GOP voters attempt to bar Trump from party nomination
With the Republican primary winnowed down to only three remaining candidates, the highly-touted “party forces” that many claimed would stop the Donald Trump candidacy in its tracks are finally beginning to come into play. Recent results in two states, Utah and Wisconsin, show the election day vote coalescing around the most viable non-Trump candidate. This tactical voting could have the Grand Old Party hurtling towards a contested convention to decide their nominee.
Utah was the first indication that tactical voting had begun to take hold in the Republican party. FiveThirtyEight’s polls-only projections pegged Senator Ted Cruz (R–TX) to get 55.1 percent of the vote, with Ohio Governor John Kasich grabbing 29.3 percent and Trump bringing up the rear with 13.8 percent.
The actual result looked very similar for Trump, who finished with 14 percent of the vote. However, Kasich’s numbers tanked and he finished with 16.8 percent of the vote while Cruz dominated with 69.2 percent of the vote.
The narrative following the caucus was that Mormons were the tip of the anti-Trump spear. However, Trump lost across all demographic lines, not just with Mormons.
The lack of a secret ballot at a caucus makes it very easy for voters to just align with the most viable anti-Trump candidate, but it happened again in the primary in Wisconsin, providing further evidence of a shift towards either the party coalescing around Cruz or, more likely, the party attempting to deny Trump the nomination. FiveThirtyEight’s polls-only projection showed a tight race in this primary, with Cruz collecting 40.3 percent of the vote to Trump’s 36.3 percent. Trump again finished quite close to his projection at 35.1 percent while Cruz rocketed all the way to 48.2 percent, while Kasich lagged behind again.
Exit polls showed about half of Republicans indicating that they would be optimistic or excited about a Kasich presidency, indicating that his support had not waned. His votes seemed to migrate to Cruz in order to stop Trump.
In a three candidate race it’s likely that Trump will need to start reaching the high 40s and low 50s in order to win states as more voters tactically migrate to whichever non-Trump is leading the polls.
Another possibility is that the anti-Trump vote has truly shifted towards Cruz, as opposed to Cruz gaining votes over Kasich simply because he is more competitive with Trump. This hypothesis will be tested as the race moves to the Northeast where Kasich is far more competitive with Trump than Cruz.
An early indication of trouble for the Trump campaign was his failure to top 50 percent in any state. He still has not done so and, while his home state of New York seems to be a spot where that might happen, that trend would leave an opening for tactical voting to deny Trump state wins. Unlike the Democrats, who allocate delegates entirely proportionally, Republicans often give half or more delegates to the winner in so-called “winner take all” states. If voters continue to barricade these delegates from Trump, it could spell doom for Trump’s avoidance of a convention.
A brokered convention does not guarantee that Trump will fail to win the nomination. He could convince unbound delegates to vote for him and push him past the 1,237 delegate threshold on the first or later ballots. However, Trump’s delegate operation has been incredibly slow to start and his historically high unfavorable numbers with the general electorate will make him a very unattractive candidate to unbound delegates who tend to be party leaders or local officials who would want to win the presidency. Further, Trump’s tendency to do things such as incite violence at his rallies could make Republicans fear for something as basic as the legitimacy of the vote if dissenters (or non dissenters who do not fit into Trump’s conception of American) are threatened with physical violence.
Cruz was a pariah in the Republican party as recently as a month ago. Elected Republicans have begun to endorse him en masse, including Senator Lindsey Graham (R–SC) who once said that killing Cruz on the Senate floor would not result in a conviction from the Senate. It’s clear from the reaction to the field winnowing down to just three candidates that a large portion of the Republican is very opposed to Trump, and it seems like “not Trump” has become a viable candidate in itself.