What Hath the GOP Wrought?
by John Lawrence
One can only imagine the anguish within the Republican Party leadership as they contemplate the next five months with Donald Trump as the GOP’s improbable, irascible and embarrassing nominee. It is as though the Party of Lincoln woke up in one of Trump’s casino hotel rooms after a bacchanalian night of gorging and drinking with a ring on its finger and next to a very unwelcome – and largely unknown – stranger. Happy days, most assuredly, are not here again.
If that isn’t bad enough, Mr. GOP picks up the morning paper to read that Washington Post Associate editor Bob Woodward has 20 staff people assigned to prepare “articles about every phase of his life” because even after a year of relentless coverage, “There’s a lot we don’t know.” How much more do you want, or need, to know?
Republicans may have one escape route left, and after this week’s hair-raising descent into racist attacks on a federal judge, I would be shocked if at least some party strategists aren’t thinking about alternatives to Trump. How can that happen, what are the costs of denying Trump the nomination he won at the ballot box, and are those costs less damaging to the Republican Party than proceeding with his nomination, a terrifying campaign season, and possible electoral disaster?
It is not a choice one relishes having to make, but given the awesome downsides of proceeding to Cleveland and beyond with Trump, all options have to be considered. Yes, denying Trump the nomination would doubtless still mean a November disaster as legions of his admirers refuse to vote for whomever the Republicans nominate. Perhaps Trump even runs wherever he can as a third of fourth party candidate. But at least in such a scenario, the rest of the Republican Party would not have to labor to distinguish itself from the person at the top of the ticket. The party could enthusiastically embrace a nominee, raise money, mobilize the loyal base, and pretend the last year never happened. Under such a scenario, perhaps some Senate and House seats or state and local races might be salvaged.
Here is one possible scenario – by no means a prediction – that I have no doubt is being run around numerous GOP strategists. Implementing this approach wouldn’t be pretty and may still result in widespread electoral carnage, but at least would not saddle the party with an unpredictable, erratic and ideologically nominee for the next six months.
Once the Party starts partying in Cleveland, Trump’s forces likely will commandeer the convention, so any effort to head off the electoral apocalypse would have to prevent Trump from consolidating his power at the outset. How?
One way would be for the convention’s Rules Committee, before the machinery of the Party was turned over to Trump, to alter the rules that currently oblige hundreds of delegates from primary states won by Trump to vote for him on the convention’s first ballot, even if they do not personally support him. Instead, the Convention rules could be rewritten to allow delegates to choose any candidate on the first ballot. Under that admittedly controversial scenario, dozens, maybe hundreds of delegates uncomfortably wedded to a Trump first ballot vote would be free to vote for someone else, and Trump might fail to win on the first ballot.
The blow could be softened by delivering the nomination not to one of the pitiful also-rans whom Trump disposed of (that really be stretching everyone’s patience) but to choose, say, Mitt Romney, who was a consensus nominee and enjoyed broad party support, or Paul Ryan, whom the 21012 convention endorsed as well. Pick John Kasich or Marco Rubio for Vice President, and give it your best shot. At worst, you lose, as you probably will with Trump, and you endure some horrendous press for your rules manipulation: but at least you emerge with a nominee who can credibly carry the party banner without inflicting down ballot carnage.
As I noted, it’s not an easy choice, sort of like a condemned person picking between hanging and a firing squad. But Republican leaders need to evaluate whether it is better to be criticized for altering the rules to save the Party or for preserving those rules and allowing a deeply flawed candidate to cost the party credibility and legislative seats for years to come. Far-fetched? Sure. Being considered? I bet one of Trump’s casinos would give you odds on it.