Republicans in the United States have begun drawing up contingency plans in case businessman Donald Trump continues to rack up support for his presidential campaign, The New York Times reports.
Plans range from challenging the New York mogul at the nominating convention in Cleveland, Ohio this summer to distancing the party from a candidate Trump.
Behind the scenes, the mood is despondent. The newspaper spoke with dozens of donors, elected officials and political strategists whose efforts to save the party from Trump sputtered and stalled at every turn. Now many worry it may be too late.
Such fears seem premature.
Most elected officials have balked at attacking Trump out of concern that they might unintentionally fuel his populist revolt.
As we reported in January, many campaign contributors have been sitting on the fence. Like the politicians, they appear to have been waiting for the field to winnow before throwing their support behind a single candidate — one who can win.
The Times learned that late last year, Republican campaigners did reach out to donors with a proposal to attack Trump’s business failures and past liberal positions in a series of television commercials. “No major donors committed to the project and it was abandoned.”
Such ads are finally starting to appear, funded by both the remaining candidates and outside groups. Trump has had a head start.
Is the party deciding?
The political scientists Marty Cohen, David Karol, Hans Noel and John Zaller argued in 2008 that it is “the” party, broadly understood as a network of elected, local and state party officials, donors, insiders and affiliated interest and lobby groups, that collectively decides presidential nominating contests by nudging voters in the right direction.
They don’t make their decisions in smokey rooms behind closed doors (anymore).
“There is no mechanism,” former Utah governor Michael O. Leavitt, a top advisor to Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign, told the Times. “There is no smoke-filled room. If there is, I’ve never seen it, nor do I know anyone who has.”
But the party can influence the process in myriad subtle ways: by writing caucus and primary rules, appointing superdelegates, scheduling debates and spending money on advertising and organization.
“The” Democratic Party, including allies in the media and trade unions, has clearly coalesced around former secretary of state Hillary Clinton this year.
On the Republican side, the party is taking so long to make up its mind that some are wondering if it ever will.
Perhaps that’s because the first establishment-favored candidate, Jeb Bush, did not get far.
The brother and son of former presidents was successfully drafted last year. He got the money and experienced campaign operators on his side. Bush received hundreds of endorsements — usually a good indicator of which way the party is leaning — from Republicans across the country, including fourteen former governors and 31 sitting congressmen and senators.
Still his candidacy failed.
Now party support has shifted to Marco Rubio. The Florida senator has also been endorsed by hundreds of Republicans, many of whom only made their choice public in the last few weeks. FiveThirtyEight has suggested that they may have switched to Rubio recently in order to persuade Bush and John Kasich to clear the way.
Bush did. He ended his campaign after placing fourth in the South Carolina primary last week with only 8 percent support.
The Times reports that senior Republicans, including Romney, have made direct appeals to Kasich to stand down as well. But the Ohio governor seems determined to stick around at least until his state, one of the largest in the country, votes on March 15.
Should Kasich, Rubio and possibly Texas senator Ted Cruz and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson as well stay in the race, none of them could probably win the 1,237 delegates needed for the nomination.
But neither might Trump.
Republicans would then go into their convention without a nominee, something that hasn’t happened in more than half a century.
The Times reports that both the Kasich and Rubio campaigns are preparing for a contested convention.
If no candidate wins a majority of the delegates on ballot after ballot, more and more of them would be unbound (meaning they can vote for whomever they want). Kasich and Rubio could then try to persuade the state party officials and volunteers who have come to Cleveland that only they can unify the party — and defeat Clinton in November.
Some have given up hope of victory altogether.
Senate leader Mitch McConnell has reportedly told his members that they can run negative ads against Trump if he wins the nomination to put space between themselves and the candidate in the election. His strategy, according to the Times, would be treating Trump’s loss as a given and describing a Republican Senate to voters as a necessary check on another Democratic president.
They would need to do something. In swing states like New Hampshire, Ohio and Pennsylvania, sitting Republican senators could be at risk of losing their reelection bids if Trump is the nominee. The party’s chances of defeating Democrats in states like Colorado and Nevada, both of which have growing Hispanic populations, would almost certainly be reduced.