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February 26th, 2017

Insight

The Rule: First Candidate to 1,237 Wins

David Limbaugh

By David Limbaugh

Published April 12, 2016

The Rule: First Candidate to 1,237 Wins

I have been concerned for some time that forces supporting Donald Trump have intentionally been laying the groundwork for claiming that Trump will have been cheated if he doesn't earn the GOP nomination.

When this primary season began, few people gave Ted Cruz a snowball's chance to be in serious contention, but he has repeatedly demonstrated just how much people underestimated him.

He not only is the most informed and consistent on policy but also has assembled a grass-roots organization whose sophistication makes Obama's then-cutting-edge 2008 campaign look like 1990.

Cruz has been ganged up on from the beginning but has outlasted the vicious charges and is now on an upward arc. He is the only candidate who has survived the damning mini-labels of Trump that helped undo Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio and others.

But Trump is no dummy, either. By relentlessly bellowing "Lyin' Ted," he planted seeds for defamatory remarks against Cruz in case the tide of the campaign would tilt in his favor, as it appears to have done.

Cruz is systematically fulfilling the prophecy he made that he would begin to defeat Trump as the field narrowed, when people would focus more on the contrast between him and Trump. Since Rubio dropped out, Cruz has won far more delegates than Trump, whose negatives are through the roof, especially with women.

Cruz is also mopping up delegates in caucuses and primaries in the various states because he is more prepared, more organized and more committed — and because he is humble enough to know he has to attend to details in every aspect of this campaign. And the delegates who Trump claims are being stolen are choosing Cruz because they see him as the more presidential and reliable of the two.

Yet Trump-favoring media and commentators, as if on cue, spread the canard that Cruz is strong-arming delegates and "stealing" them. That some are receptive to this is a testament to the effectiveness of all the previous slanders against Lion Ted Cruz.

Many Trump supporters seem to think they have an exclusive claim to angst against the ruling class. They alone are "we the people." They alone are entitled to their nominee, especially because he has a lead in the delegate count.

I've had many suggest that at such time as it becomes mathematically impossible for Cruz to win a majority of delegates going into the convention, he should withdraw — "because he can't win." Moreover, the people have spoken, they say, and they support Trump, so everyone must get out of the way — rules be damned.

I assume that many of these Trump supporters are green about the process and are just overly eager for their guy, but others know better. For the incontrovertible fact is that the rules for a century and a half have provided that a candidate must get a majority of delegates to win.

That threshold happens to be 1,237 delegates. No one has ever credibly suggested that a candidate with a plurality of delegates must be anointed as the nominee. Those now arguing this are the ones wanting to suspend the rules, not those who support the time-honored rule. If this thinking had prevailed in 1860, Abraham Lincoln would not have been nominated that year. He was a distant second to William Seward on the first ballot and prevailed on the third ballot.

The delegates of most states are pledged to a certain candidate for the first ballot — and some through the second ballot — but afterward they are released to vote for whomever they choose on subsequent ballots.

Unhappily for the Trump camp, Trump is, according to renowned statistician Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight, the weakest GOP front-runner in modern history. Also, even people who have voted for him in earlier states may very well have buyer's remorse at this point.

But Team Trump, sticking to its message that Trump is inevitable, has adopted another clever tactic in trying to establish a fallback narrative in case he fails to reach 1,237 before Cleveland. The Trump folks spawned the conspiracy theory that Cruz is colluding with the establishment in the states to deny Trump the nomination. This dovetails with their consistent theme that Trump is the only outsider in the race.

But in fact, the party hasn't united around Cruz. Most establishment people probably prefer Cruz over Trump, but it's not because he is any less anti-establishment or less of a threat to business as usual in Washington. It's because they fear that Trump is volatile, unpresidential and authoritarian and know that Cruz is the only one who can beat him.

Over the weekend, Cruz continued to outwork, outmaneuver and outshine Trump, especially in Colorado, where Cruz won all 34 delegates. Immediately, the Trump forces cried that they were cheated out of the process. The implication is that "Lyin' Ted" broke the rules and "stole" the delegates. But there was no cheating. As FiveThirtyEight also reported, Trump "slipped up in Colorado. ... Instead of putting together a top-notch convention team, Trump's campaign was a mess." Ari Armstrong, a Colorado Republican who participated in the caucuses, wrote, "The simple fact is that the Republicans in my precinct caucus mostly disfavored Trump, and evidently that is true of most other precincts as well." And though Trump blasted the GOP's delegate rules Sunday and said a "corrupt" system is robbing him of delegates, NBC analysts say Trump has benefited more than Cruz "under the party's arcane rules for allocating delegates," having been awarded 45 percent of the delegates despite having won just 37 percent of all the votes.

Trump is not entitled to the nomination unless and until he reaches the magic number, and neither is Cruz. It is sad that some who are claiming their votes don't count are the same ones who are saying Cruz votes shouldn't count — that Trump should be anointed now or when it becomes mathematically impossible for Cruz to win on the first ballot.

Team Cruz is not suggesting we twist the rules but insisting we adhere to them. Let's all agree to honor and play by the rules and recognize the winner of a majority of delegates when that moment occurs.

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David Limbaugh is a columnist, author and attorney practicing in Cape Girardeau, Mo.

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