Republicans are sounding the alarm as a Donald Trump nomination becomes more likely.
“It would be devastating to our attempts to grow our majority and would cost us seats,” said [Rep. Steve Stivers (R-Ohio), the NRCC’s deputy chairman] in an interview. Trump “would cost us seats. There are people that couldn’t win if he was our nominee.”
Yet the more the Republican establishment and media pile on Trump, the more popular he becomes.
The GOP has kept its white, Southern, and/or rural base engaged by encouraging its anti-establishment Tea Party wing, by nurturing and feeding its xenophobic racist wing, by whining about a supposedly liberal media, and by war-mongering against a Muslim people desperate to escape the clutches of ISIS. And now they act shocked, SHOCKED! that Trump is a thing that is real and about to consume them? Ha ha! Serves those fuckers right. They created this Frankenstein. They own it.
The GOP establishment knows Trump absolutely decimates Republican chances in 2016. He’ll light up traditional Democratic base voters and (finally!) wake the Latino sleeping giant the way Prop. 187 did in California (dooming the Golden State’s GOP to permanent super-minority status). And with Democratic base participation maximized (and true independents horrified), the damage would be felt most acutely at the congressional and local levels, where Trump will be wrapped tightly around every Republican candidate’s neck.
So what is a desperate GOP establishment to do?
OPTION 1: Draft a white knight savior (aka Mitt Romney)
There’s been chatter for the last several weeks about drafting Mitt Romney in the race. If Scott Walker had stuck it out, he’d be the establishment consensus, and not a bad one. But he quit, and no one else has been able to fill that void. Marco Rubio has picked up what’s left of Jeb Bush’s support, but that’s not significant enough to make a dent (stuck at the low teens in the polls, about 20 points behind Trump). Take what little support the supposedly “serious” candidates have left (Bush’s 4.3 percent, Christie’s 2.5, Fiorina’s 2.1, and Kasich’s 2.1), and that wouldn’t even get Rubio to a quarter of the Republican primary electorate.
Enter Romney, who would immediately consolidate that quarter of the GOP primary electorate, and potentially eat into other candidates. Now why would a former loser, who lost to the GOP’s biggest boogeyman, be taken seriously? Maybe he wouldn’t, but the GOP establishment is desperate and they don’t have anyone else. Sure, it would be hilariously ironic for the GOP to draft someone to save them from their “deep-bench” 16-person field, but at this point, they are past caring about these kinds of optics. They need saving, and their deep bench has no one available to do the saving. So Mittens it is. And Republicans from former Bush speechwriter Matt Latimer to blogger Allahpundit are begging Romney to enter the race.
For his part, Romney appears to be dipping his toes in the water, already taking shots at Trump.
"Donald Trump has said a number of things which are hurtful and he has said that they were childish in some respects and I think will be potentially problematic either in a primary or in a general election if he were to become the nominee," Romney told David Axelrod on Thursday on his podcast "The Axe Files."
Trump, of course, is never afraid to fire back.
And with no sense or hint of irony:
Romney hasn’t backed off, as yesterday he took a shot at Trump’s racist xenophobia:
On the other hand, the GOP’s problem is that every time the establishment tries to land a punch, it only strengthens Trump, validating his entire narrative (“the establishment are a bunch of sellouts who take the base for granted, and they are afraid of someone who will make America great!”). Drafting the most establishment of establishment figures would likely offer Trump a great deal of material to work with.
And none of that solves the GOP’s electability problem. The things that made Romney odious in 2012 haven’t changed. And in Clinton, he would have an opponent even stronger than 2012 Obama. But at this point, for the GOP, it might not even be about the White House. They’ve likely written that off already. It’s about preventing the entire ticket, from president to Congress to state legislatures to county commissioners, from being tarnished by Trump.
Romney may not win them the White House, but at least he won’t imperil every other Republican on the ballot.
OPTION 2: A superdelegate convention coup
The GOP delegate allocation system is crazy complicated, and I won’t pretend to fully understand it. But from my reading, the 2016 convention will feature 2,472 delegates. The winner will need a simple majority for the nomination, or 1,237. Unlike the Democrats, which have a huge percentage of superdelegates, the GOP is far more judicious in their allocation, with each state getting just three (its top party leaders). That means that there are only 168 unpledged superdelegates (once you include territories like the Virgin Islands).
Assuming they voted en masse, and assuming they aren’t bound to their state or territory’s primary results (they weren’t in 2012, but the rules could’ve changed), those superdelegates could swing the nomination away from Trump … but only as long as the second-place candidate was within 168 votes of Trump, or 13 points away.
Now there are a ton of assumptions in the paragraph above, so this is incredibly speculative, but one thing that is not speculative is the GOP’s Rule 16:
If any delegate bound by these rules, state party rule or state law to vote for a presidential candidate at the national convention demonstrates support under Rule 40 for any person other than the candidate to whom he or she is bound, such support shall not be recognized.
In other words, bound delegates are BOUND delegates. They are not allowed to switch votes. So forget any effort to try and switch Trump delegates. Ironically, that was a new rule put into place in 2012 to protect Romney delegates from switching to Ron Paul. There was fear in GOP circles that many Romney delegates were in reality secret Paul supporters who would attempt a coup at the convention. I bet they wish they could take that rule back, but why can’t they?
OPTION 3: An outright coup
The current set of convention rules were “amended by the Republican National Committee … August 8, 2014,” and three more times times in the year prior. In other words, rules change, and they can change before delegates show up to vote. (In 2012, the convention was August 27.)
So what’s stopping the RNC from changing the rules before the GOP convention next year? It’s obviously an ongoing process. I won’t try to guess at what Republicans could do to stymie Trump, but they can be a creative bunch when it comes time to suppress the vote. In fact, they are quite proficient at it! So what’s the difference between suppressing the black and brown “undesirable” vote, and suppressing Trump’s even more undesirable vote?
And heck, I wouldn’t even expect the GOP to make such rule changes legally. They could break their own rules, and who would call them on it? Trump would surely sue—he’s litigation happy—but given the short time frame between the convention and the election, there’s no way the courts would decide this in time to have a real impact.
Let’s game this out:
If these hostile (to Trump) rule changes occurred with enough notice before the convention, Trump would simply make good on his promise to bolt and run third party. Heck, he was pretty explicit about that yesterday:
There’s nothing subtle about that asshole. Nothing smart about him either—68 percent of 35 percent is what, 24 percent? And that’s just of Republicans, so about 10 to11 percent of the presidential-year electorate. Have fun running and losing as a fringe third-party candidate!
But what if the RNC stages its coup right at the convention, or right before it? Then Trump would be SOL, without enough time to get his name on the ballot in most states. The deadline in Texas, for example, is May 9. In Oklahoma and South Carolina it’s July 15. Most states have August deadlines, but without Texas? He’d have no chance.
Which brings up a write-in candidacy. Most states require filing for write-in candidacies, and those are the latest dates on the calendar. So we might assume Trump would get certified for write-in status in Texas and split the conservative vote (maybe giving Hillary Clinton a chance to win it). But even if he can win Texas, here’s his next problem—several states prohibit write-in candidates: Arkansas, Louisiana, Nevada, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and South Dakota. Omitting purple Nevada, Trump would be denied 33 sure-fire electoral votes. Given the current built-in Democratic advantage in the electoral college, Trump could ill-afford to lose out on 33 guaranteed EVs.
OPTION 4: The Electoral College coup
You want to get crazy, as in REALLY crazy? Remember, we don’t have direct democracy. We elect electors to the Electoral College, who then elect the president. And there is no federal law forcing those electors to actually vote along with their state’s wishes. And while 29 states compel their electors to follow voter intent, the penalties are laughably small—a misdemeanor and small fine, usually $1,000. And, any such fines could be challenged on Constitutional grounds.
So Republican electors could deny Trump EVs, assigning them to someone else—perhaps Zombie Reagan. Of course, in this scenario, Trump’s damage to down-ballot races would already be done. But perhaps Republicans could use this Electoral College coup as future inoculation. “No, Trump doesn’t represent us, we rejected him in the most dramatic fashion possible!”
Surrendering the White House
Implicit in all this talk is a GOP that knows it cannot win the White House, so it would rather piss off Trump and his supporters—and give up all hope at the top—for a chance to distance themselves and their down-ballot ticket from the toxic Trump brand. And that would be a pretty compelling argument: “Trump doesn’t represent us, and we feel so strongly about it that we sacrificed all hope of winning the presidency.” The reality, of course, is that Trump’s beliefs are little different from the GOP’s. They just hate him for saying outright what could be implied through dog whistles.
But that’s how desperate they’re becoming. There’s clearly hope that the current pile-on over Trump’s “ban Muslims” craziness will take a bite out of his numbers, but I’m guessing we’ll see quite the opposite—yet another boost, at the expense of the likes of Ben Carson and Rubio. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if he’s well into the 40s by the end of December.
Conservatives have been conditioned for well over a decade to hate Muslims. So now they’re supposed to think Trump’s extremism is bad? Good luck with that one. They’re giving him a standing ovation.
Ultimately, Trump just filled a market need created by GOP rhetoric and extremism. They all built a party of crazies, happy to ride the crazy train to congressional and state-level majorities—but the inmates took over the asylum. The only question now is what to do: Whether it’s resurrecting the corpse of Romney’s candidacy, or outright stealing the nomination from Trump. Either way, it won’t be pretty.
But we are far beyond the point of pretty.