It sounds ridiculous to say that even if Donald Trump wins New York tonight, he can still lose the nomination. However that only sounds silly because we’re so used to the fawning coverage from Fox and CNN, which have made New York out to be a general election-style Winner Take All state.
New York is not Winner Take All statewide. He has to perform consistently across the state if he wants to get the delegates he almost certainly needs to have any shot at avoiding a disastrous runoff election at the convention in Cleveland.
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It’s true: the Republican National Convention works like the primary elections in states like Texas. If you don’t get a clear majority on the first election, a runoff election is held, winnowing the field down, and producing that clear majority. Because Ted Cruz has been working hard, doing the fundamentals, and winning over delegates, he has a huge advantage over Trump in the runoff. Trump’s only realistic chance to win is right away, on the first ballot. He needs a majority of the delegates: that magic number of 1,237 so often cited.
He can take many paths to get there. FiveThirtyEight took an average of the most likely scenarios and declared that to be his delegate target. Right now Donald Trump is 78 delegates off of that target, 91% of the amount he needs to stay on pace to avoid a runoff election at the convention.
However the way the crude 538 average works, Trump will necessarily run ahead of projection when he wins, and behind the projection when he loses. He ran ahead in the northeast and in the south, behind in the plains, and he’s had mixed results in the midwest and the west. New York is his home state. He needs to run well ahead of projection here. To catch up, he needs to run the table.
His projection for tonight is 58 out of 95 delegates. To get a number that low he’d probably have to end up under 50% of the statewide popular vote. It would still be a ‘win’ in that he’d come in first, but a result like that would be an epic disaster for him. He’d be finished.
No, he needs to finish well above that result. He needs to break 90 delegates tonight to have a true, dominating win and just get himself in position to take the nomination outrght. He’s 78 delegates short right now. Sweeping New York can net him 37 of them. Sweeping friendly Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Maryland can net him 44 more. These are his best opportunities left, and they just barely get him over the top.
Pennsylvania’s arcane, insider-run loophole primary seems almost custom made for John Kasich and Ted Cruz to hold back Trump. He’s not likely to overperform his projection of 40/71. The projections already have him sweeping New Jersey and West Virginia, and nearly have him doing so in Indiana. This is to say: the projection already has him maxing out those friendly states.
Besides those, the states left are mostly in the plains and on the west coast. The plains, again, are a place where he’s underperformed. The west coast is a giant question mark. He can’t count on overperforming there, though, when the projection already has him taking 81 out of 172 in California, despite being behind in the polls in major regions of the state.
So, yes. Trump needs to do more than win tonight. He needs to sweep the state, or very close to it. If he does not break 90 delegates, then look for further panic from his campaign, which is already not just in disarray, but is in open civil war.
Ignore what the smiling New York liberal faces will say on television tonight. It’s not enough for Trump to win. He has to run up the score tonight, but the polls just don’t look likely to get him there. If you’re a New York Republican: get out out and vote. If you’re not: hang on for a ride tonight.