Republicans’ Open Convention May Only Split Party

With Marco Rubio suspending his campaign earlier this week, the Republican Party stalwarts are faced with some unpalatable choices. First, they could go along with a Trump nomination. Secondly, there could be a miraculous rally in support for Ted Cruz who wins the nomination on the first ballot. Third, there is no candidate with a majority of delegates on the first ballot, which would create an open convention. That would theoretically create an opportunity to nominate someone like John Kasich on a subsequent ballot. The only thing more likely to get Hillary Clinton into the White House is to run a third-party conservative campaign in the general election.

Presuming that this journal is wrong and that Mr. Trump does not have a majority (1,237 delegates) bound to him, the first ballot will go ahead and prove this. Every delegate will vote as required by law; only 112 are unbound. The representatives from North Dakota, Colorado, Wyoming, American Samoa and Guam are not required to vote for any particular candidate because their states and territories did not hold a primary or caucus; they are selected at conventions that have no reference to a primary or caucus.. Everyone else pledged to vote a given way on ballot number one. No candidate will win the nomination on that ballot, but there will be a clear plurality for Mr. Trump.

According to the rules, delegates can do whatever they want after the first ballot. This is where the party apparatchiks think they can beat Mr. Trump. By definition, if Mr. Trump doesn’t have a majority on the first ballot, there is an anti-Trump majority on the convention floor. The question is whom do they support. There is a problem with each option.

Given that Senator Cruz is likely to occupy second place after Mr. Trump on the first ballot, there is a legitimate case for the anti-Trump vote to go to him. The party establishment, however, doesn’t like Mr. Cruz very much; Senator Lindsey Graham joked that if Mr. Cruz were murdered on the floor of the Senate and if the trial were held in the Senate, there would be no conviction. The other problem is the likely response of the Trump campaign’s rank-and-file. Mr. Trump has warned of “riots” if he doesn’t get the nomination if he has a plurality on the first ballot. He exaggerates only slightly here. At very least, the section of the party he represents sits out the November election.

Alternatively, the party could turn to John Kasich, who is going to be third at best in the standings going into the convention. That looks even worse, and the party could find that the Trump and Cruz campaigns fail to turn up in sufficient numbers to beat Mrs. Clinton. On the positive side, Mr. Kasich is one of the establishment, but when he loses, that will be a moot point.

Failing that, some have suggested movement to draft Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, or past candidate Mitt Romney. The big problem with this option is that the nominee will not have campaigned in the primary season. It is hard to think of a more laughable maneuver.

So, the desperate men and women of the Republican Party are faced with an unpleasant choice even if Mr. Trump fails to reach 1,237 delegates before the convention. They must either give him the nomination anyway, or they must alienate his supporters, and in doing so, run a very real risk of losing to Hillary Clinton by default.

When Mr. Trump announced his candidacy, this journal declared him the Raving Monster Loony candidate. This is a reference to the late Screaming Lord Sutch, a musician who used to be a perennial by-election candidate standing as the candidate of the Official Raving Monster Loony Party. In 1990, a by-election was held in the constituency of Bootle. Lord Sutch stood as did a candidate from the Social Democratic Party (or rather a faction of it that declined to merge with the Liberals). When the SDP candidate finished behind the Raving Monster Loony, the SDP went out of business. This journal argued months ago that any candidate who couldn’t finish ahead of Donald Trump was doomed to exit the race. It seems that this prediction was correct, but one did not anticipate just how badly the established politicians would perform.