Ted Cruz, professional Republican delegate collector, has had another great weekend building up his support for a possible second round of voting at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. Politico reports that of the 94 GOP delegates up for grabs across states on Saturday, Cruz secured at least 64. In Maine, Cruz-supporting delegate candidates won 19 of 20 slots, plus a whopping 36 of 37 in Trump-hating Utah, all 9 Minnesota delegates on the ballot across three congressional districts, and 1 more delegate in a congressional district in South Carolina. All of these delegates, some of whom are already pledged to Trump on the first ballot in Cleveland, would be poised to support Cruz’s nomination should Trump be unable to secure the win in the first round, though that outcome seems more and more unlikely at this point.
As FiveThiryEight’s Nate Silver points out:
While [Trump’s] victory in New York this week was expected, he got 60 percent of the vote, more than the roughly 55 percent projected by the polls. He appears headed for victories in Maryland and Pennsylvania, which vote on Tuesday. He’s gained ground in California and is narrowly ahead of Ted Cruz in the first public polls of Indiana. He’s added about 2 percentage points over the past two weeks in our national polling average.
Put another way, by Vox’s Andrew Prokop, “unless something big changes, unless these polls are very wrong, or unless there’s some sort of convention rules coup, this points toward a first ballot victory for Donald Trump.”
Silver goes on to note that Trump’s anti-establishment “rigged system” argument seems to have traction among Republican voters, and that opinion polls indicate that the GOP rank and file want to avoid a contested convention, even if they don’t want Trump to be their nominee — a sentiment that may influence voting in the 15 remaining contests where, at this stage, a vote for anyone but Trump is essentially a vote for a contested convention:
Last week’s NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found that 62 percent of Republicans thought the “candidate with the most votes in the primaries” should become the nominee in the event that no candidate wins a majority of delegates, compared with 33 percent who said Republicans should choose the “candidate who the delegates think would be the best nominee.” Only 40 percent of Republicans had Trump as their first choice in the same poll, which implies that there’s a group of Republicans who personally don’t prefer Trump but wouldn’t want to deny him the nomination if he finished with the plurality of delegates and votes, as he is almost certain to do. We might call this group the #TolerateTrump faction of the GOP, as opposed to pro-Trump and #NeverTrump blocs.
In addition, as the Associated Press highlights:
It may seem counterproductive, but Trump’s foot-stomping has served as a rallying cry to boost turnout and reinforce his appeal to voters who feel disenfranchised. The “rigged” system argument is a convenient scapegoat, shifting the blame for any future potential losses and lost delegates away from a campaign that has been outmaneuvered.
Speaking of rallying cries, despite Trump’s new convention manager telling GOP insiders last week that the image-projecting Trump was “evolving” and will dial back the crazy and be super-presidential for the general election fight, the candidate himself maintained a different — or, rather, familiar — tone in front of Connecticut supporters on Saturday. Via the New York Times:
“[My aide Paul Manafort] was down in Florida and he said, ‘You know, Donald might be changing a little bit over a period of time and he — maybe he’ll tone it down, maybe he won’t, but who knows what happens?’ ” Mr. Trump told a crowd in Waterbury, before rejecting this notion.
“I sort of don’t like toning it down,” he said. “Isn’t it nice that I’m not one of these teleprompter guys?”
Per the AP, Trump also told supporters at another Connecticut rally on Saturday that ”being presidential is easy,” or at least “much easier than what I have to do — up here I have to rant and rave and keep you people going, or else you’re going to fall asleep on me.”
Trump’s campaign was offering a fresh rejection of Cruz’s delegate-hunting efforts on Sunday as well, with convention manager Paul Manafort arguing on Fox News Sunday that Cruz, by gaming out his second-ballot strategy, is in fact “trying to say the process doesn’t matter”:
He’s trying to say voting doesn’t matter. He’s trying to say that all that matters is to destroy the party and see who can pick up the pieces on a second, third or fourth ballot. … Good news for him, or for the party we’re not going to let that happen. We’re going to win it on the first ballot, and it will be clear on June 7.
Writing for Hot Air, Jazz Shaw also warns Cruz to be careful what he wishes for, because “once the beast is unleashed you never know what might happen next or what groups might jump up with plans which you completely oppose”:
As anyone who has watched Game of Thrones will tell you, caution is required if you make a deal with a traitor. If you rely on a victory which requires delegates ostensibly “bound” to Trump but who are willing to sell him out on the second ballot, the loyalty of some of them may well be up for grabs. When the moment of decision comes and someone begins talking about the polls which show Kasich as the only one beating Clinton in the general, how firm will their resolve be? Or if the rules committee completely scraps the current guidelines, will they suddenly get stars in their eyes and go all weak in the knees if the delegates suddenly try to drag a blushing Paul Ryan back onto the stage to admit that he just might possibly, maybe consider accepting the nomination if the entire convention begged and pleaded with him earnestly enough?