A contested Republican convention in 2016 might be one of the most dramatic American political events since the Watergate era. Imagine the floor fights. Think about the uncertainty. See in your mind the clashes of the cable analysts as tension over the nomination mounts.
Real news at conventions can be electric. During the Republican National Convention in Detroit in 1980 ex-President Gerald Ford hinted to CBS’s Walter Cronkite he might run as vice president with nominee Ronald Reagan. The press went berserk at the prospect of a dream ticket.
Then the deal fizzled. So will the prospect of a contested convention this time around.
Well, probably. Given the strange nature of the 2016 election cycle it’s unwise to rule out anything. Republican opponents of Donald Trump are vowing to fight his nomination all the way to July’s Cleveland convention if they have to.
“Taking this to the convention and fighting until the bitter end is a necessary battle for the soul of the party of Lincoln,” writes Liam Donovan in the National Review, the conservative magazine that recently devoted an entire issue to anti-Trump essays.
But their stop-Trump scenario depends on denying The Donald the 1,237 delegates he needs to win on the first ballot. They would then wrest the nomination away on the floor.
If Sen. Marco Rubio (R) of Florida, Sen. Ted Cruz (R) of Texas, and Gov. John Kasich (R) of Ohio all stay in the race until July, it’s possible that they could split the vote just enough to keep Mr. Trump from outright victory. But Senator Rubio and Governor Kasich would have to win the big prizes of their home states, Florida and Ohio. Right now Trump has big poll leads in both states. They vote on March 15.
Trump’s had an amazing run this far. His opponents have divided up the non-Trump vote in just the right way to allow him to near the nomination with only a plurality of Republican support.
Things are in his favor, writes right-leaning columnist Ross Douthat in The New York Times.
“It’s entirely possible that Trump could clear the delegate threshold while continuing to win just 30 to 35 percent of the vote,” writes Mr. Douthat.
Of course, GOP elites could vote to change the rules at the last minute and deny Trump the nomination at the convention, even if he’s got enough delegates to win. But would they? That would be a blatant contravention of the voters. It could launch a Trump-led third party run and tear the Republican coalition apart.
The same thing might happen if Trump enters the convention as the top vote-getter but without enough delegates to win outright. Senator Cruz and Rubio could maneuver to deny him the prize. But imagine the Trump-led response. His followers’ sense of grievance could affect the party for a generation.
The anti-Trumps might be better off bolting to their own independent ticket. “Bull Moose Party,” anyone?