As the Donald Trump presidential campaign continues to gather momentum and delegates toward the July 18 through 21 Republican nominating convention in Cleveland, Ohio, there is an emerging theme in GOP establishment circles.
And that is the idea of a brokered or even stolen convention in which the candidate with the most delegates or even a majority of the delegates still somehow does not emerge as the party’s nominee.
Normally, such speculation might be consigned as unadulterated nonsense, the fantasies of losing campaigns desperate to justify continued fundraising and public support amid mounting defeats. After all, it has not succeeded before in modern history. It is a hope, but not much of a strategy.
Yet here we are, with a Feb. 27 story in the New York Times, “Inside the Republican Party’s Desperate Mission to Stop Donald Trump,” by reporters Alexander Burns, Maggie Maberman and Jonathan Martin, where the writing is clearly beginning to appear on the wall.
The odds in favor of a Trump nomination are going up as the calendar proceeds beyond Super Tuesday. And Washington, D.C. insiders will do almost anything to stop it.
“At least two campaigns have drafted plans to overtake Mr. Trump in a brokered convention, and the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, has laid out a plan that would have lawmakers break with Mr. Trump explicitly in a general election,” report messengers Burns, Maberman and Martin.
On one hand, it is easy to appreciate just how wrong all of the experts were about Trump, as he was consistently underestimated last year. He was a clown. Couldn’t win anything. Would disappear in a week or a month. Wasn’t really running. In the meantime, ever since he rose in the polls, he has been winning. And even that was supposed to be an illusion, because his supporters would never show up at the polls and the ground game would fail to identify them if he even had one.
Maybe he’s that good at this. Or perhaps his competition was never up to the task in the first place, in which case, is that really who should be taking on Hillary? In that context, talk of a brokered convention is just a Hail Mary, a last-minute play with low percentage odds of success
On the other hand, it is hard to fault campaigns for strategizing on taking the convention. When you’re trying to win, you consider every possibility — even long shots.
The last time such an endeavor came close to happening was in 1976 when sitting President Gerald Ford showed up at the nominating convention short of the majority of delegates he needed, thanks to the insurgency by Ronald Reagan.
Even then, although it was close, Ford won the nomination on the first ballot after the states that lacked a primary process at the time had weighed in.
Of course, it is theoretically possible no candidate gets a clear majority going into the convention, but now with every state with some form of a primary or caucus process for allocating delegates — in 1976 that was not the case with only 28 primaries and caucuses — the fact it has never happened before looms large.
So, perhaps this is just all the final death throes of a Washington, D.C. political establishment after it was unable to get its preferred candidate. In other words, pure desperation not to be taken seriously.
To his credit, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus has discounted such a possibility on Feb. 24 on CNN, “My job is to put forward the fairest process that we can put forward, to not put my hand on the scale, to allow our delegates to make the choices that they want to make and then accept the decision that the delegates make, unlike on the Democratic side where they have superdelegates and could give a darn about what the grassroots are telling the party. That’s not how we operate our party on our side.”
But, still, what if there is something more to this?
What antidemocratic lengths would the party go to in order to deny the people’s choice of a candidate? Say, a bid to take the convention fails. What’s next? Trying to rig the electoral college with third party, regional bids to somehow force the election into the House of Representatives? If no candidate emerges with a majority of the electoral college, presidential elections go to the House of Representatives per Article II of the Constitution.
In many ways this is the same type of thinking that goes into a lame duck session of Congress, where many Republican leaders and some retiring politicians are already preparing to get one more bite at the legislative apple during the Obama administration.
One key item that may be considered during a lame duck would be the controversial, 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, which might not otherwise pass if the vote occurred before the election. Also of note, it is very much opposed by the current Republican frontrunner, Trump.
Would a Republican Congress push the unpopular trade deal opposed by its own nominee across the finish line for fear that a Trump administration might go back to the drawing board?
For obvious reasons, a lame duck Congress is the wrong approach, as it defies the people’s express will, all in the pursuit of outgoing Congressmen and their staffs’ next jobs on K Street.
Yet, again, here we are, with talk of brokered conventions and last minute back-room deals cementing the Obama legacy — all as an antidemocratic stench permeates the rotten GOP establishment. And folks wonder why voters are so upset?
Robert Romano is the senior editor of Americans for Limited Government.