Why a brokered convention won’t stop Trump

Why a brokered convention won’t stop Trump

The Republican nomination

It is now Trump v Cruz. Lay anyone else.

Let’s talk brokered conventions, always a topic to set the pulses of political anoraks racing. We can deal with the Democrats briefly. Bernie might take Hillary all the way to the convention but if he does, he’ll lose just as she did against Obama eight years ago. It’s quite possible that Sanders will deny Clinton the victories she needs to assure herself of the nomination without superdelegates but those party officials will be more than enough to give her the crown.

The Republican race is a different matter, with two front-runners and two others still hoping to somehow end up in the mix. Four candidates might be enough to prevent any of them from winning 50% of the pledged delegates, never mind 50% overall (though the Republicans have fewer superdelegate-types). Suppose Rubio confounds the polls and wins Florida while Kasich picks up Ohio. Not only will that deny about 5% of the delegates to both front-runners but it would also keep the second string in the race until well into April, possibly to the convention itself. The winner-take-all contests may provide Trump or Cruz with unstoppable momentum but if the states are split then the race will go all the way.

So far, the thinking surrounding a brokered convention has been rather more fanciful than practical. There are two good reasons why it will not reject Trump and Cruz and pick someone like Paul Ryan instead (much as some in the Republican Party might like to): party rules and political realities.

The importance of the rules can be overstated – all rules can be amended or abolished by the convention itself – but they’re still a pretty good guide as to what to expect. Those rules mean that delegates are bound on the first ballot, ensuring that Trump and Cruz would start way clear of the field even if neither takes Florida or Ohio.

Also, RNC Rule 40 restricts the candidates that the floor can vote for to those who have a majority in a set number of states. For 2012, eight states were needed. So far, Rubio has only one – Puerto Rico – and Kasich none (Rubio also has a plurality but not a majority in a second delegation following his win in Minnesota). That rule might be amended but so far they’re a long way from being eligible even for consideration – and Cruz and Trump both have an interest in keeping it that way. The same restriction rules out Ryan, Romney and anyone else.

Even more powerful than the rules are the perceptions. For the convention to reject both front-runners in favour of an also-ran or a never-ran would kick up such a row as the party hasn’t seen in more than a century. The rejected candidates’ supporters and voters could rightly feel that they’d had the nomination stolen from them and would no doubt say so vociferously. Neither Trump nor Cruz are known for their restraint. Trump in particular has the capacity to go rogue and if his claims of having turned down large proffered donations are true, he potentially has a lot of funding available. Indeed, were both leading candidates passed over, I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of a Trump-Cruz independent ticket.

But if the chances of a minor candidate receiving the nomination are next to zero, what of the chances of Cruz himself acting as the stop-Trump? Two points here. Firstly, he’s quite a long way behind the Donald already and likely to drop further back: his current position is bolstered by Texas having already voted – he won’t get that home-state boost again. Trump still has close to double Cruz’s national vote share and leads Cruz in the recent polling for Tuesday’s primary states. Unless that changes quickly and substantially, a Cruz nomination would still look like robbery. And secondly, Cruz may be even more anathema to the GOP hierarchy than Trump; the New Yorker at least shows some flexibility in his operating. Why waste all that political capital replacing one bad option with another?

Donald Trump is very far from being the Republican party’s ideal presidential nominee. As such, talk will continue for weeks or even months as to how to stop him. Ignore it. He cannot be stopped now unless he stops himself.

David Herdson

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