Donald Trump has tried to fire up his supporters by complaining that the delegate system for winning the Republican presidential nomination is convoluted and “rigged” against him.
He might be right on the first point. But he’s wrong on the second.
If anything, Trump is profiting from the GOP’s complicated, arcane method of awarding delegates. If the Republicans allocated delegates the same way the Democrats do, Trump would have almost no chance of securing the party’s nomination through primaries and almost definitely would be facing a brokered national convention this summer.
“Each state has its own way. . . . Mostly, it’s worked out to Trump’s benefit,” said Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford). “When it doesn’t, then he says it’s rigged. But, really, he’s benefitted.”
In sum, Trump has won far more delegates under the GOP system than if it awarded delegates on a strictly proportional basis, as the Democrats do. In all but a few states, he’s won a higher percentage of delegates than of actual votes.
Trump has garnered an estimated 37 percent of the votes cast, but has accumulated around 47 percent of the delegates allocated, King noted.
That’s thanks to Trump victories in winner-take-all states such as Florida (where Trump won all 99 delegates even though he got 46 percent of the vote) and South Carolina (where he received all 50 delegates even though he had just 32 percent of the vote) and winner-takes-most states such as New York (where he likely will wind up with 95 percent of the delegates while garnering 60 percent of the popular vote).
As a result, Trump has 845 delegates and is the lone Republican with a mathematical chance of reaching 1,237 — the amount needed to clinch the nomination and end the possibility of a brokered convention.
Yet Trump has railed that his chief rival, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), has capitalized on a “rigged” system in the recent Colorado caucus. Cruz outmaneuvered Trump in a state without a direct vote and secured all 30 of the state’s delegates.
“What we are seeing now is not a proper use of the rules, but a flagrant abuse of the rules,” Trump wrote in an April 14 op-ed in The Wall Street Journal. “Delegates are supposed to reflect the decisions of the voters, but the system is being rigged by party operatives with ‘double-agent’ delegates who reject the decision of voters.”
Bruce Gyory, a longtime New York political consultant, said Trump is being very selective with his complaints about the system.
“The thrust of his allegations are not sustained by the facts,” Gyory said. “The fact is, he’s received under 40 percent of the vote, but has just under 50 percent of the delegates — that’s a pretty good rate of return. But because he’s a master of public relations, whenever he comes under any pressure, he counterattacks. He’s used the allegations of it being ‘rigged’ to whip up his base.”
The Republican system, Gyory said, benefits whoever becomes the front-runner early on — a status Trump achieved after winning the New Hampshire and South Carolina primaries in February. By setting up winner-take-all states, Trump could sweep a state’s delegates by receiving a plurality of votes.
Republicans changed their delegate rules after the 2012 race, hoping to avoid a protracted primary fight by helping the early front-runners, Marist College pollster Lee Miringoff said. Trump, he noted, “has been able to win a disproportionate amount of delegates” because of the changes.
A recent NBC News analysis found Trump and Cruz are closer in popular vote totals than delegates: Trump had received about 8.2 million votes nationwide to Cruz’ 6.3 million. Yet Cruz has 559 delegates to Trump’s 845. Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who is hoping to emerge with the nomination at a brokered convention, has 171 delegates.
King said he prefers that Republican organizations have different delegate methods in different states. It tests a candidate’s campaign team and his/her ability to handle different situations. But it’s not rigged against any one type of candidate.
“There is no conspiring of rules against Trump,” King said. “Where he’s not done well reflects that he doesn’t have a strong team around him. You can’t get by just doing the Sunday morning talk show or tweeting.”