Sunday, January 31, 2016

How Ted Cruz Wins the GOP Nomination

Senator Cruz’s path to the Republican nomination is looking smaller and smaller as we speed toward the first votes.  When I wrote about how Trump could win the nomination, Cruz was leading nearly all the polls in Iowa and beginning to slowly climb in New Hampshire.  However, a lot has changed since then.

First and foremost, Trump recognized the threat Cruz represented and moved to halt his momentum.  According to the most recent polls, Trump is now projected to win Iowa, a result that would surely diminish Ted Cruz’s chances of being the Republican nominee.  So how does Senator Cruz win?

His chances hinge on Iowa.  Ted Cruz pretty much must win Iowa in order to go on to win the nomination.  A close second probably won’t do unless no other candidate comes close; then, it will likely be seen as a two-man race between Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. 

Turnout among evangelical voters and new voters is essential for Cruz.  He needs the former to come out in droves and the latter to stay home.  Furthermore, Cruz needs to hope that supporters of other candidates that share his social conservative support will instead decide to caucus for him.  These candidates include Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee, and Ben Carson.  Collectively, those three candidates make up about 12.4% of the polling average in Iowa.  If they consolidated around Cruz, he would win in a landslide.

After winning Iowa, Cruz will need to grow his support in New Hampshire to collect at least 20% of the vote there.  It may not be enough to win, but it would likely be enough to create a story that he is gaining momentum and has relatively strong support, even in a more moderate and secular state such as New Hampshire. 

From there, the voting will turn to South Carolina, where Trump is currently leading the field and where Sen. Cruz is in second.  Trump’s standing would likely diminish after losing in Iowa, and Cruz should hope that his chief social conservative rivals drop out by this point.  Carson, Huckabee, and Santorum make up about 11% of South Carolina’s polling average.  If the majority of those voters moved to Cruz, he will have a strong shot of winning the state, particularly if no establishment candidate can claim victory in New Hampshire.

Victories in Iowa and South Carolina, along with a split decision in New Hampshire will fuel Cruz for the later states.  Ted Cruz will be strongly positioned for wins in the so-called “SEC primary” on March first.  These primaries include those in many southern states such as Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Virginia, and Cruz’s home state, Texas. 

Importantly, all but one of these states (Virginia) has a threshold a candidate must reach in order to win delegates.  In some the threshold is 15% and others it is 20%.  This means that a candidate like Ben Carson or even Marco Rubio could receive zero delegates if they cannot reach the threshold.  That is good news for Cruz (and Trump) who are the only two candidates currently breaking those thresholds.

Like with the scenario for a Trump win, the nomination will likely be a long and drawn out process, possibly leading all the way to the GOP convention.   Cruz would need to rack up a majority of the delegates by the SEC primary in order to show that he has the momentum and claim the title of eventual nominee. 

His problem, however, is that he is just as despised among the Republican establishment as Donald Trump.  Therefore, it is unlikely that all of the establishment candidates such as Rubio or Bush will drop out of the race anytime soon.  In order for Cruz to win the nomination, he will need to rack up his delegate count in the more conservative southern states and the ‘bible-belt’ and either hope that breaks 50% or receive a clear plurality by the convention.

As I mentioned at the outset, Cruz’s chances have diminished since two weeks ago.  While he still has plenty of money and time, he is faced with the possibility that several candidates will not drop out soon after the first couple primaries, and the nomination will therefore take months to lock up.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

How Donald Trump Wins the GOP Nomination

If you had told me twelve, six, or even three months ago that with only three weeks left until the Iowa caucuses Donald Trump would be leading the Republican pack for the nomination, I would have laughed in your face (and then cried in the fetal position while holding my dogs and telling them that it will be ok). 

But lo and behold, that scenario has played out.   In the RealClearPolitics poll of polls, Trump holds a commanding 13.3% lead over his nearest rival (Sen. Ted Cruz) nationally.  Furthermore, Trump is fairing well in the early states.  In New Hampshire, the Donald is beating a divided establishment field by 16%+; in South Carolina, he leads Cruz by double digits; and even in Iowa, Trump is only four points behind the leader, Ted Cruz. 

If he were any other candidate in any other year, his case for the nomination would be open and shut.  Politicos such as myself wouldn’t be forecasting his eventual downfall.  But it isn’t just any other year, so how does Donald Trump win?

Beginning with the first voting state, Donald Trump needs to make sure that those who say they are supporting him in the polls actually come out to vote.  If Trump loses by a larger than expected margin (which currently would be about 4-8%), he will have to give a good reason why he himself shouldn’t be branded a “loser”.  This is important, because one of Trump’s strengths is his ability to project confidence in his winning ability and his perceived frontrunner status.  If that is challenged, Trump will go into New Hampshire wounded, and he likely won’t perform as well as his current standing would project.

To be clear, Trump doesn’t need to win Iowa.  There is already a perception in the political world that Iowa is Cruz’s to lose.  Winning Iowa would certainly cement Trump’s lead in other states, but losing by a few points to the perceived frontrunner would not necessarily harm him. 

Additionally, Donald Trump needs to ensure that an establishment candidate such as Marco Rubio does not break out and do unexpectedly well.  If Rubio comes close to matching Trump’s support in the state, he will be the story going into New Hampshire.  This is why Rubio is now making a big play for Iowa.

Next up: New Hampshire.  Currently, there are four establishment candidates (Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, and John Kasich) vying for a ticket out of The Granite State, and because they all are pulling roughly equal support in the polls, none of them are able to break out to seriously challenge Trump. 

Donald Trump has proven very effective at diminishing a candidate by attacking them when he needs to, so he needs to make sure that he attacks the “most likely” establishment the hardest.  New Hampshire is a state in which Trump needs to win.  He can do this by turning out his supporters as well as doing moderately well in Iowa.

Following New Hampshire are both South Carolina and Nevada.  First and foremost, for Trump to continue winning states, candidates who are not winning need to stay in the race.  For example, should Kasich and Christie not do well in New Hampshire, they could get out of the race, and their supporters would then flock to another candidate who is a close ideological fit, such as Bush and Rubio.  Donald Trump needs to hope those candidates stay in the race a little longer in order for those campaigns to not gain momentum.  As I mentioned above, Trump is doing well in South Carolina and Nevada, so he just needs to continue winning, even if it is only with about 30-35% of the vote.

Beyond the early voting states, Donald Trump begins to have a problem.  While he would still be the perceived frontrunner for the nomination, candidates will begin dropping out and consolidating behind either Cruz or a more establishment candidate.  At this point, Trump will need to begin spending a lot of money to hit Ted Cruz as well as the establishment candidate. 

Because most states have a proportional delegate allocation system, he will need to begin winning states with 50% of the vote.  Doing so will mean he wins all the delegates (save for one delegate each for a candidate who can cross a certain threshold. 

However, chances are that Donald Trump will not be able to win a majority in most states.  Therefore, the nomination will go all the way to the Republican convention in July.  Because the bulk of the GOP establishment will not be inclined to give Trump their support, he will need to use the most important leverage he still has in order to persuade them to do so: a third party run. 

Donald Trump is a billionaire and has a strong a devoted following within the Republican Party.  He could easily run (or threaten to run) as a third party candidate, which would undoubtedly end in disaster for the Republican Party in November.  The Republican establishment will deem it necessary to nominate him, despite their deep reservations, in order to keep the party united against the eventual Democratic nominee and win back the White House. 

There are other scenarios, of course, in which Trump could win the nomination.  He could turn out new voters who aren’t showing up in the polls, do better in the early states than expected, and win some supporters of other candidates currently running.  But as it currently stands, it seems the best shot for Trump to be the GOP nominee is to accumulate a plurality of delegates and then use his popularity as a way to ensure the GOP establishment doesn’t choose someone else at the convention.