Why the GOP flipped its plan to stop Donald Trump

The logic behind the GOP elite's change of tactics is clear, but the cost of a brokered convention to the party could be high.

Timothy D. Easley/AP
Supporters of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump walk past a t-shirt stand as they brave the rain and cold to make their way to a rally at the Kentucky International Convention Center in Louisville Ky., Tuesday.

We’ve learned a lot about the state of United States politics in the last 24 hours. Among the biggest revelations is that the Republican Party’s elite and establishment figures seem to have flipped their strategy for stopping Donald Trump on its head.

The old one was “winnowing.” Remember that? The lawmakers, donors, lobbyists, lawyers, and other party poobahs were not too worried about Mr. Trump’s long run at the top of the GOP polls. Lack of early money and support and the results of early primaries would shrink (winnow) the big field of participants, in this theory. The significant anti-Trump vote would coalesce around one or two remaining non-Donald figures.

Stuck under a ceiling of about 35 percent of Republican voters – his hard-core support – Trump would lose as Jeb Bush or Chris Christie zoomed past.

Time for some traffic problems in the establishment lane! Contrary to lots of predictions, our own included, winnowing hasn’t worked.

It didn’t happen fast enough, for one thing. Trump has 36-percented his way to a delegate lead that puts him on track to win the nomination at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. Jeb Bush stayed in too long. Sen. Marco Rubio (R) of Florida and Sen. Ted Cruz (R) of Texas are about equal in strength, and Gov. John Kasich (R) of Ohio is drawing off just enough voters to ensure nobody else gets close to Trump’s taillights.

Winnowing also did not reallocate voters cleanly. Mr. Bush voters didn’t all swing to Senator Rubio, say. They distributed themselves among the remaining candidates. A few went to Trump.

Now it looks like only a true one-on-one race would produce a winnowed anti-Trump majority.

That’s not happening, either. It’s too late. So now Republican elders are all in for the opposite: Everybody keeps running. They’re going to block Trump from amassing the 1,237 delegates needed to win the party crown.

In this scenario, Governor Kasich wins his home state of Ohio and makes inroads in Michigan and other northern states. Rubio wins his home state of Florida. Cruz draws off evangelical voters where he can.

“The strategy has to be to split the delegates among different candidates,” writes Georgetown political scientist Hans Noel in the Mischiefs of Faction political science blog.

As Mr. Noel notes, Mitt Romney made this explicit in his extraordinary anyone-but-Trump speech on Thursday.

“Given the current delegate selection process, that means that I’d vote for Marco Rubio in Florida and for John Kasich in Ohio and for Ted Cruz or whichever one of the other two contenders has the best chance of beating Mr. Trump in a given state,” said Mr. Romney in his University of Utah address.

Think about that. Romney’s not telling GOP voters to rally around a non-Trump champion. He’s telling them to game the voting system (legally!) to block Trump and ensure nobody wins outright during the primary and caucus season.

So that’s the plan: a contested convention, beginning on July 18.

If that happens it will be quite a show. Delegates from most states are bound to vote for the candidate who won them in the primaries or caucuses for only one round. After that, it would be the Ultimate Fighting Championship for people in patriotic hats.

Maybe it works. Rubio – or Romney himself – emerges as a consensus pick after dozens of exhausting rounds of voting.

But it is also possible the uproar could split Republicans, producing a third-party candidacy for the general election. After all, if Trump leads entering the convention, his supporters would feel the nomination had been stolen by just the kind of establishment “losers” he excoriates.

“The Republican leadership is [expletive] insane if it wants a brokered convention and Mitt Romney should shut the [expletive] up,” writes conservative commentator and Trump opponent Erick Erickson at The Resurgent.

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