Doom and gloom has spread across the Republican Party. The most unpopular candidate in the history of the United States, Donald J. Trump, is poised to win their party nomination for the office of president. Worse, their runner-up, the junior senator from Texas, Ted Cruz, is a man loathed by almost every human who has ever known him, and is too uncompromisingly Rightwing for the majority of the Republican electorate. National defeat is nearly assured with either candidate at the top of the November ticket. How did this happen and what can the Republican Party do to get out of this mess?
So Many Options
The litany of possible reasons the Republican Party finds itself here are too numerous to review in this post. However, one key reason is the large number of early presidential candidates. This opened the door for a candidate like Trump to win a plurality of votes. Though he is wildly unpopular generally, he does have a strongly supportive base. As the bulk of the primary voters diluted themselves across such a large field, his staunch base gave him just enough to win, though averaging just over 30 per cent of the votes cast by Republicans. So far, this minority of the electorate has been enough to win.
Another quirk is how convention delegates are allotted. Where the Democratic Party awards their delegates proportionally, the Republican Party uses all manner of allocation schemes, varying state to state. Some are winner-take-all, others are proportional, while others are winner-take-most. Getting into the weeds of this would constitute another post, suffice to say, if a Democratic candidate and winning the same margin, Trump would have only 30 per cent of the delegates, yet as a Republican, he commands a large majority.
Delegates and the Convention
When Americans vote in a primary or caucus, they are choosing delegates, rather than the candidates who are actually running for office. Who these delegates are does matter. Just as the delegate allotment schemes are different from state to state, so too are the ways the delegates themselves are chosen. When a candidate wins a state, it is often reported that Candidate X "won" Y number of delegates. This is easy reporting, but not entirely accurate.
Delegates are not numbers, rather, they are actual human beings. When delegates are elected or chosen, depending on allocation schemes, they may personally support one candidate, but be "awarded" to another. Senator Ted Cruz, knowing this, has put a great deal of effort into assuring many of the delegates are his supporters, regardless to whom they are formally pledged. This is a creative strategy and will matter at the convention. Trump, for his part, only recently became aware such things may prove decisive, and is late to the game of ensuring his supporters are chosen or elected as convention delegates.
Upon arrival at the party convention in Cleveland, Ohio, some 100 of these delegates will convene a "Rules Committee" for the purpose of governing the convention. This committee can establish any rules it wishes. Many "rules" are traditional, while others are, at least symbolically, enforced by laws within the various states. Many of these rules, therefore, are likely to be retained. Often cited are that pledged delegates must vote for the candidate they are pledged to, regardless of personal wishes, on the first ballot. If any candidate receives a majority of the delegate votes - which is 1,237 votes - the candidate wins the party nomination. However, if no candidate wins such a majority, another vote is held. Though rules may get changed, if traditions hold, one third of the pledged delegates will be "released" and free to vote for their personally preferred candidate on this second ballot. If none still receive a majority, a third vote is held, when an additional third of the pledged delegates are released. This will repeat, ad nauseam, until all the previously pledged delegates are free to vote for anyone, with votes occurring repeatedly until one candidate wins a majority.
The Nuclear Option
If Donald J. Trump wins a majority of pledged delegates during the primary process, he is all but assured a first ballot win and with it, the Republican Party nomination. The Rules Committee, if it so desired, could change the rules and "release" all pledged delegates prior to the first ballot - what some call the "nuclear option" - though a number of states have laws requiring their delegates to vote for whom they are pledged. However, it is highly unlikely states would prosecute delegates if violating these laws. If going nuclear, and Cruz remains successful at ensuring his supporters are elected or chosen as delegates, this may result in him winning a far larger share than he actually won throughout the primary process.
The nuclear option is highly unlikely. After a long and greuelling primary process, the electorate is inclined to revolt if such a transparent effort to thwart Trump were initiated. To at least try to ensure party unity for the November election, they party would be wise, and likely is, to avoid such a stunt.
Another rule prevents the nomination of any candidate who is not running for president. Created in 2012, Rule 40 takes it a step further, requiring any name entered for consideration to have won primaries or caucuses in no fewer than eight states. If this rule is retained by the Rules Committee, the only candidates that can be considered are Donald J. Trump and Ted Cruz. Both of these candidates, and by extension, their supporting delegates, regardless of whom they are pledged, are inclined to retain this rule. It is better for their interests to keep it a fight between themselves, without opening the door to outside options.
The convention operates under parliamentary procedures. This will become important if numerous ballots fail to achieve a majority for Trump or Cruz. The Chairperson of the convention is Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. He was the Vice Presidential nominee of the party in the 2012 election, and is the current Speaker of the House of Representatives, the highest ranking Republican in the nation.
Delegates can petition the chair to recognise motions on the fly. These include changes to the rules. If motions receive support, the changes will be enacted. The longer the convention goes, if it begins to appear that neither Trump nor Cruz can win a majority, rule changes become increasingly likely.
Back Room Deals
If the convention wears on, sooner or later, a delegate will ask the chair to revoke Rule 40. The chair will ask if the motion is seconded, resulting in thousands of delegates raising their hands. With Rule 40 gone, another delegate, possibly from the Wisconsin delegation, will stand and say "I hereby enter the name of Congressman Paul Ryan, of the Great State of Wisconsin, for consideration on the next ballot!" The chair - Ryan - will demur, thanking this kind fellow, and declining. Thousands will cheer and the good fellow will press again. The chair will begrudgingly ask if the motion is seconded. Thousands will raise their hands. Paul Ryan will then join Donald J. Trump and Ted Cruz on the next ballot.
Trump supporters will likely remain loyal, as will Cruz supporters. Ryan is sure to receive many votes, possibly even a plurality, yet it remains likely none will receive that elusive majority. Into the night, ballot after ballot. Eventually, Paul Ryan could go to Ted Cruz, looking him squarely in the eye to say, "I do not want this, but we must save our party and our country. You're a young man, Ted. If we lose in November, you will be the automatic frontrunner in 2020. If we win, you'll still be a young man in 2024. Help me save the Party of Lincoln, and join your delegates with mine on the next ballot".
Ted Cruz thinks, perhaps only for a few seconds, and concedes. On the next ballot, Paul Ryan receives the vote of his supporters, plus the Cruz supporters, securing the needed majority for nomination for President of the United States. Ryan supporters then join Cruz supporters and vote to nominate Cruz for Vice President.
What Would Trump Do?
Donald J. Trump styles himself as a winner. He's the winningest winner in the history of winning. He can also read polls, and clearly sees he stands no chance in the November general election. Losing a presidential election is the surest way to get stamped with the LOSER label for life, as well as in the history books for all time. This does not fit Trump. A Ryan and Cruz conspiracy to steal the nomination allows him to make any claim he wishes, retain his "I'm a Winner" brand, and spend the rest of his days, in the event of a Republican general election defeat, saying if the party had only nominated him, he would have easily beaten the Democratic nominee in November.
His outbursts about having the nomination stolen may split the party, and cripple a Ryan-Cruz 2016 ticket in the November election. But it saves Trump for actually losing, and saves the party from nominating him. Where Trump is loathed by most Republican voters, and is hated generally, especially by Latino voters, Paul Ryan is respected and well-liked across the Republican electorate and beyond, and Cruz can ensure his evangelical base comes along, as well as at least trying to appeal to Latino voters. Though likely facing a defeat if remaining a fractured party, the party can find consolation having saved itself from Trump, while setting Cruz up for 2020.
Just Having Fun
Obviously, we are having fun with this post. Trump can still win the majority via the primary process. Even if he comes up short, he can negotiate, making deals and all manner of agreement to win over unpledged delegates prior to the convention, helping to ensure he walks into Cleveland with the majority. If he does fail, and more ballots are needed, perhaps the strong efforts by Cruz to secure supportive delegates prove to be enough at ensuring a majority. Who knows? However, this scenario is a plausible one, and certainly one much of the Republican Party "establishment" dream of. Having given numerous opportunity for another candidate to win a majority at the convention, while having been procedurally just, an ultimate nomination of the well liked Paul Ryan is unlikely to lead most Republican voters toward revolt over the outcome. How Trump handles it is the wild card.