Trump's 'the system is rigged' gambit is working

Donald Trump has been presenting two arguments about the process of choosing a president the last couple of weeks. The first argument is fairly reasonable; that the candidate with the most votes when the convention rolls around should be the nominee, even if he 's short of the 1237 delegate majority.

But a darker offshoot of that argument is that the system is "rigged" and that he should be the nominee because everyone else is cheating.

Nate Silver thinks both arguments are working in Trump's favor.

Polling suggests that a majority of Republicans agree with at least the milder version of Trump’s argument, although the framing of the question matters. 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.

Polls like those could sway delegate sentiment at the convention. But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves; there are still 15 states where voters have yet to weigh in. With John Kasich mathematically eliminated from winning on the first ballot at the convention and Cruz practically eliminated from doing so,2 a vote for either of Trump’s opponents is a vote for a contested convention at this point. It’s possible that some #TolerateTrump Republicans in states such as California might hold their nose and vote for Trump to try to pre-empt a contested convention, even though they might have voted for Cruz or Kasich earlier in the process.

However, there’s other polling to suggest that #TolerateTrump Republicans could be persuaded by counterarguments to Trump’s plurality-rules doctrine, if only they were hearing them. Consider, for instance, a recentYouGov poll of Pennsylvania, which had Trump with 46 percent of the vote there.

I think Trump is right. The process is, indeed, "rigged." It's rigged in favor of smart people who read the rules and hustles to get every delegate possible while it punishes lazy, stupid people who want the nomination handed to them and whine about "cheating" when things don't go their way.

It should come as no surprise that Trump's fortunes are rising. There is a strong impulse in both parties to unite behind a candidate. It's an act of self preservation to avoid messy floor fights when the country is watching and Trump's claim to the nomination will be a strong one when he arrives in Cleveland. If he comes up short of 1237 delegates, it won't be by much - a couple of dozen at most. There may be enough Rubio delegates alone who would give Trump their vote on the first ballot to put him over the top. There will also be around 200 "unbound" delegates, many of whom Cruz may have locked up but are under no obligation to vote for the Texas Senator. 

Trump will almost certainly sweep the primaries on Tuesday in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. Several of those states have rules on delegate allocation that Trump may not like, but he is still likely to get the lion's share of the 172 delegates at stake. Added to his 845 (according to RealClear Politics), there's a good chance Trump will break a thousand delegates when the smoke clears on Wednesday.

By my calculations, Trump would need to win less than 50% of the remaining delegates after Tuesday's primaries in order to top 1237. Considering his surging poll numbers, it might be easier than we think.