How Trump can win the nomination

Eric Mink is a freelance writer and editor and teaches film studies at Webster University.  He is a former columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the Daily News in New York.  Contact him at [email protected].

By Eric Mink

Donald Trump periodically whines about being the victim of unfair treatment by official Republican-dom, a laughable complaint considering that the essence of his campaign persona is that of a defiant outsider from official political entities. 

Trump also cries out about his horrible victimization by news organizations, another hilarious kvetch considering that media outlets have showered him and his campaign with nearly $2 billion worth of free exposure from the start of the campaign through the end of February, according to a recent New York Times analysis. That’s nearly six times as much as the next most-covered Republican, Ted Cruz, got.

Trump is no victim and, at this point, the only things standing between him and the Republican nomination for president are himself, one number and two words. 

The number is 1,237; the words are “women” and “violence.”

The reputed business whiz already has the power he needs to deal with these factors. What we don’t know is whether he has enough self-discipline to direct his power effectively and whether he wants the nomination badly enough to even try.

One thousand, two hundred and thirty-seven is the minimum number of delegates that constitutes a majority of the 2,472 delegates expected at the Republican National Convention at Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena starting July 18. Under convention rules known to all candidates well in advance, a candidate must acquire a majority of delegate votes to become the party’s nominee for president. 

Trump has amassed 736 delegates since the primary/caucus season began Feb. 1 and holds a substantial lead over Cruz, who has 463 delegates. (Those numbers changed with the Wisconsin primary Tuesday, the results of which were unavailable at press time.)

Trump’s job is clear: He must arrive in Cleveland with at least 1,237 delegates committed to vote for him on the convention’s first ballot. If he does his job, he will become the nominee. If he does not, he will fail – a failure for which he would bear full responsibility.

Theoretically, Trump could come to Cleveland with fewer than 1,237 delegates, lose on the first ballot and, assuming no one else had got to 1,237, try to cut deals on subsequent ballots for the votes of delegates entitled to switch their allegiances.

But complex rules that vary from state to state govern delegates’ voting behavior after the first ballot. They define when delegates are obliged to vote for candidates according to primary and caucus outcomes and when they become free to vote for anyone they prefer. 

Trump cannot realistically count on success in this environment, given his hostile campaign tactics, competitive belligerence and fact-defying assertions that have antagonized and alienated many party traditionalists.

So to win, Trump can’t just come to Cleveland with more delegates than any other candidate. He can’t just get closer to a majority than anyone else. He has to show up with the nomination sewn up. He has to have 1,237 delegates committed to him for the first ballot.

One thing Trump needs to do to secure the delegates he needs in the remaining 16 Republican primaries is somehow reverse his glaring negative standing with women.

In a national poll in December by Quinnipiac University Polls, an astounding 50 percent of Americans overall said they would feel embarrassed if Trump became president. Among women, the embarrassment factor was 59 percent.

A March tracking poll by Gallup found that 70 percent of American women viewed Trump unfavorably, a number that has been steadily rising since July. Even among women who identified themselves as Republicans or leaning toward Republicans, 46 percent expressed an unfavorable opinion of Trump.

The documented record of Trump’s condescending and insulting attitudes and comments about women stretches back across many years and contexts and has continued through the campaign (Google “Megyn Kelly” and “Trump”). Less than two weeks ago, Trump made Cruz’s wife, Heidi, the object of threats and thinly disguised invective based on her appearance. Then he distributed an unflattering picture of her to the 7.5 million followers of his Twitter account.

In Wisconsin last week, Trump tried to dismiss past demeaning comments about women as show business jokes. A week earlier, he said he didn’t even recognize some things he had said about women as having been his. 

Not even close to good enough.

Trump will lose if he doesn’t overcome women’s well-grounded unfavorable perceptions of him and do it fast. But he’ll need to come up with something more substantive and serious than his boast last year that “I’ll be the best thing that ever happened to women.”

Even more serious are Trump’s problems with violence. He routinely claims that he doesn’t condone it, but his words and tone at rallies reek with winking approval and worse. At a February rally in Iowa, Trump told the crowd to “beat the crap” out of anyone who seemed to be about to throw a tomato at Trump, and he promised to pay their legal fees. 

In the months since, more incidents of violence have been committed in his name:

A North Carolina protester already in the custody of security staff was punched in the face by a Trump supporter; a protester in Tucson, also in security custody, was punched in the face by a Trump supporter and then punched and kicked while on the ground; a protester in Florida was slammed in the head with an elbow punch from a nearby Trump supporter; a reporter after a Florida rally was seized by the arm from behind and yanked sideways as she was asking Trump a question, leaving bruises on her arm.

The person who grabbed the reporter was Trump’s campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski. After a police investigation, Lewandowski was arrested and charged with simple battery. Trump has denied the incident occurred, smeared the reporter’s reputation and continues to defend Lewandoski.

Finally, there was Trump’s barely disguised threat that there would be violence if he did not get the nomination, even if he fell short of 1,237 delegates but had more than anyone else. 

“I think you’d have riots,” he told CNN’s Chris Cuomo in March. “I wouldn’t lead it, but I think bad things would happen.”

Trump needs to address his supporters with deadly seriousness and unambiguously forbid them from engaging in violence of any kind. If he does not, then the violence is on him, morally if not legally. And if he does not revise his outrageous comments about riots and there is violence in Cleveland, that’s on him, too: the people hurt, the businesses damaged, the jobs disrupted, the families thrown into turmoil. On him.

And he will lose. Americans do not want a president who comes across like some cheap punk trying to get a shop owner to cough up protection money.