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A Contested GOP Convention: What Exactly Does That Mean for Frontrunner Trump?

[DIGEST: 538, Salon, Politico, NBC]

It has been an unexpected primary campaign season. The path through this summer looks as unpredictable as Donald Trump’s position as frontrunner seemed months ago. When Ohio went to its governor, John Kasich, Trump’s path to an assured nomination became trickier.


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The Republican nominee needs to have the backing of 1,237 delegates at the convention in Cleveland this July. Trump could reach that number, but he would need to start winning primaries by larger margins than we’ve seen thus far. While it is mathematically possible for Senator Ted Cruz to gain those delegates, it is unlikely since it hinges on Trump picking up very few votes in the remaining contests. For Governor Kasich, it is statistically impossible to get the nomination on the first ballot.

What might happen

If Trump does not pick up 545 more delegates by the June 7th primaries, he can avoid a contested convention only by negotiating with the remaining candidates and the unbound party delegates who were once thought to be a shoo-in for the establishment candidate.

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Trump campaign’s appears already to be engaged in horse-trading. To many people’s surprise, former candidate Dr. Ben Carson endorsed Trump last week. This week, Carson publicly discussed his decision and said that Trump offered Carson a role in the Trump presidency. Similar negotiations could move individual

delegates and delegate blocks to Trump’s camp so that he reaches the magic number before the convention.

Contested convention

Contested conventions are governed by rules that can be changed by the Republican National Committee just before the convention or by the Rules Committee during the convention.

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According to the current rules, during the first round of balloting, the delegates must vote the way they were committed to vote by the primaries in their home states. After that, most of them are free to vote how they choose, and that’s where the bargaining, politicking and unknowns come into the picture. This is where Governor Kasich hopes to leverage the party apparatus to become the Republican candidate in the general election.

Another factor is Rule 40, implemented in 2012 that mandates that any Republican nominee has to have won the majority of the delegates from at least eight states. At that time, the Republican establishment had decided that in order to give former Governor Mitt Romney a stronger launch from the Republican Convention, they would set a limit to keep Ron Paul’s delegates from counting.

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At this point, only Trump qualifies under the rule. Trump and Senator Cruz have both said they will use the rule to keep Kasich out of contention. It could also keep other potential candidates, such as Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, from becoming viable.

The end result, as asserted by RNC member Henry Barbour, is that “anyone who thinks they know what would happen if no one has a majority of the delegates is dreaming. Just no telling who will actually be delegates in many states and how they would respond to a second ballot.”