Despite wins, Trump may face 'very difficult path'
WASHINGTON (BP) -- Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton continued to dominate their political parties' primaries Tuesday (March 15), but the maverick billionaire's wins did not eliminate the possibility he will face a contested convention to gain the Republican nomination or a third-party challenge even if he becomes the party's standard-bearer.
While Clinton holds a comfortable lead on a path to the 2,383 delegates required for the Democratic nomination, Trump's road to the necessary 1,237 GOP delegates is more challenging. He has won only 47 percent of the delegates so far, but he would need to win 54 percent of the remaining ones to secure the nomination before the convention, according to the FiveThirtyEight website.
Southern Baptist cultural commentator Bruce Ashford said Trump "faces a very difficult path ... to win outright."
If no candidate reaches the 1,237 delegates required at the Republican convention, many delegates would be free on a second ballot to change their votes.
Baptist academic and author Thomas Kidd pointed to a growing reality about Trump's candidacy -- many evangelicals and conservatives have already pledged not to vote for either him or the Democratic nominee, who will be an abortion-rights advocate no matter who wins that party's nod.
If Trump wins the GOP nomination, "legions of conservative Christians will simply not vote for him," said Thomas Kidd, distinguished professor of history at Baylor University. "If it was a Clinton vs. Trump matchup, they would either not vote for president, or they would choose a conservative, third-party option."
The resistance to Trump -- including the use of the hashtag #NeverTrump on Twitter -- has produced no-vote promises based on his inconsistent and even harsh policy positions on some issues, his insult-filled speech and a lifestyle marked by adultery. Questions also have been raised about some of his business enterprises.
The controversy over the billionaire intensified in the days leading to the March 15 primaries, expanding to include his rhetoric against protestors at his rallies and his refusal to condemn the violent response of some of his supporters.
Ashford, provost and professor of theology and culture at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, said, "In upcoming weeks, it will be interesting to see to what extent Trump is affected by the violence at his rallies and the sharp questions raised about his business record and personal character. It appears that Trump will not lose any support from his conservative base but stands to lose support from the general electorate."
Americans, said Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr., "face the reality that the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination, someone who has never held electoral office previously, is someone who is running on a platform that includes positions that would've been anathema to any previous cycle of Republican voters. He holds to positions that the Republican Party has either avoided or repudiated.
"Running on a dangerous mix of populism and nativism, he has also resorted to language and to tactics in the campaign that would've been an embarrassment to any major American political party until the 2016 cycle, where it should be an embarrassment," Mohler said on the March 16 edition of his podcast, "The Briefing."
With the Missouri race yet to be settled, Trump has a total of 646 delegates, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas 397 and Kasich 142, according to The New York Times. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida has 169 delegates, but he suspended his campaign Tuesday night after losing his home state to Trump. The delegate count in the four states settled Tuesday was 162 for Trump, 79 for Kasich and 27 for Cruz.
In her four confirmed wins, Clinton outpaced Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, 333-232, increasing her delegate count to 1,599. Sanders, a self-described socialist, has 844 delegates. Much of Clinton's 755-delegate lead is based on her 467-26 advantage in Democratic superdelegates.
The Republican race has witnessed the recent departure of two candidates favored by a sizable number of evangelicals, famous surgeon Ben Carson and Rubio. Carson suspended his campaign March 4 and endorsed Trump a week later.
"Many conservative Christians are disappointed to see Marco Rubio drop out of the race, of course, but the timing was not right this year for his relatively optimistic candidacy," Kidd said in written comments for Baptist Press.
Kidd suspects "most of the evangelicals who supported Rubio will now coalesce around Ted Cruz and, to a lesser extent, John Kasich," he said.
"Although Cruz will now become the primary standard-bearer for conservative Christians, some evangelicals are concerned about his strident tone regarding immigrants, which mimics Trump's vitriol on that issue," Kidd told BP. "The big question now is whether Cruz's added support can give him enough momentum to prevent Trump from securing a majority of the GOP convention delegates and position Cruz to supplant Trump at the convention."
Ashford pointed to Kasich's win and Rubio's loss and departure from the race as the biggest stories in the March 15 primaries.
Kasich's victory probably "ensures the nomination debate" will continue to the convention floor, he told BP. While he thinks Rubio's campaign suspension "will probably favor Kasich more than Trump or Cruz," Ashford said the Ohio governor "will have to face Trump's unfolding attacks and prove to voters that he can make the changes in Washington that voters expect."
In the Democratic race, it appears Sanders "faces an almost impossible path to the nomination," Ashford said.
The next primaries for both parties are March 22 in Arizona and Utah. The Democrats hold a caucus the same day in Idaho.