It is going to be much more difficult for Donald Trump to win the Republican nomination than most people think. In order to win the nomination, a candidate must secure at least 1,237 of the 2,472 delegates that are up for grabs. But not all of them will be won during the state-by-state series of caucuses and primaries that will take place during the first half of 2016. Of the total of 2,472 Republican delegates, 437 of them are unpledged delegates – and 168 of those are members of the Republican National Committee. And unless you have been hiding under a rock somewhere, you already know that the Republican National Committee is not a fan of Donald Trump. In order to win the Republican nomination without any of the unpledged delegates, Trump would need to win 60.78 percent of the delegates that are up for grabs during the caucuses and primaries. And considering that his poll support is hovering around 30 percent right now, that is a very tall order.
In the past, it was easier for a front-runner to pile up delegates in “winner take all” states, but for this election cycle the Republicans have changed quite a few things. In 2016, all states that hold caucuses or primaries before March 15th must award their delegates proportionally. So when Trump wins any of those early states, he won’t receive all of the delegates. Instead, he will just get a portion of them based on the percentage of the vote that he received.
In 2016, more delegates will be allocated on a proportional basis by the Republicans than ever before, and with such a crowded field that makes it quite likely that no candidate will have secured enough delegates for the nomination by the time the Republican convention rolls around.
In the event of a “brokered convention”, it is almost inevitable that an establishment candidate would emerge as the nominee. That list would include names such as Bush, Rubio and Romney, and it would exclude names such as Trump, Cruz and Carson.
Unless the field thins significantly, it looks like it is going to be a real challenge for anyone to stockpile the required number of delegates before the convention at this point. Here is an analysis of the delegate math that candidates are facing that comes from Think Progress.
Trump’s biggest asset is winner-take-all states. So long as he captures a plurality of the vote in these states, he wins every delegate that is up for grabs in the state. Although the GOP’s rules require states that wish to hold a winner-take-all contest to schedule their primary or caucus no sooner than March 15, eleven states and territories will have such a contest. Additionally, a handful of states allocate some portion of their delegates to the winner of the state as a whole. In total, Trump could win about 500 delegates in states that award a bloc of delegates to the candidate who wins a plurality of the vote.
Even if Trump captures every single one of these delegates, however, he would still need to capture over 700 of the nearly 2,000 remaining delegates in order to emerge as the nominee, and here is where the math gets much more difficult for him. Even if he captures every single delegate awarded to candidates who win a plurality of the votes in a state, he would still need to win approximately 37 percent of the remaining delegates to capture the nomination — under the various and often complex rules that each state uses to allocate these delegates. Currently, the Real Clear Politics polling average shows Trump leading the GOP field with about 30 percent of the vote, so his current polls likely do not give him enough support to capture the nomination outright.