It's not like sports: Why the candidate with the most delegates may lose out

NEWYou can now listen to Fox News articles!

The Washington Post declares that Ted Cruz “is close to ensuring that Donald Trump cannot win the GOP nomination on a second ballot.”

Which, if true, would mean Donald Trump’s only shot would be to win it on the first try.

But wait! RNC rules committee member Randy Evans told “Morning Joe” yesterday that Trump will be the nominee if he manages to win 1,100 delegates—in short, that 1,100 is the new 1,237.

Every hour, it seems, some pundit or politico is handicapping the hand-to-hand combat over delegates and praising or denouncing the procedures for picking a nominee.

When you play baseball, or football, or basketball, there are all kinds of rules—balk, roughing the passer, 24-second-violation—but even if the contest goes into overtime, the team with the most runs or points wins. Presidential campaigns, not so much.

The insiders can literally move the goalposts, by changing the rules for the convention. In 2012, Mitt Romney’s forces didn’t want anyone else seizing the spotlight, so they pushed through rules requiring a candidate to have won eight states to be nominated. That rule could be tossed out in 2016 if the rules committee wants to lower the bar.

With Trump saying the system is rigged and Cruz accusing him of whining, the system itself is on trial.

Suddenly, I’m not hearing about tax cuts. I’m not hearing about health care. I’m not hearing about ISIS. I’m hearing about the arcane Colorado selection process that gave the store to Cruz, and how Cruz won 11 of 12 delegates selected so far in Arkansas, and complaints that some in Trump’s orbit are being heavy-handed in their comments about targeting delegates.

Here we have Trump on the verge of a major victory in New York next week, and leading in Pennsylvania and Maryland the following week, and the media’s focus is on state-by-state rules—driven in part by Trump denouncing what happened in Colorado as a disgrace.

Now I get that the rules were established in advance and every campaign has to adapt to them. And I get that there are times that Trump has benefitted from formulas that awarded him a greater share of delegates than his percentage of the popular vote. And yes, as Al Gore reminded the country, you can win the most votes and still lose the presidency.

Clearly, the Cruz camp is far better organized for this sort of political infighting than the Trump team. But that argument misses the resonance of Trump’s complaint that insiders are gaming the system when he wins Colorado and gets zero delegates, without most Republicans having a chance to vote.

By the way, this CNN video underscores the absurdity of the process, showing how Colorado picked among 600 delegates from an assembly line in which they each got to make 10-second speeches.

Once we get to Cleveland, the Post says, “Cruz is poised to pick up at least 130 more votes on a second ballot…That tally surpasses 170 delegates under less conservative assumptions — a number that could make it impossible for Trump to emerge victorious.”

Well, maybe. While 95 percent of all delegates are bound to their state’s winner on the first ballot, nearly 60 percent will be unbound on a second ballot, and 80 percent on a third ballot, the paper says.

Of course the media have to cover the procedural battle over luring delegates in one state after another. In the end, math matters. But they shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that Trump will go to the convention with the largest bloc of delegates, and depriving him of the prize will be ugly no matter how skillfully the rules are exploited.