Cruz says he can’t win GOP nod before convention, but neither can Trump

HOLLYWOOD, Fla. — One day after Donald Trump’s resounding victory in New York, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz conceded that he could not win enough delegates to clinch the Republican nomination ahead of the party’s convention this summer.

Cruz, speaking to reporters at the Republican National Committee’s spring meeting in Florida on Wednesday, said it was clear that “I’m not going to reach 1,237” delegates before the end of the primaries, the amount needed to capture the nomination on the first ballot.

MORE: See PBS NewsHour’s delegate tracker

But “Donald Trump is not going to reach 1,237,” either, Cruz said. “At that point it is going to be a battle to see who can earn the support of the majority of the delegates.”

“I believe we will have a tremendous advantage in that battle,” Cruz added.

The Cruz campaign has been working hard to secure the support of delegates who will vote for the nomination at the national convention in Cleveland in July. If no candidate emerges with a majority of the delegates after the primary season is over, most delegates would be free to vote how they wish on the second ballot.

Trump has only recently started to focus on the delegate race. Last month, he hired a respected Republican strategist, Paul Manafort, to oversee his convention strategy.

READ MORE: Is the nominating process rigged? RNC chairman weighs in

But Cruz’s claims notwithstanding, Trump still has a slim chance of reaching the magic number of 1,237 and avoiding a contested convention. Neither party has held a contested convention or brokered convention since 1976.

Trump helped his cause on Tuesday by winning nearly all of New York’s delegates, giving him 845 — roughly 300 more than Cruz. Ohio Gov. John Kasich is in third place with 147 delegates.

Kasich and Cruz were slated to address RNC members at a closed-door meeting on Wednesday night. Trump was not scheduled to make an appearance, though his campaign is sending Manafort to make his case.

To clinch the nomination outright, Trump needs to extend his dominant performance in New York to other moderate, northeastern states that are holding primaries in the coming weeks. He would also need a big win in California, which holds the last primary on June 7.

Even as Trump is ramping up his delegate operation, he has repeatedly called the nomination process “rigged,” claiming that the party should pick the person who receives the most votes in the primaries.

Party leaders have rebuked Trump’s claim and argued that he agreed to abide by the rules in place when he decided to seek the Republican nomination.

Nevertheless, RNC Chairman Reince Priebus directed members ahead of the spring meeting, which is being held at a beachside convention center here, to let delegates in Cleveland set the rules for the national convention.

The decision was made to ensure “that there’s no perception that the RNC is trying to favor or oppose any candidate,” Sean Spicer, the RNC’s chief strategist, said in an interview.

As GOP leaders gathered in Fort Lauderdale for the start of the three-day meeting, several said they were coming to terms with the reality that either Trump or Cruz will win the nomination.

“I don’t think it’s a begrudging acceptance,” said Matt Moore, the chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party. “Most RNC members recognize” that.

The eventual winner will need to coordinate with the RNC in order to mount a credible general election campaign, Moore added. “It would be almost impossible to win the presidency without the RNC as a partner.”

Ed Cox, the chairman of the New York Republican Party, said that Trump is showing signs of adjusting his strategy as the primary season winds down. Cox cited Trump’s hiring of Manafort and the longtime GOP strategist Rick Wiley.

“It’s been Donald Trump on his own” until recently, Cox said. “This is a time when you have to start building out your campaign and making sure your delegates are there. [Trump is] beginning to bring in some real pros to help him.”