6 Myths about the Republican Primaries

It seems that there are a number of myths out there about the presidential primary process.  Here is my shot at debunking the six most common.

Myth #1:  The system is too complex; nobody can understand it.

A state may be a primary state or a caucus state.  The contest may be open to all voters or just to people who have registered as Republicans. 

The delegates may be selected by the winning candidate; these are the unbound delegates.

The delegates may be elected themselves in local grassroots party meetings where it's typically either a reward for their volunteer work, or simply a willingness to burn a week's vacation and pay the $900 convention fee (far from being bribed – I've yet to hear of anyone being reimbursed).  These are the bound delegates, and they are required to vote for the winning candidate for at least one ballot, no matter whom they personally support. 

There are a few outliers.  The territories tend to have conventions instead of caucuses, and Pennsylvania and West Virginia are a hot mess that justify any number of complaints.  Colorado is really a short series of conventions during which they hold a caucus; Trump surely could have taken some badly needed delegates if he'd shown up, or at least sent a surrogate.  (A side myth is that Colorado canceled its primary for a caucus.  Truth is, they've been doing a caucus for over a hundred years.) 

The most common distribution of delegates is to allot them to the winner of each congressional district, plus some bonus delegates for winning statewide.  These are the "winner take all" states, with only a couple of exceptions like Florida and Delaware.  There, the winner statewide really does take all.  In the "proportional" states, the winner gets more delegates than the loser, and so close races tend to be a wash.

By and large, that's it.  Not exactly the infield fly rule.  To take the lead, win the most votes.  To knock out the competition, take a majority of the votes. 

If you aren't sure what kind of state you live in, check the RCP delegate count page, which has the "rules" listed on a single page, along with the results so far.  If you don't like the way your contest is held, run for a state committee and change it (I'm looking at you, Pennsylvania).

Myth #2: You can win a majority of votes and have the nomination stolen from you.

There is no practical way to win a majority, as opposed to a plurality, of votes and not win the nomination.  We are not where we are at because Mr. Trump, or Senator Cruz, for that matter, has overwhelming support from the voters.  We're here because they do not.  With thirty-five states complete, only three have had a winner with more than 50% of the vote: Utah and Wyoming for Cruz and New York for Trump. 

Myth #3: The establishment is going to fix the convention using the rules committee.

There is no practical way for a rules committee meeting in April to set the rules for the convention in July when there is no winner.  They can make a non-binding recommendation to the convention's rules committee, sure, but even if the convention's rules committee takes their suggestion and runs with it, they will need 1,237 votes on the floor to put those rules in place.  The kind of stuff that the rule committee has the power to do is along the lines of deciding how many donuts the winner can take on the loser's lawn (answer: not as many as you think.) 

I'll make one last analogy to explain.  The vault holding the nomination is the same one that holds the rules.  You need 1,237 delegates to open the vault.  If you have them, you've already won, and you don't need to cheat.  If you don't have them, you can't control the rules and won't be able to cheat. 

Myth #4: The White Knight.

There will be no "White Knight."  Yes, a meteor may hit the Quicken Loans Arena; wipe out all the Trump and Cruz delegates, along with Trump and Cruz; and force some kind of Plan B.  But unless someone can Jedi mind-trick the bulk of the Trump and Cruz supporters into voting for Jeb!, we're just going to have to accept the fact that the nominee is going to be one of the two candidates with meaningful support on the floor. 

Myth #5: If Trump is short of 1,237, he can't win.

No.  Mr. Trump will be going into what, to go back to my NASCAR analogy, is a Green-White-Checkered while on the pole and with fresher tires. 

It's not at all hard for me to believe Mr. Trump will come out of the June 7 races with 1,160 bound delegates, leaving him with the need to pick up 77 between the end of the season and the convention.  The weirdness in Pennsylvania could easily give him 50 of those.  Rubio and Kasich between them will have over 300; Trump gets 27 from them, and its over before the convention begins. 

Even if Rubio and Kasich don't release their delegates, or they all go to Cruz, getting over the top will require winning an unbound commitment that's the size of American Samoa, the Northern Marianas, and Guam.  If Trump can't manage to close that deal, he deserves to lose a lot more than the nomination.        

It's true that if Trump can't get there on the first ballot, he's in trouble, which is the reason Cruz hasn't already changed to the Reagan '76 playbook and "endorsed" Trump while preparing a run against Hillary in '20.  But Cruz needs to do a lot better than just keeping Trump under 1,237.

Myth #6: The purity myth.

Every member of every faction seems to believe that the reason for prior losses in the general is that the party's consensus winner belonged to the "wrong" faction. 

The Paul folks envision a libertarian horde just over the horizon: legalize pot, and they will come.  The Bush folks talk a lot about public service, expecting that their words will drop the scales from the eyes of the voters, who finally see Bush's "me too, but better" sign and tell themselves, "Of course!  Why haven't I seen it before?" 

My own faction has spent so much time kneeling at the altar of Reagan that when the contest rolls around every four years, we're mostly surprised at how much harder it is to stand up than it was the last time around.

This bring us to our new roomies: the Trump populists.  So far, this seems to be a group that will be outraged if they lose and disappointed if they win – a group that can't wait to start the purge.  They don't want to hear from us losers even if all we're doing is pointing out that the gun is loaded, the safety is off, and it's pointed at their feet.

They are the beast with a million fingers, yet not one pointed at itself.