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GOP rules update: An escape route closes for the Establishment

February 10th, 2016, 5:37pm by Sam Wang


In my calculations of the GOP nomination process, I constructed a simulation of the many rules between now and Super Tuesday. I had assumed that each state’s party officials – 3 delegates per state – were “superdelegates,” not bound by the election result. They would be free to vote as they liked. Although they are only around 5% of all delegates, they would be one way that the party could have wiggle room in case it was necessary to cut a deal at the convention. For example, what if Donald Trump has just below 50% of delegates? They might want to derail him.

However, over at FHQ is a scoop: party-official delegates are bound to their state’s election winner – just like regular delegates. This rules change was instituted by the national Republican Party to streamline the process, so that a frontrunning candidate who was supported by less than 50% of voters could still win a majority of delegates. In a divided field, that is a substantial risk, and might lead to a protracted nomination fight. Little did they know that the front-runner they would end up helping is Donald Trump.

My calculations will require some minor modifications. My conclusion is actually strengthened: Trump’s chances are even better than I had initially estimated. I’ll provide an update, once I make sure there are no other significant problems.

Speaking of arcana, this is a very minor point and doesn’t describe the big picture – but it is entertaining:

Tags: 2016 Election

19 Comments so far ↓

  • bks

    Q. How many $1,000/hour lawyers does it take to write unambiguous policy that involves arithmetic on small integers?

    A. Intractable by induction. The first lawyer will subcontract the task to a specialist, and each lawyer added increases the ambiguity.

  • 538 Refugee

    I’ve been poking around trying to find out if the numbers we are getting for the first two contests have this baked in or not? There is no shortage of sites that have delegate counts but is there some official listing by the parties? Did find the official gop pint glass ‘set’ (of one apparently) for 10% off but $27 is a bit more than I’ll pony up. Still though, hard to pass up FREE shipping.

    • Sam Wang

      First a warning: some websites are wrong, and not by a little. For example, the RealClearPolitics calculator is completely wrong – it doesn’t even attempt to implement the correct district-level rules.

      Probably a media organization would get it right. I believe AP has gone to some efforts. Also, follow this Twitter thread with Taniel.

  • LondonYoung

    IIRC, delegates to the convention are selected under the existing rules, but once the delegates meet at the convention the first thing they do is vote on new rules to govern the convention.

    Another bit of arcana – in the end it is up to the individual states to decide which candidate gets a party’s label. In 1948 Strom Thermond was the democratic party nominee on the ballot in four states.

    • James Moore

      Yes – the interesting thing isn’t the rules, but who enforces the rules. What happens when “bound” delegates show up and say they aren’t bound at all? Seems more likely for Trump delegates; presumably the traditional candidates have a pool of diehard party loyalists to choose from, and are far less likely to defect.

    • Sam Wang

      It’s called the Credentials Committee. The struggles will be epic.

  • WDR

    Regarding that last arcana bit–if 9 candidates each got 11% of the vote, they would each qualify for 3 delegates, for 27 total. Isn’t that more than New Hampshire has?

  • pechmerle

    More arcana: There are also complicated, state-level rules on what happens to delegates “won” by candidates who subsequently withdraw from the race for the nomination. The Iowa Republican party apparently binds those delegates to the candidate, despite his/her withdrawal, so there will be one Huckabee vote and one Fiorina vote on the first ballot taken at the convention. Neither Huckabee nor Fiorina nor these two delegates themselves control this choice.
    Other states do release delegates of a withdrawn candidate to make another choice. Still other states apparently have complicated hybrid rules.
    This may be something to complicate simulations, but is unlikely to matter much because — naturally — the candidates who are withdrawing are those who didn’t get many delegates prior to doing so anyway.
    There must be a nice reference book somewhere that lays out all of these rules in detail, but I haven’t found an online source that puts it all in one place.

  • Olav Grinde

    A timely question, although unrelated to your post about GOP delegate rules: What’s the deal with Nevada? I find it hard to believe that no polls of the Democratic race here have been conducted since the stale CNN/ORC poll (early October) and Gravis poll (Christmas).

    Is there any fresher information on this state?

    • Kalil

      Rachel Maddow said she called several pollsters with this question, and they basically said they have no idea how to model Nevada and aren’t willing to risk embarrassing themselves.

    • Sam Wang

      Yes, the problem is that Nevada has an unusually large population of people who just moved there, or are just about to move out. This is a very hard population to poll. It is possible that an Internet-heavy organization such as SurveyMonkey or YouGov could do it.

    • Olav Grinde

      Interesting. Thanks for that information!

    • Kalil

      Also, Nevada is a caucus (inherently hard to poll), with little history as an early state (2008 was the first year as second-in-the-nation), so they don’t really have any trends to base their modelling off.

      The flip side, tho, is that there’s really no excuse for the complete lack of SC polling.

  • whatever next

    “He won’t be the wrong choice if he becomes President next January. I wouldn’t be so sure it isn’t possible.”

    It’s obviously possible. But unless you are someone who regards winning the election as an end in itself (not a good reason either to stand or to support a campaign, in my book, though quite likely not far from the truth in Trump’s case), then the ‘wrong’ candidate will always be the ‘wrong’ choice regardless of whether they get elected.

    Personally I’d rather see a Republican in the White House next. My caveat to that is that I’d prefer to see Clinton as President if the GOP candidate is Trump.

    Bloomberg might be a compromise candidate I could accept if Trump was the GOP nominee, I’m not sure yet

    • Mark F.

      I’m not making any moral or ethical judgments. But people in political parties have a long tradition of holding their noses and voting for the candidate of their party. Lots of conservative Southern Democrats didn’t like FDR much, but they voted for him anyway. (Note that FDR vetoed many, many bills passed by the Democratic controlled Congress of the time.)

  • Amitabh Lath

    Gravity waves!

    This is going to knock all those science deniers back on their heels and usher in a golden age of rationality and common sense.

    • bks

      Are gravity waves what keep Carson popping into the double digits?

    • Amitabh Lath

      Given that Ben Carson is certain the universe is 4k yrs old, and the black holes that merged to make these waves are over a billion light years away (and thus far far older than biblical creation), I suspect if he wins the NSF will be directed away from funding such ridiculous nonsense that clearly contradicts the revealed truth of scripture.

      President Trump on the other hand would probably want to build luxurious condos on the LIGO site.

    • 538 Refugee

      I won a Higgs boson in a sealed glass container at the county fair last year at the “Hoop Shoot”. Every once and a while it would glow and I suspected the cause to be gravity waves. I feel vindicated.

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