Donald Trump has become the Republican frontrunner because GOP primary voters want an outsider who is angry at the condition of the country and the party establishment. And yet, GOP officials are so frightened of the transformation of the party under Donald Trump that they want the remaining candidates to stay in the race to deny him a majority of delegates and force a contested party convention in July.
Doesn’t this strategy prove exactly the point that Trump supporters (and to some extent Cruz supporters) are trying to make? You have a party in the midst of historic change, and your strategy is to deny that party’s voters the right to nominate their preferred candidate? And you think this will help you win in the fall? My mind reels.
Let’s consider the best-case scenario for the contested-convention crowd. Trump has most but not all of the delegates necessary to secure the party’s nomination on the first ballot. Cruz and Rubio are close behind. So a period of behind-the-scenes jockeying goes on which hands the nomination to … well, who? Cruz? He’s not exactly Mr. Popularity, either. And while nominating him would not upset the institutions of the conservative movement as much as a Trump nomination, he’s not a shoo-in in November. He has yet to demonstrate broad support in the Republican Party, much less the general electorate.
I can see how maybe, just maybe, Cruz could win enough of the Trump forces and enough of the party regulars scared by Trump to win the nomination at the convention. But I can’t see Rubio doing that, or Mitt Romney, or Paul Ryan. The delegates would revolt. The anti-establishment folks would walk out. If there is one thing the primaries have taught us so far, it is that there are more Republicans who back Trump and Cruz than Marco Rubio. Donald Trump has won the most states, set the terms of the political debate, and is in part responsible for record interest and turnout in the 2016 Republican primary. The idea that his voters would stand idly by—that he would stand idly by—as the convention nominates Rubio or Romney in his place is more than farcical. It’s delusional.
Three things can happen. One of the other candidates can beat Trump. The party can fall in line behind Trump. Or the Republican voters who reject Trump can stay at home or vote for Hillary. Of the three, I think the likeliest outcome is the last one. Supporters of the contested convention strategy believe the nomination and the GOP can be saved from Trump, that the party as they have come to understand it is salvageable. What they refuse to accept is the possibility that the party is already broken. They don’t want to face the difficult and painful choices that the rise of Donald Trump presents.