Tuesday will largely tell us how the GOP convention is going to go. If Ted Cruz wins in Indiana we are almost certainly headed for a contested convention in which Trump has zero chance of getting the nomination. I suspect that if Ted Cruz loses Indiana to Trump that the air is going to go out of the anti-Trump movement in the primaries and Trump will arrive in Cleveland with the requisite 1237 delegates that should assure him a first ballot nomination. But that may not be the case. Because the rules of the convention are both obscure and pliable.
Much of the current thinking is based on the assumption that Trump arriving at the convention with 1,237 bound delegates gives him the nomination and the GOP would either be forced to vote for him (the view of a lot of elected officials) or accept defeat in November in order to stop him, this is the view of the #NeverTrump movement. As I’ve pointed out before, this is sort of a fallacy. Just arriving with the delegates bound doesn’t mean that the delegates will actually vote. And there is growing movement among GOP delegates to say “Not No But Hell No” to the idea of Donald Trump hijacking the GOP for a reality television game plot based when he will have received a minority of GOP votes. This would see the convention transition from the idea of a contested one to one involving acres upon acres of scorched earth.
Even if Trump crosses the threshold to earn 1,237 bound delegates at the convention, Cruz may not be out of options. The Texas senator has been crushing Trump in the shadow fight for loyal convention delegates — delegates who could be free to vote their preference on a second ballot. It’s conceivable that a majority of the delegates at the convention in Cleveland will oppose Trump’s nomination, even if they’re bound to vote for him. In that scenario, that majority could unseat scores of Trump delegates, rewrite convention rules to eliminate any binding requirements and make it less likely — if not impossible — for Trump to claim the nomination.
An attempted convention takeover, however, would require Cruz’s team to assume that all of the delegates who have pledged loyalty to the Texan remain loyal in the face of massive backlash from party leaders. Indeed, even Cruz’s team knows that some of their delegates signed on simply to oppose Trump, not out of any deep attachment to Cruz.
Ummm. No. Not even close to true, but more on that in a moment
If Cruz were to pursue a convention takeover anyway, there’s a roadmap waiting for him.
North Dakota GOP committeeman Curly Haugland has been agitating for years that delegates may not be forced to vote against their conscience under the party’s current rules. Though a provision requires the secretary of the convention — a position appointed by the delegates — to record votes based on the party’s binding rules, a separate, conflicting provision lays out an entirely different vote-counting process in which delegates may cast a ballot for any candidate they choose — and do it secretly. Haugland argues that the latter rule supersedes the former because it is included in a section of the rules specifically meant to control the 2016 convention.
Haugland, who will be on this year’s convention rules committee, said he intends to propose language to eliminate the binding language to govern future conventions. His critics generally dismiss his proposals as politically unpalatable moves that would disenfranchise primary and caucus voters, but this year, the fervor among anti-Trump forces for a contested convention could lend his ideas currency.
One advocate of the stop-Trump-at-all-costs approach is Stuart Stevens, a former senior adviser to 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney. Stevens said he’s witnessed the slow acquiescence to Trump by party insiders, but he says he’ll never play along. He said that even if Trump reaches 1,237 bound delegates before the convention, Cruz should use his delegate advantage to block him anyway.
“You should do anything you can that’s within — anything you can legally — to try to win an election,” he said. “The Republican Party prided itself on opposing the Communist party and it would be a laughable irony if they fell into the Communist Party line and were supposed to ‘do what’s good for the party.’ Brezhnev would be chuckling somewhere.”
“I’m for fighting all the way,” he added.
There are two parts to this puzzle.
The first part is stopping Trump. The fact that Cruz has succeeded in having selected as delegates a large number of men and women who are hostile to Trump indicates that Haughland’s strategy is not far-fletched. The idea that people who have been selected by Cruz as delegates are going to give a rat’s patootie about the wrath of “party leaders” is laughable. These are men and women who are pretty much opposed to a lot of the nonsense the party does anyway and, if they win, that victory will overcome any objections by the Mitch McConnells of the world.
The obvious path in this strategy is for the insurgent delegates to hijack the rules committee and strip many of the Trump delegates of their credentials. They don’t have to create a first round victory for Not Trump, they merely have to deny Trump a victory. If this happens, Trump and his clown posse will leave the convention in a huff, Roger Stone’s flying monkeys will get a well deserved wood shampoo from Cleveland’s finest and then an actual nominee will be selected.
Once Trump is gone, then the real dogfight starts. Cruz may or may not prevail. And Cruz undoubtedly knows this. If he isn’t able to win on a second ballot then the doors are wide open to a compromise candidate. That will not be some go-along-get-along apparatchik anointed by the GOP leadership. Delegates that have carried off this coup will never, ever agree to that. We could see Rubio reemerge as a contender. Or Rick Perry. Or Scott Walker. Or someone else but whoever it is will be a quantum leap over Donald Trump.
What effect would this have on the election? It might make things more difficult. Obviously a lot of Trump supporters are going to suffer ass abrasions and stay home. That’s fine. Anyone who would actually support Trump to that extent is probably too stupid to be trusted with the franchise in the first place. The fact that the GOP rank-and-file delegates acted on their own to clean house when the leadership was getting ready to kiss Trump’s pinky ring (assuming you could find one narrow enough to stay on those little tiny fingers) would be a huge positive. I think even if Cruz was not the eventual nominee it would be very easy for the GOP to coalesce around a compromise candidate and fight the next election because the important mission of saving the GOP from Trump would have been accomplished.
But at least we would have a fighting chance. Hillary is a terrible candidate and a GOP that has excised the Trump tumor would be competitive. A GOP either behind Trump or acting to block Trump would suffer defeat of a horrendous magnitude.