With his decisive victory in Tuesday’s Wisconsin primary, Texas Senator Ted Cruz dealt a serious blow to Donald Trump’s hopes of locking up the Republican nomination before the party’s convention in July. Mr. Cruz picked up 36 of the state’s 42 delegates, sweeping the populous, well-educated areas of eastern Wisconsin, while Mr. Trump netted six delegates with a strong performance in the state’s rural western and northern regions.
Mr. Cruz’s victory poses a serious challenge to Mr. Trump, who has been lagging behind his delegate targets ever since he ceded Ohio to Governor John Kasich on March 15th. According to FiveThirtyEight, Donald Trump rests at 93 percent of his delegate target at this point in the race. Though Mr. Trump can overcome this shortfall with stronger-than-expected performances in the upcoming northeastern primaries, exceeding his targets in these states by a large enough margin to do so will not be easy. In order to overcome his delegate shortfall by the end of April, Mr. Trump will need to capture about 80 percent of the delegates from New York’s primary on April 19th and from the smorgasbord of northeastern primaries—including Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and Maryland—on April 26th.
Having missed the opportunity to win a majority of the delegates in Wisconsin, Donald Trump now faces an increasingly difficult battle to win the Republican nomination outright and avoid the possibility of a contested convention in July. Barring extraordinary performances by Mr. Trump in the northeastern primaries and in California, none of the candidates who are currently in the race will have enough delegates to lay claim to the nomination on the first ballot. This scenario would be catastrophic for Mr. Trump, who would need to face down a hostile party establishment and the formidable infrastructure of the Cruz campaign in order to win over a majority of the delegates beyond the first ballot. Politico reported last week about Mr. Cruz’s formidable behind-the-scenes campaign to recruit anti-Trump delegates for the national convention, an effort which could ultimately compromise Mr. Trump’s ability to survive a contested convention. The demographics of the convention delegates, who are generally well-known figures in the state party organizations with a strong commitment to the party and its values, are also unfavorable to Mr. Trump, who has billed his campaign as a referendum on traditional party politics and, in many ways, as a rebuke of the Republican Party’s core values and principles.
Donald Trump’s best and probably only chance to win the GOP nomination will be at the first ballot at the convention. In order to pull in a majority of the delegates by the time the convention convenes and assure his victory, Mr. Trump will need to outperform in the Northeast and in California, the biggest delegate prize remaining on the GOP calendar.
Though the Republican nomination race may change a lot between now and the convention in July, there is one absolute certainty: this contest will not be resolved until at least June 7th, when the final primary states cast their votes.