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.
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.