Despite all the talk of Trump being stopped at an open convention, the only way the Republican Party can survive intact is if it unifies behind Trump. While hardly an ideal situation in the Party, the climate it has fostered for years that has created the current debacle in which it finds itself now leaves it no other choice unless it wants to sacrifice itself for the good of the nation. But “The Republican Establishment” will care far more about winning and staying in office than in putting country above party.
AMMAN — At this moment, hot on the heels of Cruz’s big win in the Wisconsin Republican primary, there’s an awful lot of talk and speculation about a contested convention that would deny Trump the Republican nomination. While after Wisconsin, the statistical probabilities of this have certainly increased significantly: the idea that this is likely relies mostly on the increased mathematical possibility that Trump will fall short of the 1,237 majority of delegates he needs to clinch the nomination outright on the first round of voting at the convention, and that Trump’s chances to win the nomination are slim when other factors necessarily come into play, per the rules, on the second and any subsequent ballots.
I will add (not least among the reasons) that there is so much talk from both the media and pundit-class, and that they are salivating at the idea of a contested convention because 1.) it hasn’t happened in decades, 2.) both classes are deep students of the political process and it would be terribly fascinating to them, and 3.) it gives both something new to talk about and a reason for people to tune in and listen to them, since almost no Americans have any idea how such a scenario would play out an under what rules—meaning they will earn more money and more viewers (the bias is so often one of the media being a business trying to earn viewers and advertising dollars in a crowded field, rather than a political bias).
Thus, both pundits and the media have a vested interest in seeing a contested convention, but we should not be too hard on them because, as noted, if it does happen, this is the first time since 1952 where it will happen for Democrats (and since either 1948 or 1952, depending on your definition, for Republicans) where we find ourselves in this boat.
This mode of thinking that Trump will be stopped at a contested convention, though, assumes a lot of things that, upon closer inspection, are extremely unlikely, despite the cries from non-Trumpers to make it sound like a certain thing.
Here are the top 10 reasons why it is very unlikely that the Republican Party will deny him the nomination at a contested convention:
1.) Trump will have far more delegates than anyone else, ALMOST a majority
Even if Trump falls short of 1,237 delegates before the convention, he will almost certainly do so by the narrowest of margins; the Republican candidate who is second to Trump is Ted Cruz, who is only at 54% of the delegates he should have at this point in order to be on track to secure the nomination outright, and, as I have written before, Kasich is likely to surprise some people with the amount of delegates he could pick up in some of these later-voting states, thus, Cruz will not be getting all the non-Trump delegates, making his chances of making up his current gigantic deficit in delegates that much more remote, especially considering that most of the states with larger delegate prizes coming—most varieties of winner-take-all—are more favorable to Trump and some signs point to them being more favorable to Kasich than Cruz.
This means Trump—currently with 93% of the delegates he should have at this time to be on track for the nomination on a first ballot, a deficit that is eminently possible to make up—will enter the convention with the most delegates by far, with his competitors nowhere near the majority needed to secure the nomination and far behind him, regardless of whether Trump is at or over 1,237 delegates or not.
2.) Trump will have a dominant plurality of votes from actual voters
Considering point 1.), in order for the Republican National Convention to deny Trump the nomination, it will have to thwart the will of the people who voted in their primaries and caucused at caucuses; Trump, after a string of defeats, still has 37% of the vote, and that is before the populous states of New York and Pennsylvania vote in the next few weeks (states that seem quite favorable to Trump) among other states that are favorable to Trump voting in the same time-frame. His share of the vote is certain to increase to over 40% after these near-term contests, whereas Ted Cruz, who has so far won about 28% of the vote, is likely to see his share of the vote drop below 25%, perhaps even lower, in the next few weeks. No other candidate, active or not, had earned more than 16% of the vote. Trump could very well have 45% or even more going into the convention, Cruz a lot less, maybe even half as much or less. If delegates and Party elites decide to throw the nomination to Cruz, someone who got far fewer votes than even Cruz, or someone who did not even run for president during the nomination process, they risk the wrath of anywhere from roughly 40% to 50% of the people who participated in Republican primaries and caucuses; even though Trump will likely not have gotten a majority of votes, he will receive a clear plurality and the Republican Party, its elites, and delegates will have to absolutely ignore and disrespect the voice of this commanding plurality to stop Trump.
The consequences of such an unprecedented and dangerous move could be catastrophic, even fatal, for the Republican Party, its elites, its delegates, it sitting office-holders, its prospective office-holders, and for the self-perceived interests of its voters.
Here are the potential consequences:
3.) Trump will form a Third Party and run as its nominee
Trump could (in fact, is almost certain to) break away from the Republican National Convention and the Republican Party, with most, maybe almost all of his passionate 40+% of the primary voters, and form a third party if he is denied the nomination.
Throughout his campaign, despite several times pledging to support whoever is the Republican nominee, Trump has not been shy about repeatedly asserting that he might not support the Republican nominee if he does not think that the Republican Party treats him fairly, and just recently asserted that this is now the case; his two still-active rivals also backed out of the unity pledge. Without question, the Party denying him the nomination when he, by far, has the most votes and the most voting-earned delegates would be an act that falls under this category of “unfair” for Trump (and many others).
Yes, we know that non-Trump voters really don’t like Trump, but the exit polls in Wisconsin just showed us that Trump voters really don’t like Ted Cruz, either. Both sets of dislikes likely hold true as the contest between the two of them has taken an even nastier turn than usual. Trump supporters right now hate the Republican Party, its “Establishment,” and what it has become. There is a very good chance that nearly all of his supporters would follow him and support his third-party candidacy. But even far lower a proportion than that deserting the party could be fatal for the Party and its chances to win the White House, and even hold onto Congress, in the fall.
4.) A third Trump party means a Democrat wins the White House
If Trump breaks off and forms a new party, both his new party and the old Republican Party are virtually certain* (see the end) not to win the fall presidential election, meaning a Democrat will be in the White House for at least four years. And not just any Democrat, but one Republicans loathe: Hillary Rodham Clinton.
5.) The Republican Party as we know it will be destroyed
In addition to not retaking the White House, the Republican Party will have to look at the very real possibility that it will be destroyed as we know it today.
The Trump coalition will be filled with even more bitterness, rage, and resentment towards the Republican Party, far more (if that is even possible) than the already high levels its members currently harbor towards it. Like the Whigs, partly from the ashes of which the original Republican Party rose in the 1850s, the Republican Party may simply fade away into oblivion; if it survives, it could be a substantially smaller party than it has been at any time during its existence, save for its early formative days, because the damage from a formal rupture in 2016 is not one that would be able to be healed anytime soon. As one major Republican insider recently opined on Showtime’s The Circus, “We can’t put it back together, Humpty Dumpty won’t come back together.”
6.) Many Republicans could lose elections by going against Trump
When a third Trump party happens, local Congressmen in districts that voted heavily for Trump will have to make a choice: stand up for Trump and/or possibly leave the Republican Party and join his movement, or stay loyal to the Republican Party and risk Trump’s supporters going against (or at least not for) them, meaning a far higher chance of them losing their seats in Congress.
The same goes for senators and governors in states with a lot of Trump supporters, whose seats that are up for (re)election in 2016 will be at risk with a split as well, a rupture that would likely go all the way down to local politics as well. Given recent elected Republican officials’ track record of pandering totally to what the people who voted for them want, and not what is in the national interest—pushing for multiple government shutdowns over “Obamacare” and Planned Parenthood, the former succeeding once, the latter narrowly avoided because of John Boehner’s sacrificial heroics—one can hardly expect them to go against Trump if they are in heavily pro-Trump districts.
In fact, the idea that large numbers of sitting Republicans would risk their seats and reelection to fight Trump out of principle is actually quite laughable. John Boehner, Lindsey Graham, and Mitt Romney, the last two among the leading anti-Trump activists, are rare gems who are men of principle and decency; the same cannot be said for many of their colleagues.
7.) Beware the Libertarian Party and Gary Johnson as a Vulture
Libertarian candidate and former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson, who garnered close to 1.3 million votes for president as the candidate of the Libertarian Party in the 2012 national election (and on the ballot in all 50 states in 2016), has seen his support increasing of late, hitting 11% in a recent poll (to Clinton’s 42% and Trump’s 34%). This puts him within striking distance (with plenty of time to close the gap) of getting to 15%, which would earn him a spot in the nationally televised presidential debates shortly before the election. If the Republican Party splits, it will be interesting to see where members of its libertarian wing (Particularly Rand—and even Ron—Paul) go, and Johnson is very likely to pick up some support from this wing out of the Republicans’ wreckage.
This means there is a realistic possibility of four candidates on the debate stage in the fall.
8.) Most of “Establishment” is not actively going against Trump
The simple fact that is lost amid all the talk of a contested convention that would thwart the plurality of Republican primary/caucus voters is that the Republican “Establishment”—office holders, elites, power-brokers, intellectuals—are keenly aware of all the points I just raised.
While The intellectual wing—intellectuals, columnists, media commentators, whose members are not generally office holders and won’t lose their current positions if Trump and his supporters revolt against the Party—is decidedly against Trump, in contrast, the current class of Republican office-holders—senators, congressmen, governors—are incredibly silent in the fight between Trump and Cruz, and even on Kasich.
To quantify this, so far only 32 Republican congressional representatives (including 10 from his home state) have endorsed Ted Cruz out of 247, or only less than 13% of Republicans in the House. John Kasich has only garnered the support of 7 Republican House members (including 4 from his home state), the same number as Trump. When it comes to senators, sitting Senator Ted Cruz has only received the endorsement of just 3 out of 53 of his fellow Republican senators, about 5.6% of his colleagues, and 2 out of 3 of them—Lindsey Graham and James Risch—and are vocally unenthusiastic, with Graham likening a choice between Trump and Cruz to one of between shooting yourself and drinking poison and Risch markedly declining to characterize his support as an endorsement. Kasich only has 2 senators, including one from his home state, to Trump’s 1. When it comes to governors, out of 31 Republican governors, only 5, or just about 16%, support Cruz, including the governor of his home state, and only 2 of Kasich’s colleagues supports Kasich, who is himself a sitting governor.
Trump, meanwhile has won the endorsements of 3 Republican governors.
In other words, the vast majority of “The Establishment” is not publicly trying to fight Trump, is not publicly supporting either of his two remaining rivals, and is not even publicly involved in the contentious nomination process. Yes, the anti-Trump forces are quite vocal right now, but as we have seen from the Bernie Sanders “political revolution” movement, loudness is a poor indicator of how widespread support actually is.
As I wrote before, the last Republican debate was a clear sign that “The Republican Establishment” is resigned, however reluctantly, to Trump being their nominee, and would rather an back an unfit candidate than lose their own offices in a fight on principle.
If this was not the case, we would see far larger numbers of senators, congressmen, and governors enthusiastically supporting Cruz or Kasich, and this would have been happening for some time; after Cruz’s win in Wisconsin, it’s going to happen now or pretty much never. And it’s not happening now, even thought many of the most important remaining contests before the convention are happening in the second-half of April, just around the corner.
9.) Delegates could also pay a price for thwarting Trump
In addition, we must discuss the delegates. These delegates are actual people with their own beliefs, and, apparently, many of them do not, and not likely to, like Trump. And over two-thirds of delegates are selected by state/local conventions/committees some time after the primaries and caucuses for their respective states; adding in the 7% of delegates that are made up of Republican National Committee members, you have almost three-quarters of all delegates who are not selected directly by the voters or by candidates. These three-quarters of the delegates are people who are active in state and local Republican Party politics and in the Party apparatus; these are (generally) not people who are in the Trump crowd, but, rather, are good, loyal Republicans.
On the first round of voting, almost all the delegates (95%) are bound to vote the way their states’ populations have voted, but after this first round, that number falls to 42%, and then to 20% in a third round if it comes to that, and so on.
And yet, I have a hard time believing that most of the delegates, who are hopeful of continued roles in the Party and of bright futures in politics, will be so willing to risk the ire or such a strong, vocal plurality, approaching a (or maybe even a slight) majority of the electorate that participated in the Republican contests. You can bet the people and surrogates who support Trump will be putting very heavy pressure on them to respect the will of the voters, and will not forget those who fail to do so. And let’s not forget that Trump supporters are the most loyal and passionate supporters of any of the remaining Republican candidates.
These delegates will have to go back to these people, with whom they live and have known for years, and answer for why they ignored their will, ignored the votes of their friends, neighbors, and fellow Party members. The answers will likely amount to “I knew better than you” or “I was pressured (bribed?) by the Party,” neither of which will go over well.
10.) Riots are far from a remote impossibility
Finally, there is specter of political violence. I do not believe that Trump will directly or sincerely encourage violence, but many of his very loyal and very passionate supporters are no philosophers and have not shied away from getting a bit physical (occasionally even more than a bit) at some of his rallies. Trump supporters are already in rage mode, and many of them own guns.
I’m hardly suggesting any kind of civil war or armed insurgency, but nevertheless there is the certainty of mass protests if Trump is denied the nomination and a decent possibility of violence and violent riots;
Donald Trump himself has said as much.
For all of these reasons, if Trump enters the convention short of the 1,237 delegates needed to win the nomination on the first ballot, I don’t believe Republicans have enough chutzpah or a sense of sacrifice to risk their party’s destruction and their own chances to both hold onto their elected offices and/or have a political future by operating in the most undemocratic of ways and awarding the nomination to someone who has not earned anywhere near as much support as Trump.
I would be shocked if this was the case.
In any event, I happen to like Trump’s chances to get to 1,237 before the convention (game out scenarios here); yes, Wisconsin was a bump in the road, but he still managed to get over 35% of the vote there, in a state that has had an active presence of national “Establishment” Republican powers as a result of the high profile political battles of its Governor Scott Walker in the past few election cycles. Walker endorsed Cruz, his enemies poured millions into defeating him, and yet Trump still held onto a large share of the vote, even after he had one of the worst stretches of any candidate in modern election history over the last few weeks leading up to the Wisconsin Primary.
Wisconsin was a blow, sure, but hardly a fatal one and one he weathered quite well (as he always seems to). And now, he still seems in position to dominate the contests coming up in the next few weeks as he faces rivals in Kasich and Cruz who are competing with themselves as much as him, and with a pretty resigned “Establishment” on the sidelines and declining to rally to any of them.
As I’ve written before, don’t dismiss The Donald; he will still very likely be the Republican Party’s nominee. The only hope the Republicans have of still winning if they deny Trump the nomination rests on Bernie Sanders being a spoiler, refusing to support Hillary Clinton when she wins the Democratic Party’s nomination and running against Clinton, Trump, and whoever else with his own new insurgent party. That means possibly five candidates on the debate stage in the fall.