Nine days that will shape the GOP race [corrected]

The latest installment of How the GOP Race Turns features two worthwhile articles, both of which suggest some level of optimism that Donald Trump can be stopped. Jay Cost of the Weekly Standard presents the current delegate count — which shows Trump having collected 43 percent of the delegates awarded so far via caucuses and primaries — but points out that a 103 delegates will be going to Cleveland uncommitted.

Taking these delegates into account reduces Trump’s percentage to 39 percent. Ted Cruz follows with 30 percent. Marco Rubio is at 15 percent.

By this reckoning, Trump needs to win 59 percent of the remaining delegates to obtain a majority, not an easy task. Cost concludes that the best way to make sure Trump doesn’t get this share is for all of Trump’s remaining competitors to stay in the race.

Consultant Red Janhcke, writing in the New York Sun, believes there’s is a path through which Ted Cruz could win a majority of the delegates. This is one of three possible outcomes he perceives, the others being an outright Trump victory and a scenario in which no candidate has enough delegates going to into the convention.

Jahncke thinks Trump is in real trouble, but perhaps overstates his case:

Super Saturday, when Senator Cruz won 15 more delegates than Donald Trump, marks the beginning of the end of Trumpmania. Mr. Cruz won Kansas and Maine by big double-digit margins, while Mr. Trump nosed out Cruz in Louisiana and Kentucky only by margins of but 3% and 4%.

During the day, a new ARG poll in Michigan showed Governor Kasich rocketing past Mr. Trump into first place [but note that every other recent Michigan poll has Trump way ahead and the RCP average puts his share at equal to the combined share of Kasich and Cruz], boding well for the Mr. Kasich in Tuesday’s contest in the Wolverine state and at week later at Ohio. Mr. Cruz’s performance on Saturday will enhance his prospects in the two states.

Most ominous for Mr. Trump was Louisiana. The first results announced were absentee ballots cast days and weeks before primary day, which showed Mr. Trump in a commanding double-digit lead. As the day’s live voting results began coming in, the spread narrowed. The dichotomy suggested that Mr. Trump’s popularity declined into primary day itself.

The focus now is on Ohio and Florida because they are delegate-rich and home to two of the remaining four contenders. But Jahncke says we should also keep an eye on Missouri and Illinois, whose primaries are the some day.

Missouri may be Cruz country — he has won in nearby Iowa, Kansas, and Oklahoma. Trump led the field in the Show Me state at the turn of the year, but so much has happened since then that this polling can perhaps be largely disregarded. Illinois seems much more problematic for the Texas Senator.

Even if Cruz can’t win a majority of delegates headed into the convention, I think it’s very important that he have more than Trump. That way, if Cruz gets the nomination, he can persuasively say that he won it fair and square. If he (or Rubio or Kasich) wins the nomination having come to Cleveland with fewer delegates than Trump, the recriminations and resentments will plague the GOP in the general election.

In any event, Jahncke is of the view that Trump clearly has stalled and, as I have suggested elsewhere, recent evidence supports that view up to a point. A Trump win tomorrow in Mississippi won’t dispel this sense. However, a decisive win in Michigan (which seems quite possible) might.

The results in states like Michigan, Illinois, Missouri, Florida, and Ohio will tell us the extent to which Trump has been injured by the barrage of attacks against him so far and those that no doubt will be launched in the next debate. Thus, as Jahncke says, the next nine days will reveal an awful lot about what’s in store this summer in Cleveland.

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