Prior to Super Tuesday, we thought there were no scenarios in which Donald Trump didn’t go on to get the 1,237 delegates needed to win on the first ballot at the Republican National Convention. Trump had a slightly weaker than expected delegate haul than we expected, and there are a few glimmers of hope for the #NeverTrump crowd.
It turns out that Mitt Romney is probably right: the most likely way for Trump to not win is for Marco Rubio and John Kasich voters to vote strategically. Our latest projections, which include Trump taking the big winner-take-all states of Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Illinois shows Trump taking the majority in after April 26. This is mostly on the strength of a huge March 15 haul for the candidate, where we see him picking up over 500 delegates to reach 881 of the 1,237 needed.
There is no world in which the non-Trumps get block his first-ballot nomination without a Rubio victory to claim Florida’s 99 delegates. Trump leads leads Kasich in Ohio 30.2% to 26.6%. There’s no polling for Puerto Rico’s 23 winner-take-all delegates, but we’ll assume for the sake of argument that Trump doesn’t win that one. Move those to the other side, and Trump’s victory moves all the way to the final day, but he still wins.
So what’s the most-likely non-Trump path? Polling beyond March is spotty, but if Trump loses Florida, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Ohio, Puerto Rico, and California, you’ve got a contested convention. He currently holds double-digit leads in PA (April 26) and NJ (June 7), and Cruz may be within a few points in California, but there haven’t been any good polls there forever (probably because most normal nomination contests would be wrapped up by the final day.
A simpler take is this: If Trump wins Florida and Ohio, there is virtually no option to stop him. If he loses those, there’s a possibility to block him. If he also loses Illinois on March 15, that would suggest the numbers we’re using to project are too high, and Trump may fall several hundred delegates short.
Of course, all of this assumes that Trump loses a contested convention; it’s hard to imagine what policy concessions the other candidates can offer true Trump delegates. Trump has between 250 million and 10 billion (depending on your source) convincing reasons to persuade other delegates to break camp if he needs to.