How Texas GOP Rules Will Hurt Ted Cruz on Super Tuesday
Policy + Politics

How Texas GOP Rules Will Hurt Ted Cruz on Super Tuesday

© Chris Bergin / Reuters

It’s been a rough few weeks for Texas Sen. Ted Cruz since his first place showing in the Iowa Republican presidential caucus on February 1. That seemingly auspicious beginning was followed by third place finishes in the next three contests, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada.

As he moves toward Super Tuesday, Cruz doesn’t look likely to turn in a dominant performance anywhere. That includes the Lone Star state, where primary rules make it difficult or impossible for him to translate favorite son status into a major delegate landslide. (One recent poll, in fact, even calls into question his ability to win the state at all.)

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In a cruel twist, the rules that the Texas Republican Party put in place for this year’s primary election make it exceedingly difficult for any candidate – even one elected to the US Senate in a statewide race – to come away with an overwhelming majority of the state’s 155 delegates to the Republican convention in July.

The Republican National Committee purposefully blocked the earliest-voting states from conducting winner-take-all primaries, in which the statewide winner takes all the delegates, except in cases where the winner earns more than 50 percent of the vote. The requirement for all states voting before March 15 was that delegates be awarded proportionally, so that no candidate could rack up an insurmountable lead before most states had even voted.

Some states, though, created systems that allowed for a “backdoor” winner-take-all result. An example is South Carolina where the winner at the state level got all of the at-large delegates, and the winner in each Congressional district got that district’s three delegates. That’s how Donald Trump, with only 32.5 percent of the overall vote there, secured all 50 of South Carolina’s delegates.

Texas, however, built its system to make a winner-take-all result virtually impossible in a hotly contested primary. The state awards 108 delegates at the Congressional district level, 44 at-large delegates, and three automatic delegates (the state Republican Party chair and two Republican National Committee members.)

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At the Congressional District level, unless a candidate wins more than 50 percent of the vote, the first place finisher will get two delegates and the second place finisher will get one. In the unlikely event that nobody breaks the 20 percent threshold, then the top three candidates each get a single delegate.

At the state level, the 44 at-large delegates will be split proportionally among all the candidates who receive more than 20 percent of the statewide vote – again, unless someone wins more than 50 percent, in which case he will get all 44.

The status of the three automatic delegates is not clear, but it appears likely that they will go to the statewide winner.

For Cruz, given the status of the GOP race, this is less than ideal.

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Even if Cruz is able to beat Trump in his home state, both statewide and in every single Congressional district, he’s still not likely to come out of the race with a major advantage. And if Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who beat Cruz in South Carolina and Nevada, can break the 20 percent threshold at the state level, he will dramatically reduce what little advantage Cruz retains.

Pair that with this: Cruz underperformed badly in South Carolina, a state with a heavy concentration of the Evangelical Christian voters he has been courting. The demographics of South Carolina are similar to a number of the Super Tuesday states where Cruz was expected to perform well, suggesting he will struggle there, too.

If Cruz delivers more lackluster showings in most Super Tuesday states, and can’t even show some dominance in his home state of Texas, the pressure on him to get out of the race and clear some space for a more traditionally Republican alternative to Donald Trump will be intense.