The Math on Why ‘Never Trump’ Never Had a Chance


With all the #NeverTrump hype on social media, my inner Nate Silver wanted to learn how likely it would be for Donald Trump to get the first ballot nomination at the upcoming RNC convention. Could Trump actually be ousted as the presumptive nominee? The math says no. Let’s explore how.

First, a little background.

GOP Rules Committee member Kendal Unruh planned to contest Donald Trump’s presumptive nomination at the RNC convention. Her ultimate plan rested on the notion that delegates are allowed to vote their conscience instead of being bound by state law or RNC rules.

In order to promote this idea, Unruh’s playbook is as follows:

  1. Conscience Clause play: Codify the notion that delegates are unbound by inserting a ‘Conscience Clause’ amendment to Rule 38 of the Republican National Convention rules.
  2. Brokered Convention-conscience play: Educate delegates that it is their right to vote their conscience based on hundreds of years of legal precedents.
  3. Brokered Convention-abstain play: Whip the delegation to abstain from voting.

Conscience Clause Play

In order for a conscience clause to be inserted, half of the 112 Rules Committee members would be needed to adopt the clause. If this failed, Unruh would need 28 signatures to file a minority report to push the vote to the entire delegation on the convention floor.

Free the Delegates Plan

Here’s the math on why it’s likely she’ll have trouble getting even 28 members to file a minority report.

Conscience Clause Parameters

  • 112 Rules Committee members made up of two chairs and two delegates from each state/territory
  • 57 Rules Committee members are needed to adopt or change a rule
  • If adoption fails, 28 Rules Committee members are needed to file a minority report to send vote to convention floor


  1. National polls reflect preferences for Rules Committee members in play
  2. All Rules Committee members will be present (whether they abstain or not)
  3. Elected RNC officials will vote pro-Trump
  4. Chair and co-chair may vote

Conscience Clause Analysis

Rules Committee Minority Report Waterfall

With 39 in play, you have to wonder how many Rules Committee members are willing to publicly vote against the will of the people. Unruh needs at least 72% willing to vote against the will of the people to garner 28 signatures: a highly unlikely proposition.


On July 14th 2016 evening, Rules Committee members voted to bind the delegates by 87-12 vote. Only 21 delegates voted to continue the debate for Unruh’s Conscience Clause amendment. Unruh still has until Monday to file a minority report. As we’ve learned from the math, garnering 28 signatures for a minority report, while not impossible, is highly unlikely.

A deeper dive could include developing a list of preferences that indicate propensity to vote against #NeverTrump via polling, mapping social networks, and of course Google.

Will the GOP Convention be contentious? Cartoonist Gary Varvel: 2016 GOP Convention

Brokered Convention Plays

A contested convention takes places when a candidate doesn’t emerge with over half (>1236) the delegate vote. By RNC party rules, Trump won 1543 delegates effectively clinching the nomination. If 306 of those delegates abstain or vote for someone other than Trump, the nomination could be contested on the first ballot leading to a brokered convention.

Assuming that binding delegates wasn’t codified last night, did Unruh ever have a chance of getting a brokered convention by getting delegates to vote their conscience? Not in the slightest and here’s why.

 Brokered Convention Parameters


  1. National polls reflect preferences for delegate members in play
  2. All delegates will be present (whether they abstain or not)
  3. Delegates can vote their conscience without fear

Brokered Convention Analysis

Trump needs at least 347 delegates out of the 902 in play to win the nomination on the first ballot. What are the chances that nearly a third of the available delegates will vote Trump? If 45% are satisfied with Trump, then the odds are pretty good. However, polls have been known to be wrong and do not necessarily reflect the preferences of the RNC delegation.

I wondered what ‘satisfaction with Trump’ threshold would be needed for a brokered convention to be probable. Accordingly, I plotted the expected value of a binomial distribution for at least 347 delegates against the likelihood that a delegate would vote for Trump. Here is the result.

NeverTrump Math

From this chart, we see that if the ‘satisfaction with Trump’ threshold (or likelihood that delegates would vote Trump) was at 35% then there is only a 1.62% probability that Trump would win the nomination on the first ballot. As long as at least 44.9% of delegates are satisfied with Trump, the possibility of a brokered convention is ZERO.

61.6% of the delegation would need to be dissatisfied with Trump for a brokered convention to even have a 50/50 shot. Noting that most members of the delegation fall within Trump’s core demographic, the idea that the #NeverTrump movement had any or will have any chance of getting a brokered convention is mathematically laughable.

Should Kendal Unruh have raised the issue despite the mathematical odds? — Absolutely.

UPDATE (7/20/2016 13:18): Bound votes accounted for 65.61% of the delegation. Delegate reported votes accounted for 62.62% of the delegation (76 delegate votes bound to Trump opted for someone else and 2 delegates bound to someone else switched their vote to Trump for a net difference of 74 delegates).