After wins in four out of five states on Super Tuesday 3, Donald Trump has ratcheted up the primary trash talk, saying if he is denied his party's presidential nomination under certain circumstances, "I think you'd have riots."
His comments come after the GOP candidate won Illinois, Missouri, North Carolina, and Florida, but not winner-take-all Ohio in Tuesday's races, complicating his path to achieving the 1,237 delegates needed to secure the party's nomination.
Mr. Trump now has 661 delegates, according to RealClearPolitics.com. If he falls short of the 1,237 needed, party leaders may pursue a brokered convention, which will allow them to put forward new names, switch allegiances, and "re-vote."
Already, former House Speaker John Boehner has endorsed current Speaker Paul Ryan, who is not running for president, to be the party's nominee, saying "If we don't have a nominee who can win on the first ballot, I'm for none of the above...I'm for Paul Ryan to be our nominee."
Trump warned that such a scenario would outrage his supporters.
"If you disenfranchise those people, and you say, 'Well, I’m sorry, but you’re 100 votes short, even though the next one is 500 votes short,' I think you would have problems like you’ve never seen before. I think bad things would happen," Trump told CNN.
"I think you'd have riots. I think you'd have riots. I'm representing many, many millions of people."
He has also denounced the current nominating process, calling 1,237 an "artificial" and "very random number" during last week’s debate, and insisting that whoever has the most delegates at the end of the primaries should be the nominee.
That hasn't stopped party leaders from continuing to strategize The Donald's defeat.
Several top Republicans, including Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska, Gov. Charlie Baker of Massachusetts, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, and former GOP candidate and Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, recently said they would not vote for Trump in November.
And several news outlets, including The New York Times and Politico, have reported that conservative activists are meeting in a closed-door session Thursday in Washington, D.C., to strategize ways to block the outspoken billionaire. One such way, according to the reports, is running a third-party challenger.
Trump has responded to the rumors by warning that a third-party run would guarantee a Democratic win in November.
"[L]et me tell you, a third party guarantees — not 90 percent or 99 percent, 100 percent — that Democrats will win. Probably Hillary, I guess it's Hillary, looks like it if she gets to the starting gate, which she probably will frankly," he told ABC News.
What Trump, who also has a history of flirting with a third-party run, left out was that a third-party challenger would destroy his own chances, as well.
About six in 10 of non-Trump supporters said they would seriously consider voting for a third party if he wins the GOP nomination, according to Super Tuesday 3 exit poll data.
Trump trails Hillary Clinton in hypothetical general election polls, and polls suggest many Republicans won't vote for him if he is the party's nominee. In fact, 48 percent of Republicans who do not already back Trump said they would probably not or definitely not support him in November, according to a CNN poll this week.
Thanks to his controversial pledges to deport millions of undocumented immigrants and temporarily ban all Muslims from entering the US, his slow disavowal of former KKK leader David Duke, and several violent incidents at his rallies, Trump has alienated voters from several sectors of the party, reports The New York Times.
"Mainstream Christian activists, who view his angry outlook as antithetical to their faith; centrists, who see him as the most divisive politician in a generation; and national security experts, who have recoiled from his praise for autocrats like President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and believe he should not control nuclear weapons."
Which is why, moving forward, both Trump and the party establishment will need to play their cards very carefully.