Is the GOP’s #NeverTrump movement too strong-headed to care about this, that they would risk the collapse of the whole party?
Is it me, or does the argument that the Republican nomination can be taken from Donald Trump at a contested convention make almost no sense?
It’s not that it would be unfeasible for Ted Cruz or some other candidate to win a majority of delegates after the first ballot is cast at the convention. If anything, it seems more and more likely that Cruz, given his shrewdness at delegate selection, would be able to pull this off as early as the second ballot.
However, if Trump arrives in Cleveland having won the most votes, the most contests, and the most delegates — all of which is very likely — depriving him of the nomination would be an unprecedented move in the modern political era. And doing so would likely end in disaster not only for the GOP as a whole but its anti-Trump wing in particular.
The argument we’re seeing out of the Cruz camp and the Republican National Committee essentially boils down to this: convention delegates choose the nominee, and that this is how it’s always been done. This argument has the benefit of being technically true because a majority of delegates do, of course, select the nominee at the convention.
But the major reason conventions have been such bloodless affairs over the last few decades is that we’ve always known how the delegates were going to vote — that they have, in practice, been virtually powerless, and are just reflecting the will of the primary voters.
Since 1976, the nominee chosen by the respective parties has always been the candidate that wins the most contests and/or the most number of votes. The Republican nominee has always been the candidate who won both, while the Democrats nominated Walter Mondale in 1984 even though he won fewer contests than Gary Hart (Mondale had the most votes and a plurality of delegates) and nominated Barack Obama in 2008 even though he had won slightly fewer votes than Hillary Clinton. Still, both of these outcomes broadly reflected the will of primary voters, and both eventual nominees had won the most number of delegates.
Should the Republican nomination be awarded to Cruz or John Kasich, it would be wildly out of step with the tradition of letting primary voters decide in practice who their candidate should be. Moreover, explaining this outcome would be enormously difficult to explain to the already dwindling number of voters willing to register Republican.
Trump’s argument, in this scenario, will be simple, clean, and easy to understand:I won the most delegates, the most votes, the most contests, and they stole the nomination from me.
The argument from the other side will be much more complicated and obtuse: You may not have known this, but the guy who wins the most of everything is ultimately at the mercy of a faceless mass of delegates, some of whom can be essentially bribed, and therefore giving the nomination to another candidate is fair game. Millions of Republicans will be told that their vote did not matter, and that the GOP, in its wisdom, has settled on a candidate that has been rejected by its electorate.