The Slatest

Donald Trump’s Path to the Nomination May Be Narrower Than It Looks

Donald Trump greets supporters after winning the New York state primary on April 19, 2016 in New York City.

John Moore/Getty Images

Donald Trump had a great Tuesday. He won the New York primary with roughly 60 percent of the total vote, besting John Kasich by about 35 points and Ted Cruz by 45 points. When the final votes are tallied, it looks like Trump will claim roughly 90 of the state’s 95 bound delegates.

Just where does that leave the GOP front-runner on his quest to secure the 1,237 delegates he needs to win the nomination on the first ballot in Cleveland? Let’s break out our trusty TI-89s and take a closer look. (A note on my methodology: I’m basing my work off estimates from the Associated Press, which has yet to award delegates from one of New York’s 27 congressional districts. Since Kasich currently leads Trump narrowly in the district in question, I’m going to assume the Ohio governor will claim two of its three delegates and Trump will claim the third.)

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The current delegate scoreboard looks like this on Wednesday morning:*

  • Donald Trump has 846 delegates, or 68 percent of the 1,237 needed
  • Ted Cruz has 559 delegates, or 45 percent of the 1,237 needed
  • John Kasich has 149 delegates, or 12 percent of the 1,237 needed

There are 731 delegates yet to be allocated.

  • Donald Trump needs 53 percent of them to reach 1,237
  • Ted Cruz needs 93 percent of them to reach 1,237
  • John Kasich needs 149 percent of them to reach 1,237

Those numbers, though, can be a little misleading since that unallocated total includes more than 100 delegates who will arrive at the convention unbound (and who have yet to declare their support for a candidate). As has been well established by now, Trump’s campaign has yet to master the procedural ground game required to fill those unbound slots with his allies. If he’s going to hit the magic number before Cleveland and avoid the drama of a contested convention, he’ll most likely need to do it with bound delegates who have no other choice than to vote for him on the first ballot. Of those 731 TBD delegates, a total of 620 will be bound by the results in the remaining 15 states on the Republican nominating calendar.

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Of those 620 bound delegates that will be decided between now and June 7:

  • Donald Trump needs to win 63 percent of them to reach 1,237
  • Ted Cruz needs to win 109 percent of them to reach 1,237

Hitting that target is still possible for Trump—particularly if he dominates in next week’s Northeastern contests similarly to how he did in New York on Tuesday—but it’s an incredibly narrow path to 1,237. The good news for the celebrity businessman (and the bad news for humanity), though, is that he won’t necessarily be DOA in Cleveland if he comes up short in the primary season. He’d still have the chance to find the remaining delegates he needs from the 200 or so unbound delegates who will be at the convention. Many of those will be local party officials or Cruz supporters, yes, but the closer Trump is to 1,237, the more sympathetic many of them will likely be to his cause—or at least the will of those voters who cast ballots for him. As one Massachusetts RNC member (who backed Jeb Bush earlier this year) put it to Politico recently: “If [Trump’s] close after June 7, there’ll be a compelling reason for folks to say he’s won the most delegates by a lot and he’s won the most voters by a ton.”

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Here’s what Trump needs to do over the next two months to put the pressure on those unbound delegates. Of the 620 delegates still up for grabs in the remaining 15 contests:

  • Trump needs 63 percent to reach 1,237 and secure the nomination
  • Trump needs 55 percent to be within 50 of that magic number
  • Trump needs 47 percent to be within 100 of that magic number
  • Trump needs 39 percent to be within 150 of that magic number
  • Trump needs 31 percent to be within 200 of that magic number

Just how close would Trump need to be? No one knows, of course. But if he arrives somewhere between 50 and 100 delegates shy, I expect he would have a legitimate chance to round up the remaining delegates he needs before the first vote. If he can, he’ll prove he’s the master deal-maker he plays on television. But if he can’t, he probably won’t get a second chance after the first ballot.

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More in Slate:

Read more of Slate’s coverage of the GOP primary.

*Correction, April 20, 2016: An earlier version of this post misstated when the most recent delegate totals were from. The numbers were current as of Wednesday morning, not Tuesday morning.

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