WASHINGTON — Despite Donald Trump’s string of Super Tuesday victories, the billionaire businessman must do even better in upcoming primaries to claim the Republican presidential nomination before the party’s national convention this summer, an AP delegate count shows.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is emerging as the candidate who might stop him — with a little help from Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.
The good news for Trump: He is in a better position than any of his rivals. After the first 15 states of the 2016 campaign season, it looks like the best chance for Cruz, Rubio or any of the other candidates could be a contested national convention in July.
That would almost certainly wreak further havoc on the deeply divided Republican Party. But that’s of little concern for Trump’s many GOP foes.
“Frankly, at this point we want anyone but Trump,” said former New Hampshire Gov. John H. Sununu, now a point person for an anti-Trump super PAC. “The goal is this: Let’s get to the convention in Cleveland and figure it out there.”
While Trump has racked up 10 wins so far, he’s won only 46 percent of the delegates awarded since voting began. It takes an outright majority of delegates to win the nomination.
To win enough delegates to claim that prize, Trump would have to win 51 percent of those remaining in the state-by-state contests scheduled through early June. That could be difficult if three or more candidates stay in the race.
Trump’s main Republican opponents are vowing to stay in the race until the end. And that could prevent him from getting the delegates he needs — even if they can’t overtake him on their own.
“We’re beyond the winning states stage. This is now purely a competition for delegates,” Cruz spokeswoman Catherine Frazier said.
Rubio, in a Tuesday interview on Fox News, promised to campaign in all 50 states: “I will do whatever it takes to prevent a con artist like Donald Trump from ever becoming the Republican nominee.”
While not giving up on beating Trump before July, both the Cruz and Rubio camps concede that their best opportunity could come at a contested convention.
That happens only if no candidate wins a majority before then. Under such a scenario, delegates on the floor of the Cleveland convention would decide on their own whom to support in a series of floor votes.
Not since 1976 has that happened.
Some Republicans warn of dire consequences should the party go that route this year, especially if Trump has a commanding delegate lead.
“If the establishment thinks there’s a backlash now, wait until the guy with the most delegates gets to the convention and they decide to take it from him,” said GOP operative Hogan Gidley. “Then you’re going to see an all-out political jihad.”
The Republican campaign now enters a critical two-week stretch ahead of the March 15 primaries. These are the first primaries that can award all of a state’s delegates to the winner, and the two big prizes are Florida and Ohio. Florida has 99 delegates, Ohio 66.
Winning those states could bring Trump closer to locking things. But Florida is Rubio’s home state, and Ohio is home for John Kasich, the state’s governor.
“If Donald Trump wins the winner-take-all states, all bets are off. He’s going to be the nominee,” said Henry Barbour, a Republican National Committee member working on Rubio’s delegate strategy team.
Only nine states award delegates winner-take-all. Five more make it possible for one candidate to win all of the delegates, or at least a large majority. These states could take an outsized role in determining who wins the nomination.
Among the other winner-take-all primaries: Arizona on March 22, Nebraska on May 10 and New Jersey on June 7.
The delegate math from Super Tuesday shows how difficult it can be to rack up a big lead when states award delegates in proportion to the vote.
Trump won seven of 11 states, but his gains were limited by Cruz’s big win in delegate-rich Texas — his home state. For the night, Trump won at least 237 delegates and Cruz won at least 209. Rubio was a distant third with at least 94.
There were still 33 delegates left to be allocated on Wednesday.
Cruz won at least 99 of the 155 delegates at stake in Texas. Trump got at least 38, with 14 left to be awarded. Rubio picked up four.
Overall, Trump leads the field with 319 delegates and Cruz has 226. Rubio has 110, Kasich has 25 and Ben Carson has eight.
It takes 1,237 delegates to win the Republican nomination for president.
AP writers Julie Bykowicz and Andrew Taylor contributed.