Donald Trump’s central complaint about how Republicans choose a presidential nominee isn’t that Colorado picked the wrong method of selecting delegates. It’s that the requirement that a candidate get a majority of delegates to win the nomination is too onerous, and that a plurality should suffice. When his op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal says he intends to win the nomination through votes, not nefarious insider maneuverings, that’s what is meant: He is very likely going to win the most votes, though not a majority, and he thinks that should entitle him to the nomination.
Many Trump critics have noted that the process is already “rigged” in favor of Trump: He has won a higher percentage of bound delegates than of votes. Of course the system was not designed to benefit Trump specifically. It was, however, designed to help frontrunners.
Neither feature of the process—that it helps frontrunners, and that it does not guarantee weak frontrunners the nomination—strikes me as problematic. The party should be encouraged to consolidate behind a candidate; but if a majority of the party holds back from supporting a candidate, even with that encouragement, the process should not give him the nomination.
What does seem like a flaw in the process is that it is mathematically possible for a candidate to win the nomination over the opposition of a majority of Republican voters. It should be changed to make it more likely that a nominee has the support of a majority, and ideally a large majority, of those voters.
So, for example, states should give all their delegates to one candidate only if that candidate won an absolute majority in the primary: The party should be encouraged to consolidate behind someone who has majority support, but not someone who is benefiting from the intense support of a minority and from divided opposition.
Some states should also use instant runoff voting or some other method of preferential voting, to make sure that a majority of their primary voters actually prefer the person who wins to his nearest rival. Notice that I’m not saying that all states should use such procedures: You don’t want a system that could produce a nominee who is everyone’s second choice but lacks strong support from anyone. But you do want a system that encourages both breadth and depth of support in a nominee—and encourages candidates to build such support.
So Trump is right that the process should be reformed. But he’s wrong about what needs to be changed. The key problem isn’t that it’s too hard to win the nomination without majority support. It’s that it’s too easy. Republicans who want a unified party in future contests should modify the nomination process with that thought in mind.