What does Randy Evans, a member of the RNC’s Rules Committee, mean when he says that Trump’s a lock if he reaches 1,100 when everyone understands that 1,237 is required for a majority? Three possibilities. One: He’s suggesting that the Rules Committee might change the rules to lower the threshold needed to clinch. Trump has spent the past month grumbling that whoever has a plurality of delegates should rightfully be the nominee. Winning 1,100 or so would all but guarantee that he finishes the primaries with a plurality. (That’s all but guaranteed now, in fact, although in some alternate universe Cruz could run the table in the primaries the rest of the way and finish ahead of Trump.)
One small problem with this scenario, though: Trump would need to control a majority of the delegates on the Rules Committee to authorize that rule change and, unless I’m missing something, it’s highly unlikely that he will. Cruz will have plenty of delegates positioned there too; given his organizational superiority, he may even have more than Trump. Party leaders who sit on the committee will also be hostile to the idea of any rule changes that make it more likely that Trump becomes the nominee. Maybe Evans is suggesting that Trump will make a deal with Kasich, say, and get his delegates on the committee to agree to the “plurality wins” rule change. Together they might have enough votes to pass something. But then, if Trump and Kasich make a deal, you may not need the Rules Committee to do anything. It may be that Kasich will simply convince his delegates on the floor to vote for Trump on the first ballot and that’ll give him the 1,237 he needs.
A second possibility: All Evans means is that if Trump gets to Cleveland with 1,100 delegates or more, he should have no trouble recruiting another 137 among the hundreds of unbound delegates there to give him a majority. In other words, he’s giving you an estimate of how many delegates Trump needs to win at the ballot box to make Paul Manafort’s job of persuading free agents so easy that Trump basically can’t lose. One problem with that theory, though, is that persuading 137 unbound delegates is actually a tall order for a campaign whose infrastructure is as thin as Trump’s. I’ve seen estimates that he’d need to be closer to 1,200 delegates, right on the cusp of a majority, to all but assure that he gets the last few dozen he needs. Just this morning, in fact, WaPo is out with this gloomy assessment of Trump’s chances:
Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz is close to ensuring that Donald Trump cannot win the GOP nomination on a second ballot at the party’s July convention in Cleveland, scooping up scores of delegates who have pledged to vote for him instead of the front-runner if given the chance…
[B]ased on the delegate selections made by states and territories, Cruz is poised to pick up at least 130 more votes on a second ballot, according to a Washington Post analysis. That tally surpasses 170 delegates under less conservative assumptions — a number that could make it impossible for Trump to emerge victorious.
How many delegates will truly still be free agents, persuadable by Trump, by the time the primaries end?
Another problem with reading Evans this way is that, if you watch closely, you’ll see that he mentions unbound delegates in the clip only when he imagines Trump finishing with somewhere between 1,000 and 1,100 delegates. He doesn’t say anything about them when he assures the “Morning Joe” crew that Trump will be the nominee if he gets to 1,100. Some Twitter pals took that to mean that he has something else in mind besides unbound delegates for how Trump will claim the nomination if he gets to 1,100. I’m not so sure, though. I think all he means to suggest is that, if Trump reaches 1,100, it’s a cinch that he’ll get the 137 unbound delegates he needs for a majority. (It isn’t, but whatever.) If he finishes with less than 1,100, then the unbound delegates are more of a question mark. Maybe Trump gets there, maybe he doesn’t. It’ll depend on the delegates themselves and what Trump and Cruz are putting on the table for them. Point being, unbound delegates are a major factor in Evans’s mind if Trump finishes shy of 1,100 but not so major if he finishes above that.
Third possibility: Evans has some kooky unspecified idea about how the process will, or should, work that isn’t shared by most of his colleagues. The RNC’s chief spokesman, Sean Spicer, has already taken to Twitter this morning to try to stamp out the fire Drudge is trying to light.
— Sean Spicer (@seanspicer) April 13, 2016
It wouldn’t be unheard of for a Rules Committee to hold a view of the nominating process that others don’t agree with. Curly Haugland, an unbound delegate this year and a former committee member, has been insisting for weeks that delegates at the convention aren’t bound even on the first ballot. That was a one-time rule change limited to 1976, he claims. Every delegate on the convention floor this year should be free to vote against Trump from the word go, no matter how their states voted. I’m … pretty sure Haugland’s view won’t prevail in Cleveland, but the underlying point stands. Like Haugland, Evans may simply have an idea about how this is going to work that the rest of the Rules Committee doesn’t subscribe to. Wish he’d tell us in more detail.
Update: Annnnd there we go. The second explanation above is the correct one, which means this is much ado about nothing.
Just got off phone w/ RNC Randy Evans: the 1237 number is NOT flexible, only that if Trump is close, can wrangle enough unbound delegates
— Caitlin Huey-Burns (@CHueyBurnsRCP) April 13, 2016