I believe he can, especially if he gains all 159 delegates in the remaining five winner-takes-all primaries and most of the 72 in last two winner-takes-most primaries. That would get him more than halfway to his goal of 397.

  16. [16] 
    Michale wrote:

    I am going with Paula on this one.. Because it figures in with what I have read from several different sources..

    If Trump tops 1000, then the nomination will be his.

    Sure, the MSM will play up some drama, try to gin up some violence, as they are wont to do....

    But if Trump gets over 1000 delegates, he will be the nominee...

    The old adage "Winning isn't everything, it's the ONLY thing" won't apply here..

    They WAY Cruz is "winning" his delegates will come back to bite him on the ass.... Cruz has just given Trump a nice shiny baseball bat and you just have to know that Trump knows what to do with it...



  17. [17] 
    John M wrote:

    According to what I have read, Nate Silver predicts that if Trump does as well with the remaining states as he is projected to do, he will wind up with a delegate total of about 1,191 before the convention. That would easily put him within range of securing the nomination, by picking up uncommitted delegates just from Pennsylvania alone by itself.

  18. [18] 
    Michale wrote:


    As far as I can determine, the Republican Party operates like the Outback Steakhouse - no rules.

    Uh... The FULL slogan is..


    And I DON'T think they mean "right" in the sense of the Right Wingery...

    So...... :D


  19. [19] 
    Michale wrote:

    OK, your "pirate rules" quip was funny!

    Agreed.. :D

    I could picture Barbossa (easily the best character of the POTC series, although OST put that in jeopardy.. :D) when I read it.. :D


  20. [20] 
    Bleyd wrote:

    CW [14]

    Seems that "holding grudges" might be one of those New York values....

  21. [21] 
    Michale wrote:

    Seems that "holding grudges" might be one of those New York values....

    And another comment that makes me giggle.. :D


  22. [22] 
    Michale wrote:

    And, by extension, the Republicans are becoming the Party of the Middle Class..


    Where have I heard this before...??? :D


  23. [23] 
    dsws wrote:

    I'll guess that it takes about 1137 pledged delegates (100 short of majority) for him to have everyone be sure going into the convention that he'll be nominated. Rolling over the odometer to 1000 seems like a good estimate of what makes it more likely than not.

    If it goes to a third ballot he'll have to show more delegate-wrangling capability than we've seen so far, as some pledged delegates who had to vote for him on the first ballot or two decide that they really are free to vote their own preference (aka "the good of the country" and "the good of the Party" as they claim to see it).

  24. [24] 
    Michale wrote:

    Looks like the GOP Establishment is coming around to Trump.... :D


  25. [25] 
    Michale wrote:

    Bernie faces a choice: Ease up or attack Hillary more

    It's not really a uh... choice {snicker, snicker}..

    If Bernie wants to even have a CHANCE of winning, he is going to have to play by Clinton's rules...

    Dirty tricks that would make Nixon blush....


  26. [26] 
    Michale wrote:

    If Bernie had any smarts, he would run this as a campaign ad over and over again...

    It's frakin' hilarious!! :D


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