Following his predictable runaway win in New York, and ahead of tomorrow’s five North-East primaries, Donald Trump is rated 70% likely on betting markets to be the Republican Nominee. Precisely the mark he was before a predictable loss in Wisconsin, which caused a dramatic over-reaction and slide to a trough of 44%.
On that basis, we can assume that by the end of the week, he’ll be significantly higher than 70%, as the market responds to what seems certain to be a clean sweep of all five primaries. Following the electoral map offers an obvious strategy for traders, as the market appears slow to spot extremely predictable spikes in advance.
Nevertheless, Trump is still a long way from winning the nomination. The chances of a Contested Convention have slipped to 67% from around 80%, but he is still odds-on to fall short of the 1237 delegates required to assure victory on the first ballot. Given how Ted Cruz is teaching the political novice lessons in securing delegates all over the country, that first ballot is probably Trump’s only chance of victory.
Therefore Trump needs at least one of two things to happen, both of which are becoming likelier during this dominant run of April results. To win extra support, from voters beyond his loyal base, in the final few primaries and to win over some of the unbound delegates who will hold the balance of power at the convention.
The key to both is legitimacy, and cutting through with his argument that the system is rigged against him.
As a Brit with experience of the Alternative Vote System – that has thwarted a first-round ballot leader in a Labour Party leadership contest before – I’m not convinced that such multiple ballots produce illegitimate leaders. Yet I do remember how hard that process was to explain without it appearing like a stitch-up, and how freely Ed Miliband’s enemies described him as illegitimate.
That won’t Trump’s opponents, who are driven by based on deeply held political views and fear that his candidacy could destroy their party. But after tomorrow’s bad results, #NeverTrump could face a legitimacy crisis and deteriorating media narrative.
The latest development is a good case in point. A big problem for Trump opponents has been lack of co-ordination and splitting the vote. Now, Cruz and John Kasich have gone public with a pact, where each does what they can to give the other a free run against Trump in states that suit their profile.
For example, Kasich would sit back in Indiana – a profoundly important contest on May 3rd that could determine the whole thing. Cruz won’t try too hard in Oregon and New Mexico.
The logic of such a plan is obvious and probably overdue. It may well deliver Cruz the result in Indiana that ultimately blocks Trump.
However, with a deal out in the public domain, it also offers Trump an easy line of attack to throw at them over the next two months. The ‘establishment’ – hated by everyone outside of it, apparently – are using any tactic at their disposal to deny the will of the people. Around the world, on either left or right, that seems a consistently popular rallying call.
Remember, Trump only needs to convert a small number of voters and/or unbound delegates. He has never looked likelier to be the nominee and, after tomorrow’s results, is expected to hit his highest betting rating yet.