The puzzling strategy being adopted against Trump

The Republican party and the Washington establishment have clearly decided that they are deeply worried by the idea of Donald Trump being the party nominee and have finally declared all out war on him. The last debate saw Fox News tag team with Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz to attack him with all they had. The Washington Post has editorialized against him. Republican senate leader Mitch McConnell has said that the party will not support him. And the party’s 2012 nominee Mitt Romney gave a blistering speech against him. All kinds of SuperPACS funded by wealthy donors are now running ads against him in the upcoming primary states.

Trump’s opponents have now pretty much thrown everything against him and the contests today (Kansas, Kentucky Louisiana, and Maine) and on Tuesday (Michigan, Mississippi, Idaho, and Hawaii) will give the first indications of whether they are successful in slowing his progress. Bear in mind the fact that the establishment being against Trump is one the things that appeal to his followers, so a scorched Earth attack against him can backfire by simply hardening their support and that could have consequences down the road.

Anti-Trump cartoon

What puzzles me is the incoherence of the strategy being used, if there is a strategy at all other than to attack Trump. People have suddenly started talking about delegate counts and that Trump does not yet have a majority of delegates. This talk of delegate counts is usually a sign of desperation because it indicates that you are not winning primary contests and are instead hoping for some mathematical miracle at the convention.

For those unfamiliar with the arcane rules of American elections, the primary contests are to choose delegates to attend the national convention and each state is awarded a certain number of delegates and can decide its own methods of allocating them. There are 2,472 delegates in all for the Republican party meaning that a candidate has to have 1,237 delegates to be the nominee. The rules vary from state to state but usually require delegates to vote for the person they have been chosen to represent on the first one or two ballots. If no one wins on the first ballot, they are then free to vote for anyone else and this is where the hopes of the anti-Trump forces seem to lie, that they can peel off enough Trump supporters to give the nomination to someone else. But a committee of 112 people on the rules panel (two from each state) does have the power to change the rules just days before the convention, and this does allow for some shenanigans.

This sounds good on paper but fails the practical test because it requires a whole number of hypotheticals to work. First of all, at the moment Trump has 329 delegates and seems to be on track to win a majority. Secondly, his opponents do not seem to have decided whether their best bet to prevent him getting a majority is to get behind a single alternative candidate or to hope that a multitude of candidates will siphon off a sufficiently large number of delegates.

There is no consensus on whether to wage a single-prong or multi-prong alternative strategy. The factors working against a single alternative is that none of the alternatives still in the race seem viable. Marco Rubio seems weak and has won only one contest. Ted Cruz has won four but is detested almost as much as Trump. John Kasich hasn’t won anything at all. Romney suggests the strategy that people vote for whoever is in the lead in any given state.

But suppose the party does manage to deny Trump a majority on the first ballot at the convention, then what? It is clear that he will still have a plurality. What makes the establishment think that they can sway Trump voters away from him while keeping all the non-Trump delegates from switching to him? And whom do they pick to be the nominee instead? To select someone who ran against Trump and got far fewer delegates would be remarkable, even if they could pull it off. What kind of credibility would such a candidate have with the party base, let alone general election voters?

If they go with a complete outsider who did not compete in the primaries, who could play that role? Some are floating the name of speaker and losing 2012 vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan. Others think that Mitt Romney is angling for the job. But wouldn’t such a result simply infuriate Trump supporters because it gives them (and everyone else for that matter) damning proof that the political deck is stacked and that party establishment does not give a damn about voters and will impose its will whatever the voters think?

And what will Trump do if he is sidelined this way? He will not go quietly into the night. He will lambaste the party and his supporters may well be angry, leading to a very ugly convention and general election.

This election is hard to predict but for what it’s worth here in my take. Trump will be the Republican nominee and be selected on the first ballot. Most of the anti-Trump forces who are now screaming loudly will eventually give in and support him because they do not want a Democrat to win. You can seen the equivocation already taking place, with some in the party suggesting that maybe Trump is not so bad after all and laying the groundwork for eventual total capitulation. At the last debate, after calling Trump a conman and fraud and clown and suggesting he has a small penis, Rubio, Cruz, and Kasich all said that they would support Trump if he were the nominee. That shows that all this anti-Trump rhetoric is mostly sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Stephen Colbert looks at Romney’s speech and his suggested strategy to stop Trump.


  1. says

    I am starting to enjoy watching what Trump is doing to the two party system.

    Aside from the collateral damage (everyone) watching the election-riggers hoist with their own petard* is strangely satisfying.

    (“Petard” is French for explosive mine, in a military context. But the word ‘explode’ originates from “peter” -- to fart. So I like to think of Trump as a “petard” -- literally a great big fartbag)

  2. Carol Lynn says

    hmmm… but Trump hates to lose. I can see a possible scenario where, if the polls show he would lose to either of the Dem nominees, he might shananiganate to not get the nomination. He could then spend the rest of his life bloviating about how he could have won -- he would have won yuuuuge -- except for… reasons.

  3. Mano Singham says


    That is true but those three states are closed caucuses, which is Trump’s weakest terrain. Louisiana is a closed primary where he usually does better. He does best in open primaries. The next ones of those are in Puerto Rico tomorrow and Mississippi on March 8. Hawaii, Idaho, and Michigan have closed primaries on March 8 too.

    What is encouraging is that The Guardian is reporting that Bernie Sanders is winning the Kansas caucuses but that report is weird since it also says that 0% results have come in.

  4. lorn says

    It looks like the media and powers-that-be are all bringing up parts of Trump’s record that have been glossed over previously. Anyone really following Trumps business dealings, and a whole lot of other ‘job creators’, is likely well aware of the variable definition of success.

    Most people seem to assume that success is a mater of a business becoming established, growing, prospering and benefiting the surrounding society over the long term. There is a second, much more narrow, definition of success; the founder extracts profits from investors and customers and then escaping out he back door as the edifice crumbles and leaves the society poorer. Trump is the second sort:


  5. Mano Singham says


    You are quite right. Trump seems to be also adept at getting others (government and private investors) to put up most of the money for his ventures and thus take the losses.

    But I suspect that most people don’t look that deeply into things. If you have the veneer of success (private jets, luxury penthouses, fancy cars, trophy wives, hanging out with celebrities) they assume that you are successful.

  6. StevoR says

    @ ^ Mano Singham : Hence the accuracy of Mittens Rmoney’s description of the schmuck as a con-artist, yep.

    Problem is, Cruz is even worse than Trump is and is equally -almost equally now? -- as loathed by the GOP and welll, everyone but his supporters and far-right talibangelicals.

    Rubio -- is a water-damaged robot empty suit with no experience and really very little appeal. Kasich is effectively already out of the race even if he clings on till Ohio ain’t he? Kasich is also a snote dearlier here , a super nasty set of policies hiding behind an äwshucks”positive facade of reasonableness.

    If not Trump now -- then who?

    So glad the USA has the Democratic party and its most likely that Hilary Clinton will now become POTUS (& remote -- very remote chance of Bernie Sanders who’d be pretty good too) because the Republican offerings are grim and disgusting indeed. Be a disaster for the whole world if any Repub won -- especially Cruz or Trump.

  7. lorn says

    Mano Singham @7:
    “Trump seems to be also adept at getting others (government and private investors) to put up most of the money for his ventures and thus take the losses.”

    That, for me, is the kicker.

    Whether it is “developers” like Trump, the “wolves” of Wall Street, or bankers using accounts backed by FDIC it is usually, as they say, OPM (Other People’s Money). When Trump spoke of a deal in NYC and the agreement freeing it of property taxes for twenty years he claimed that ‘I got twenty years of tax abatement because I didn’t ask for fifty’. What the hell. It wasn’t Trump’s money. Nor was it the politician’s who agreed to the tax abatement. It was the taxpayer’s money, and they, true to form, weren’t at the table.

    The saddest part of this is that while Trump is a carnival barker and fraud with a long record of business failures where he is the only one to benefit in anything but the short term Ted Cruz, the most viable alternative on the right, is far worse. The man is, as one astute observer and fair judge of character put it: “an odious fistula that walks the earth in a human skin”. IMHO the entire GOP lineup is profoundly unacceptable simply because each candidate has pledged allegiance to the official GOP catechism. But Ted, always an overachiever in doing the wrong thing, outdoes does the corrosive and backward dogma by being both a theocrat and a Dominionist. That he also assumes he is ‘the chosen one’ just adds insult to injury.

    Ted makes The Donald look good.

    Odious fistula quote:

  8. Just an Organic Regular Expression says

    I am repeatedly struck by the irony of the Republican establishment hoping for a “brokered convention” as a way of defeating the guy who wrote The Art of the Deal. Do they think Trump couldn’t do more effective “brokering” than anybody else?

  9. Scr... Archivist says

    Mano @5.

    …those three states are closed caucuses, which is Trump’s weakest terrain. Louisiana is a closed primary where he usually does better. He does best in open primaries.

    This makes me think that some (many?) states will move from open to closed primaries before 2020.

    Which is as it should be. I would not want people from a competing organization choosing my organization’s leader. Also, party elites don’t want to face insurgencies like Trump’s.

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