How Wisconsin Drubbing Muddies Donald Trump’s Path To Nomination

Donald Trump’s defeat in last night’s Wisconsin primary was bad news for him on three levels.

The Impact Of Donald Trump’s Defeat

First, the defeat showed clear weaknesses in how voters look at Trump. Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post analyzed the exit poll data, and he discovered the following.

“Cruz crushed Trump by 21 points among self-described conservatives. More than six in 10 Wisconsin Republican primary voters said illegal immigrants working in the United States should be offered some form of legal status. And, perhaps most damning for Trump, 58 percent of GOP primary-goers said they would be either ‘scared’ (38 percent) or ‘concerned’ (20 percent) if he were elected the next president. That’s Republican primary voters!”

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The victor, Texas Senator Ted Cruz, also beat the poll spread: while the Real Clear Politics average of polls gave Cruz a 4.7 percent lead, he beat Trump by 13.2 percent, 48.3-35.1, among the voters.

Ted Cruz celebrates Wisconsin victory
[Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images]

A More “Presidential” Donald Trump?

Second, Donald Trump’s initial response to the defeat was not to act presidential, as many of his supporters had hoped. For instance, Bill O’Reilly of Fox News stated on Monday that Trump promised to act more “presidential” going forward.

However, Trump belied that hope when he released a statement that accused “Lyin’ Ted Cruz” of “coordinating with his own Super PAC which is illegal) who totally control him. Ted Cruz is worse than a puppet–he is a Trojan horse, being used by the party bosses attempting to steal the nomination away from Mr. Trump.”

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However, CNN noted, “There is no evidence that Cruz and his super PAC coordinated on advertising.”

Trump’s Path To 1,237 Derailed?

Third, and perhaps most important, Donald Trump’s Wisconsin loss makes his path to securing the nomination prior to the Republican convention in July that much more difficult. Cruz appears to have garnered 36 delegates last night, to just six for Trump — a net gain of 30 for Cruz. After last night, Real Clear Politics shows Trump with 743 delegates, with 517 for Cruz. Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who dropped out last month, is third with 171, while Ohio Governor John Kasich, who gained zero delegates last night, is fourth with 143.

As Politico reported, Cruz’s victory leaves Trump “with little margin of error in the remaining contests to win the 1,237 delegates necessary to secure the nomination on the first ballot at July’s GOP convention.

“And if he doesn’t win it that way, many anti-Trump Republicans believe, he’s not going to win it at all.”

Prior to last night’s Wisconsin primary, NPR noted that the path to 1,237 would be difficult for Trump — even if he had won, “he would still enter the last day of the primary calendar short of the majority of delegates needed to clinch the nomination.”

Additionally, Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight stated, “If Trump doesn’t win on the first ballot, he’s probably screwed.”

“The basic reason is simple. Most of the 2,472 delegates with a vote in Cleveland probably aren’t going to like Trump.”

This is because, as Silver went on to clarify, delegates are only bound to support their candidates on the first round. After that, they are free agents and can vote for anybody. “Delegates are people,” he said.

For instance, Donald Trump won the Arizona primary in March, taking all 58 delegates in the winner-take-all contest. However, the Washington Examiner reported that the Cruz campaign has been courting those delegates. Sean Noble, a GOP strategist, told the Examiner, “Cruz will get most/all Arizona delegates on second ballot.”

A ripple effect in other states could likewise benefit Cruz, and enable him to win the nomination on the second ballot.

A Silver Lining For Donald Trump?

However, Cillizza found that there is a silver lining for Trump.

“A majority of Wisconsin Republican primary voters believe that if no one gets to the magic 1,237 number, the party should choose the candidate who won the most — it’s not clear whether that is calculated by raw votes or delegates — rather than the perceived ‘best’ candidate.”

Cillizza added that this finding is “broadly in keeping with other national polling data,” which shows that the candidate with the most delegates heading into the convention, Trump, should automatically be the victor.

“I do think that the closer Trump is to 1,237 — maybe anything above 1,150? — the more inclined the convention delegates will be to throw their lot in, eventually, with him. If Trump ends up somewhere between 1,000 and 1,100, that argument gets more complicated.”

The next primary contest is in New York, Trump’s home state, on April 19.

[Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images]