Despite Complaints, Delegate System Has Given Trump a 22 Percent Bonus

Ari Melber
Trump benefits from delegate system more than Cruz

Donald Trump blasted the GOP's delegate rules Sunday, saying a "corrupt" system is denying him delegates in states he won. According to a new NBC analysis, however, Trump has benefited far more than Ted Cruz under the party's arcane rules for allocating delegates.

Trump now leads the Republican field with 756 delegates — or 45 percent of all delegates awarded to date. Yet he has won about 37 percent of all votes in the primaries, according to the NBC analysis, meaning Trump's delegate support is greater than his actual support from voters.

For each percentage point of total primary votes that Trump has won, he has been awarded 1.22 percent of the total delegates.

In other words, as a matter of Republican Party math, Trump has been awarded a delegate bonus of 22 percent above his raw support from voters.

By contrast, Cruz has been awarded about 1.14 percent of the delegates for each percentage point of votes he has won — a delegate bonus of 14 percent above his raw support.

Donald Trump speaks to guests during a campaign stop on April 2, 2016 in Rothschild, Wisconsin.
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(Cruz's 545 delegates comprise 32 percent of all delegates awarded to date, while he has won about 28 percent of all votes in the primaries, according to the NBC analysis.)

Taken together, the data show Trump has been awarded 8 percent more delegates than Cruz for the same rate of voter support.

It is Trump, however, who is leading the charge against how delegates are awarded.

"We've got a corrupt system. It's not right," Trump said at a Sunday rally in Rochester, New York. "We're supposed to be a democracy."

The complaints come as Trump's campaign has struggled to win delegates at local party conventions, where Cruz has proven better organized, and as both campaigns gird for a potential open convention this summer.

On Sunday, Trump's new convention manager, Paul Manafort, told NBC News that the Cruz campaign is abusing the delegate process.

Trump's emphasis on democratic fairness may prove compelling. According to polls, Republican voters believe the nomination should go to the candidate with the most votes.

Votes are different from delegates, however, and a strong finish by Cruz could chip away at the idea that the nomination is automatically Trump's to lose.

While states decide exactly how to allocate their delegates, the thrust of the GOP rule book is that front-runners get a bonus.

Ted Cruz speaks during a campaign stop at King's Christian Bookstore in Boone, Iowa January 4, 2016.
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A variety of state rules award extra delegates to the winner, from rounding up by congressional district to handing all of a state's delegates to the winner, as Trump saw in Florida.

Trump's supporters emphasize that he earned his delegate boost by dominating in many states — if his challengers fared better, they would have yielded the same dividend under the rules.

After the 2012 race, in fact, the Republican National Committee pushed reforms to the calendar and rules to accelerate a front-runner's progress. The moves were seen as a way for party bosses to dispense with a protracted primary when a candidate like Mitt Romney was in the lead — never imagining they would help an insurgent like Trump.

As the race turns to a possible open convention, however, Republicans may focus on what circumstances could justify awarding the nomination to the runner-up in the popular vote. One factor is certainly the size of the gap between the two men — which may be why Trump is now campaigning on an exaggerated estimate of his lead in the raw vote.

At his Sunday rally, Trump claimed he has "won twice as much as Cruz."

"I don't mean I'm up by like two votes," he said. "I'm up millions and millions of votes."

Democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT) speaks to guests at a campaign rally at the Wisconsin Convention Center on April 4, 2016 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
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That is incorrect. Trump has a significant lead, but it is not double Cruz's vote total.Trump has won 8,198,026 votes — or 1.9 million more than Cruz, who has won 6,263,574 total votes.

The numbers are from the new NBC analysis of turnout in 32 states and Washington, D.C. (Three states have awarded Republican delegates without holding any public vote — Colorado, Wyoming and North Dakota — so those states do not offer any vote totals to include.)

The analysis also finds that, overall, Republicans are maintaining a wide turnout edge over Democrats.

To date, about 5.5 million more people have voted in GOP primaries than Democratic primaries. (There have been 22,128,294 votes cast in Republican primaries, compared to 16,629,164 for Democrats.)

If there is an open convention, the will of those 20 million-plus voters will be channeled into a final decision by 2,472 delegates.

In a battle between Trump and Cruz, the convention would effectively serve as a runoff. While Trump argues that he should win even if he fails to win 50 percent in the primaries, many states have laws that force a runoff between the top two candidates when neither win a majority.

By definition, that means the candidate who finishes first can still lose the runoff. Cruz should know. He finished second in the 2012 Senate primary in Texas, down 10 percentage points, only to win the runoff by 13 points. His entire campaign now rests on pulling off that feat on a national scale — and convincing Republican activists that it would be legitimate.