Note to Donald Trump: Building a big lead in the primaries isn’t the same as winning the nomination.
Granted, it’s your first time running for public office, so you might be unfamiliar with some of the intricacies. And you’ve come out on top so often in the first 30 primaries and caucuses, you may have lost sight of the fact that you didn’t attract 50% of the vote in any of them.
The fact of the matter, though, is that your party, the Republican Party, requires candidates to collect a majority of the delegates in order to become the party’s nominee. Your comments after Tuesday’s primaries hinted that you feel entitled to the nomination even if you should fall short of a majority, just because you’re doing so much better than the other guys. Your supporters feel the same way, you said, and you predicted on CNN that there would be “riots” and “problems like you’ve never seen before” if you went into the Republican National Convention with a big lead in delegates but didn’t wind up as the nominee.
Considering the source, that sounds like a suggestion as much as a prediction. And though you’re right about how much better you’re doing than your rapidly dwindling roster of rivals, it’s worth remembering that most Republicans who’ve cast ballots so far have been voting for someone else.
Another point to bear in mind is that presidential primaries aren’t exercises in one-person, one-vote. Some of the contests are winner-take-all, and many of the others award delegates disproportionately to the top finishers. When there’s a big field of candidates, that structure can favor candidates like you who have the loyal backing of a sizable minority.
With only two opponents now to split the anti-Trump vote, it may be easier for one of them to outpoll you, preventing you from racking up enough delegates to win the nomination on the first ballot. And if you don’t, then you and your rivals will have an equal opportunity to assemble a coalition popular enough to earn the support of the majority of the delegates. That’s not a riot-worthy outrage, it’s just Republicans choosing the nominee that’s appealing to most convention delegates and the people they represent. It’s their party, after all.
The same goes for Sen. Bernie Sanders, by the way. His supporters have complained that Democrats stacked the deck against him by creating a large number of “superdelegates” — typically, elected officials — who’ve aligned mainly with Hillary Clinton. But whether or not that’s a good system, Sanders knew the rules when he chose to run as a Democrat, even though he isn’t one. And the superdelegates’ loyalty could shift if Sanders wins the primaries in their states.
Mr. Trump, you would be on firmer ground if the Republican establishment changed the rules at the last minute to withhold a nomination you’d legitimately won. But again, winning isn’t measured by how big your lead is over the other guys. It’s whether you can get to 50% of the delegates via the primaries, and if not, whether you can get there by persuading your opponents’ delegates to come over to your side. It’s a version of the sort of thing presidents have to do in Washington when dealing with a polarized Congress, which is what you’d be facing if, heaven help us, you got there.
So knock off the rabble rousing. You sound like a marathoner who wants the trophy before the race is finished, or worse, like a child threatening to throw a destructive tantrum if he doesn’t get his way. Let’s face it, many conservative pundits and office-holders don’t want you to be the GOP’s standard-bearer. You’ve still got some work to do if you’re going to claim a mandate to represent Republicans in November.