If Donald Trump falls short of the 1,237 delegates needed to win the Republican Party’s presidential nomination outright, we may not have to wait until the convention before we learn whether he succeeds or not.
Earlier this week, we reported that some mainstream Republicans in the United States are hoping to block Trump at the convention in Cleveland, Ohio this summer. They recognize that the foulmouthed businessman from New York would almost certainly lose a general election against Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee, in November — and possibly split the Republican Party.
But stopping him at the convention would be a last resort, argues Bloomberg View columnist Jonathan Bernstein. Party actors could use the weeks between the final nominating contests in June and the convention in July to try to influence the outcome.
Push and shove
“If no one has the nomination locked up in June, everyone involved — candidates, delegates and other party actors — will feel intense pressure to get this done before the convention,” he writes.
The purpose of national conventions today is advertising for the party and its candidate and that opportunity would be forfeited if the convention was convened without a nominee. The worst case would be day after day of deadlock under the full gaze of the national media with controversies heating up and plenty of chances for those 2,472 delegates (and the hundreds of other Republicans who will be in attendance) to make the party and whomever they eventually settle on look bad.
Assuming Trump is short of a majority, his supporters could use the time before the convention to reach out to uncommitted delegates and delegates who are formally committed to candidates who have suspended their campaigns, like retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson’s. The doctor endorsed Trump on Friday. If the businessman is only around a hundred delegates shy of the magic number, this might be enough to secure the nomination.
Trump’s opponents could start jockeying for the support of delegates at the same time, including those who are pledged to support the property tycoon on the convention’s first ballot — under current rules.
Many of the 2,472 delegates will be local and state party officials and Republican volunteers. Not exactly Trump’s crowd. He wasn’t even a Republican a few years ago and has repudiated many Republican Party policies, from the war in Iraq to health-care reform.
“It’s unclear if Republicans would be willing to thwart the will of their voters by upending a chosen winner,” writes Bernstein, “but if the delegates want to, nothing can stop them.”
Whose will triumphs?
And that’s the real question.
At the convention, the party can do whatever it wants. As Michael Nelson points out in The Cook Political Report, delegates will be free to vote as they wish on rules or platform changes regardless of which candidate they are required to support on the first ballot. They could throw out the rulebook, “free” delegates and nominate Bob Dole.
David A. Hopkins, for one, is skeptical. The political scientist admits that it may be comforting for many Republicans to envision a twist ending to the nomination process in Cleveland. But he wonders, “How likely is it that a party leadership that has become scared to death of its own popular base would reject the preferences of that base in the most dramatic possible manner?”