Last night was a bad one to be a short-fingered demagogue. The Donald lost badly in Wisconsin, taking just 35 per cent of the vote to Ted Cruz’s 48 per cent.
Supported by the state’s Governor – and a former rival for the nomination – Scott Walker, Cruz managed to secure the vast majority of the anti-Trump vote. According to exit polls, 58 per cent of Republican voters were “concerned” or “scared” about what Trump would do as President, and about 72 per cent of them voted for Cruz (with just 20 per cent of them going for Kasich). Much of the Republican establishment and electorate alike are reluctantly turning to Cruz to stop Trump.
Cruz’s win gave him 36 of the state’s 42 delegates, while Trump picked up only six. That leaves Trump with 757 pledged delegates and needing another 480 to secure the nomination.
With 757 bind-able delegates up for grabs in the remaining contests, that means Trump has to win 63 per cent of them to avoid relying on wooing uncommitted delegates and/or a contested convention. That is possible, but betting markets have become more sceptical of Trump’s chances over the past week or so: according to PredictWise, his chances of winning the nomination have fallen from close to 80 per cent to around 50 per cent.
Winning only six delegates in Wisconsin as opposed to, say, the 25 forecast by FiveThirtyEight’s panel a couple of weeks ago obviously makes it that bit harder for Trump to get to the 1,237 target. He likely can’t afford another bad night.
A lot hinges on the two largest states yet to vote: New York in a fortnight and California in early June. Trump leads the polls in his home state by 32 points, and will probably need all, or almost all, of New York’s 95 delegates if he’s to reach 1,237. He also leads in California, but only on 35 per cent to Cruz’s 30 per cent. If Cruz can capture the majority of undecided voters there and finish strongly as he did in Wisconsin, it’ll be very tough for Trump to lock up the nomination before the convention.
Meanwhile, Bernie Sanders won Wisconsin’s Democratic primary comfortably, outperforming the polls to beat Hillary Clinton by 13 points. Sadly for Sanders, the win only reduces his delegate deficit to Clinton by 10: he still trails by 214 pledged delegates and still needs 56 per cent of those remaining to draw level. It’s another result – like his win in Michigan four weeks ago – that’ll keep Sanders in the race and win him some nice headlines, without representing the massive shift he’d need to have a realistic chance of the nomination.
What would represent such a shift? A solid win for Sanders in New York in a fortnight, perhaps, or in Pennsylvania or Maryland the week after. But he’s currently behind by 16 points in New York, 22 points in Pennsylvania and 32 points in Maryland.
The last few weeks have been kind to Sanders. Since Clinton’s sweep of five big states three weeks ago, he’s won six states to her one and picked up 102 more delegates than Clinton. But they’ve all been states that were particularly favourable to him demographically (with a lot of white, working-class voters). He’ll probably add a seventh – Wyoming – on Saturday. But after that, just five states – New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, California and New Jersey – will hold 69 per cent of the delegates remaining, and all of them are much more favourable for Hillary Clinton. As a result, Clinton’s more likely to extend her delegate lead in the remaining primaries than Sanders is to close it.