Thinks look bleak right now for Ted Cruz and for Donald Trump. Both will have to pass through a narrow eye of the needle to thread their way to the GOP presidential nomination. But one of them will do it.
There will be no white knight, and John Kasich’s fantasies of a nomination on the third or fourth ballot are just that: fantasies.
Here’s how Trump’s world looks.
He’s got to win in Indiana, where 57 delegates are at stake. But Indiana is likely to be as hard for him as Wisconsin was harder, actually. Hoosier Republicans dumped sitting Sen. Dick Lugar in the 2012 elections and nominated Richard Mourdock, a staunch conservative in the Cruz model, who then got tripped up by the rape-related abortion question. Trump needs to win the state’s 30 at-large delegates based on a statewide plurality and at least four or five of its nine congressional districts. It’s a very tall order.
And the billionaire also has to sweep California, do well in Washington, hold his own in Oregon and win his share of proportionate delegates in New Mexico and West Virginia.
The likelihood is that he falls short probably about 100 votes short of his cherished first-ballot majority.
But Cruz’s window is just as narrow.
The Texas senator must start winning primaries, something he hasn’t done in three weeks. It will be very hard to get off the mat and start piling victories. But unless he performs, he goes home.
Most likely, the process resolves itself with hand-to-hand fighting over the moving pieces: North Dakota’s 28 delegates (unbound, but initially for Cruz); Colorado’s 37 (ditto); and Pennsylvania’s 54 unbound district delegates. That’s approximately 100 unpledged delegates who are not bound by state rules to vote for the winner of their state’s primary.
And long dead Marco Rubio will get to play his hand. If he were to release his delegates, most would likely go for Cruz and some for Kasich. But a few might find their way to Trump.
The wheeling and dealing for these loose delegates will play out for six weeks, between the June 7 final primaries and the first ballot vote at the Republican National Convention in July. If Trump fails to get a majority, it will merely ratchet up the stakes, as 80 percent of the delegates become unbound on the second ballot and they will likely be determined to end the process by choosing a nominee.
Covering this convention will be a journalist’s dream, the political correspondent’s equivalent of covering a major hurricane.
The deal-making won’t go easily. Just as political machines are a thing of the past, so is dealing for large blocs of obedient delegates anachronistic. It won’t be like 1932, when Franklin Delano Roosevelt cut a deal and the Texas and California delegations fell in line behind him.
Now, delegates must be courted retail one by one. But the horse-trading will be just as venal as 100 years ago. A brisk trade in ambassadorships, Cabinet seats, fundraising commitments and everything short of outright bribery will be on display for all to see.
Trump has the advantage in resources. His ability to raise money and to treat delegates to vacations at Mar-a-Lago will come into play. Cruz’s organization will be tested. His team has the advantage in knowing most of the delegates personally and of helping to select them.
If you think watching sausage being made or a law being passed is revolting, wait till you see this spectacle.