Here’s an overlooked fact about the Republican race: Right now, all of the polls are consistent with a finish of 1,237 or more pledged delegates for Donald Trump and an outright nomination victory, without a contested convention.
That’s because Mr. Trump leads by a comfortable margin in all of the polls in Indiana and California, which would give him the nomination when added to the delegates that everyone expects him to win.
That’s the context for the John Kasich-Ted Cruz deal that was announced on Sunday night. The agreement is straightforward: Mr. Kasich won’t compete in Indiana; Mr. Cruz won’t compete in New Mexico and Oregon.
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When you consider the delegate rules of these states, it’s an arrangement that gives the non-Trump candidates a much better chance of denying Mr. Trump the nomination.
As I wrote recently, the whole Republican contest could come down to Indiana. The state has 57 pledged delegates, and it awards those delegates on a winner-take-all basis statewide and by congressional district. As a result, the difference between a narrow win and a loss is huge for Mr. Trump. If he wins statewide — even by a point — it will be fairly easy for him to reach 1,237 delegates with a victory in California, which on paper is probably an easier state for him than Indiana.
The most recent polls show Mr. Trump leading in Indiana with around 40 percent of the vote. That’s a number low enough for him to be vulnerable, but Mr. Kasich has been at 19 percent in an average of the same surveys — giving Mr. Cruz a very narrow path to victory.
There isn’t a lot of time for a Cruz comeback there. The vote in Indiana is in eight days, and Mr. Cruz is most likely about to post another round of mediocre showings in the Northeast this Tuesday, which would make it even less clear to Republican voters that Mr. Cruz is the principal anti-Trump option in Indiana.
The deal gives Mr. Cruz a better chance of consolidating the anti-Trump vote in Indiana the way he did in Wisconsin. If he can do that, he has a real though by no means certain chance to squeeze past Mr. Trump. A Cruz victory in Indiana would be enough to make Mr. Trump an underdog in the fight for 1,237.
In exchange, Mr. Kasich gets New Mexico and Oregon. In a way, this is counterintuitive: Mr. Cruz has fared very well out West, and he might have been favored to win either or both states over Mr. Kasich and Mr. Trump. Mr. Cruz’s concession would seem to increase the chance that these states go to Mr. Trump.
But this has virtually no downside to anti-Trump forces, at least from a delegate perspective. That’s because New Mexico and Oregon are the only two states after Rhode Island on Tuesday that award their delegates on a purely proportional basis — meaning they award their delegates in proportion to a candidate’s statewide share of the vote. (Many “proportional” Republican states award two delegates to the winner of each congressional district and one to the second-place finisher.) They’re also two of the smallest contests remaining after Tuesday.
Victories are nice, but what matters for Mr. Trump in New Mexico and Oregon is his share of the vote, something that Mr. Kasich and Mr. Cruz’s arrangement should do little to change.