Friday, August 28, 2015

Trump in the Blank

There is a positive relationship between the length of Donald Trump's time atop the Republican presidential primary polls and the breadth of coverage he receives from the news media. As one increases, the other increases as well. But then again, that is how this process tends to work. In the Sides and Vavreck parlance, it's discovery, scrutiny and decline.

The temptation is perhaps to address why, given ample fodder, scrutiny has not yet yielded to decline in Mr. Trump's case. In fact, that discussion -- why hasn't that decline happened? -- has claimed a sizable chunk of the scrutiny phase to this point. Yet, there have been several extended, in-depth discussions of Mr. Trump's policy positions on a number of issues, too.

Mark this last full week of August 2015 down as the week that Mr. Trump's continued polling success intersected with how that might translate into primary success next year. Another way of looking at this is that folks have run out of things to write about Mr. Trump and have finally gotten to the delegate selection rules. If a polling boomlet lasts long enough, people will get bored enough to start talking about the rules.1

The problem with the rules portion of the scrutiny phase (if it comes at all) is that it can often seem haphazardly thrown together and ultimately misguided. That description might be a bit overboard, but it roughly fits the scenario(s) that Josh Marshall and David Fishback have woven together concerning Trump and the the Republican delegate selection rules in place for next year.

That scenario goes something like this:
  1. Trump has the support of a quarter to a third of the Republican primary electorate.2
  2. Trump wins and/or wins a good amount of delegates from the carve-out states and those primaries and caucuses that follow during the proportionality window (March 1-14).
  3. Trump wraps things up once the proportionality window closes and states can allocate delegates in a winner-take-all fashion.3
  4. Trump is the Republican nominee.
Look at that sequence again. With or without the proportionality window, this is roughly the sequence in which any Republican presidential candidate is nominated. All that Marshall and Fishback have done is add Trump's name to the formula; the "frontrunner's" path to the Republican nomination. It is the 50-75 Rule FHQ discussed at Crystal Ball earlier this year. Some candidate wins some delegates early, creates a small lead (around the point at which 50% of the total number of delegates are allocated) and then widens it (around the time that 75% of the total number of delegates are allocated). That established lead is usually either enough to clinch the nomination or put it well enough out of reach for other candidates to force their withdrawals.

Other than the much sexier, but less likely brokered deadlocked convention scenario, this is the other most widely talked about path by which someone gets to the nomination. Marshall and Fishback have filled in the blank with Trump.

So what? It is a storyless doomsday story that is typical of the summer period before a presidential election year.

See, I told you the scrutiny phase scrapes the bottom of the barrel when it gets to the rules.

1 Hey, some of us are bored/boring enough to write about those rules almost exclusively.

2 This glosses over deeper questions about whether the support Trump now enjoys will actually translate to votes once Iowa kicks things off next year.

3 To be clear, not all states on or after March 15 are winner-take-all. If 2012 is a baseline and North Carolina and Ohio are added to the mix, that is still only eight winner-take-all states. Granted, most of those are huddled around March 15 or in the last half of March. But not all of the states are winner-take-all once the proportionality window closes at the end of March 14.

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