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Columnist: Will the GOP nomination be “closed” to Donald Trump?

By John A. Tures

Contributing columnist

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If you’re concerned about Donald Trump winning the nomination, there’s some good news. His losses in Kansas and Maine were no accident, as both contests are closed, limited only to party faithful. And future caucuses and closed primaries may deny Trump the GOP nomination.

After Donald Trump stormed his way to wins in primaries in New Hampshire, South Carolina and many Super Tuesday states, folks just figured it was inevitable that he would win, and was the darling of the Republican Party. Long-forgotten was his stumble in the Iowa Caucus to Ted Cruz. But after Cruz won Kansas and Maine by double-digits, it made analysts sit up and take notice that the once invincible armor of Trump’s had some weaknesses.

In their assessment of the Saturday election contests, Huffington Post’s Ryan Grim and Jennifer Bendery were quick to note that both Cruz victories occurred in caucus states. But they tempered expectations by noting that while Trump doesn’t do well in caucus states, only two small state caucuses remain.

“Saturday night was a major victory for Cruz symbolically, but in terms of actual delegates, it was a relatively minor setback for Trump. And there are several caveats: Cruz won in caucus states, where turnout is much lower and they favor candidates who are extremely well organized, rather than ones like Trump, who are bringing disaffected voters back into the system.

Only two remaining states, Hawaii and Utah, hold caucuses rather than primaries. Trump is not set up to win caucus states, because his strategy relies entirely around free media exposure.”

A Trump staffer took to Facebook to blame Trump’s ignorance of how delegates in primaries and caucuses are chosen, according to Grim and Bendery.

But there’s more to it than that. Trump has been doing better in open states, and not as well in closed primary states. Here’s a quick refresher for the Donald: open states means any registered voter — Democrat or Republican or an independent — can participate in a GOP primary, while closed states have a Republican Party membership limit.

After initial reports surfaced that Trump won Louisiana in a blowout, the contest tightened. In the end, Trump squeaked by with a three point win, and a tie for Cruz in terms of delegates. Louisiana’s contest is also closed, not open, a result that bodes ill for the tycoon.

As of March 5, Trump has won most of the open states, with a rare exception being Minnesota, where Sen. Marco Rubio limped to a win after Trump and Cruz ignored the state. Cruz won an open primary in his home state of Texas. But Trump has not done as well in closed states, with a lower winning percentage, tempered by those recent setbacks.

Yes, there may only be two caucuses, but plenty of closed primaries abound. There are almost twice as many caucuses and closed primaries as fully open ones, with a few mixed cases in between.

Trump still leads the delegate count, but not by as much as expected, as Cruz closes the gap. Better showings by Cruz, Rubio and Kasich may give the GOP enough time to make it an old-fashioned convention battle, something like one that Republicans would now relish, but Mr. Trump might not.

John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College. He may be reached at jtures@lagrange.edu.