Politics & Policy

Nothing Changed Yesterday—And Trump Is Still Not on the Path to Nomination

(Scott Olson/Getty)

Before we begin debunking, let’s start with the obvious: It was undoubtedly a good night for Trump and unsurprisingly so, as NR’s Henry Olsen predicted on election eve.

Trump looks to have taken 90 delegates and 60 percent of the vote, somewhat better than projections, although most election-eve forecasts had him taking at least 85 or so of New York’s 95 delegates (Olsen had him pegged for 87).

But despite his victory, Trump got only a very modest bump from New York last night. And despite the breathless TV and print commentary from our New York–centered media, he still faces huge obstacles if he wants to get a sufficient number of delegates to be nominated on the first ballot. And if he is not nominated on the first ballot, given Cruz’s wildly successful delegate strategy, it is unlikely he will be nominated at all.

In fact, according to the analysis of the widely-respected 538.com, Trump actually fell just short of the number of delegates he needed in New York to put himself on the path to the magic number of 1,237.

And, though he should have a good week next week when Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island vote, he will need a New York–level performance, not just a victory, if he wants to substantially improve his nomination odds.  

New York and the five states voting next Tuesday are all part of the Democrats’ “blue wall.” Democrats have won all of these states in each of the last six elections. Only one of these states (Pennsylvania) has given more than 45 percent of its vote to the GOP candidate in any of the last six elections. New York and Rhode Island have never even given 40 percent to GOP candidates during this time.

RELATED: Anti-Trump Forces Routed in New York

It will be a major surprise if Trump loses any of the April 26 “Acela corridor” states. In fact, the 538.com base projections, which still have Trump coming up almost 80 delegates short of the 1,237 he will need for a first-ballot nomination, project that he will easily win almost all of the delegates in these states next week. If Cruz (whom, full disclosure, I have endorsed), or even the delusional John Kasich, were to somehow surprise him, most likely in Pennsylvania or Maryland, it would constitute a major setback for Trump.

The real final charge for the nomination begins not next week in the Northeast, but the following week in Indiana.

Even in a best-case scenario for Trump, he can probably gain no more than ten or 15 delegates above current projections, still leaving him far off pace to clinch the nomination. On the downside, if he unexpectedly loses anywhere on April 26, his path to 1,237 delegates is almost certainly foreclosed. An April 26 sweep is already priced into Trump’s stock.

The real final charge for the nomination begins not next week in the Northeast, but the following week in Indiana, the first of the final ten states to vote on ground that is much more favorable to Cruz. In fact, Cruz is favored in most of the last ten states, with only New Jersey and (narrowly) California falling into the Trump column. (Tim Alberta has an outstanding look at Cruz’s strategy in Indiana on NRO today.) 

#share#There is no denying that Indiana is critical for both Trump and Cruz – Cruz can survive  a loss there, but an overwhelming victory by Trump in Indiana could make 1,237 delegates a reasonable possibility for the businessman and would definitely be a substantial blow to Cruz’s chances. In contrast, if Cruz wins in Indiana, the “swingiest” of the states that he is favored to win down the stretch, Trump would face almost impossible odds in getting to 1,237. Until Indiana, almost every delegate Cruz wins is upside – and his biggest risk (even more so than Kasich’s crazy-uncle spoiler candidacy) is that a sloppy pro-Trump media narrative overwhelms him before he can get back to the campaign trail, where he will almost certain close strongly. Barring a very unusual occurrence, this contest will not be decided until (at the earliest) the final states vote on June 7.

Even in Trump’s New York victory, there were warning signs for any mainstream GOPers tempted to get behind him. According to exit polls, he took 63 percent of the over-45 vote but just 50 percent of those 45 and under. He took just 52 percent of working-class (under 50K family income) Republicans, far short of the 63 percent he took among wealthier Republicans. And perhaps most important, he won less than half as many votes as Hillary Clinton and just two-thirds as many as Bernie Sanders.  His “dominant” performance was only dominant in the context of a state with a small minority of GOP voters. GOP turnout was up moderately compared with 2008 (the last open-seat presidential race in New York) but there was absolutely nothing in New York’s GOP turnout to suggest that Trump would be a game-changer in terms of putting new states in play. In fact, Trump took just 50 percent of independents, far worse than his share among New York’s atypically liberal Republicans.

Nor was the news much better for Kasich, the Baghdad Bob of the 2016 campaign, who was busy yet again claiming momentum after another 30-point-plus shellacking. There is much to suggest that his performance in New York was something of a one-off, though he’ll likely do respectably on April 26 because of the relatively favorable demographics of the states voting then. After that, things look bleak for Kasich, unless you assume that his only role in the race is to help Trump win the GOP nomination.

#related#Looking at New York’s exit polls, there’s substantial evidence that Cruz’s “New York values” comments hurt him there — which won’t be a problem for him next week. The exits showed that Kasich dominated among the #NeverTrump crowd in New York. Among the 24 percent of voters who said they would not vote for Trump if he were the GOP nominee, Kasich won a staggering 72 percent of them, far better than he had ever previously done with this demographic. He won 40 percent of voters who decided in the last week (far better than his 25 percent overall), suggesting that he maximized his value among late deciders. And perhaps most surprisingly, he beat Cruz among self-described conservatives and Evangelical Christians. The exit polls strongly indicate that Cruz and New York had a passionate, mutual non-love affair, so much so that he dramatically underperformed even in his strongest demographics. Don’t expect a repeat of that going forward.

In a week’s time, we’ll likely be back here analyzing some more Trump “victories.” But his win in New York and a follow-up sweep on April 26 are just what he’s expected to do. And he’ll have to exceed, not just meet, expectations in May and June if he wants to win the nomination. 

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