Election 2020

Is Donald Trump Inevitable?

(AP Photo/David Goldman)

Real estate tycoon Donald J. Trump is boasting again. Not only did he win the New Hampshire and South Carolina primaries, but he leads the polls for the Nevada caucus on Tuesday, and he also leads in Georgia, Massachusetts, Virginia, Michigan, Florida, Ohio, and North Carolina. He only comes in second in Texas, home of Senator Ted Cruz. But he is not the Republican nominee yet.

National Review‘s John Fund provides reasons for skepticism:

The calendar and the way the state contests are organized basically mean that in order to win a majority of delegates by the beginning of June, a single candidate would have to have won more than 45 percent of the popular vote. GOP lawyer Ben Ginsburg, who has worked in every presidential campaign cycle since 1988, recently observed that the 2016 calendar “quite deliberately avoids having a mid-March nominee.”

Fund predicts a race dragging at least into mid-April, and likely resulting in a brokered convention in July in Cleveland, Ohio. This is less likely to favor Trump:

Republican delegates will be leery of nominating a candidate viewed unfavorably by 60 percent of general-election voters – as is the case with Donald Trump. In the RealClearPolitics average of all polls, Trump is the only major candidate who loses to Hillary Clinton (45.3 percent to 42.5 percent).

This scenario would require Cruz, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, and Ohio Governor John Kasich to keep Trump from racking up more delegates in coming primaries and caucuses, however. The numbers suggest that this is a lot harder to achieve than Fund suggests. Bloomberg’s Sahil Kapur cites an Economist/YouGov national survey which found that even in a three-man race — assuming Kasich and neurosurgeon Ben Carson drop out — Trump leads Rubio and Cruz by healthy margins.

Kapur also notes a January NBC/Wall Street Journal survey, which found 65 percent of Republican voters saying they could see themselves supporting Trump, a huge leap from the 23 percent who said so last March. When supporters of former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, Kasich, and Carson were asked their second choices, Trump picks up less support than his competitors, but by a very slight margin.

Taken together, the data suggest that defeating Trump will require weakening his support among Republicans, rather than simply turning the primary into a one-on-one contest with the front-runner.

Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz have their work cut out for them.