As Wisconsin goes to the polls, itâ€™s Ted Cruz (and not Paul Ryan) that the GOP must unite behind if they want to stop Donald Trump says Keiran Pedley
Itâ€™s fair to say that Wisconsin occupies something of an odd place on the GOP primary calendar in 2016. If it feels like a long time since Republican voters have been to the polls thatâ€™s because it has been. By the time that Wisconsin votes this week, it will have been two weeks since Arizona and Utah and we will also have to wait two more weeks for the New York primary on April 19th. Therefore, as we enter the â€˜business endâ€™ of the GOP nomination process, it is likely that the result in Wisconsin will have far more political impact than we might have previously expected.
The past two weeks have not been kind to Donald Trump.Â His suggestion that women ought to be punished for having an abortion (later retracted) andÂ the withdrawal of his pledge to support the eventual GOP nominee come what may have hurt him. So much so that that the bookies give him roughly a 50% shot of winning the nomination and his campaign is at its lowest ebb since the aftermath of his defeat in Iowa. Suddenly, the prospect of a contested convention looks far more realistic as this great analysis from CNN aptly shows.
But before the #NeverTrump crowd get too excited they still have to answer one crucial question. If not Trump, then who? Trumpâ€™s potential struggle to reach 1237 delegates has been well documented. What has been less clear is who the alternative nominee actually would be. If Trumpâ€™s path to 1237 is unclear then his remaining opponentâ€™s respective paths are virtually non-existent.
Enter Paul Ryan?
This has led some to suggest that House Speaker Paul Ryan could emerge as a â€˜unity candidateâ€™ out of a contested convention in July. In fact, Democrat pollster Stan Greenberg called this on the PB / Polling Matters podcast way back in November. You can listen to his reasoning 19 minutes in below.
Those that support this idea tend to argue that Trumpâ€™s delegates (who might not be personally loyal to him anyway depending on how they are chosen) are only obliged to support him on the first ballot. Then all bets are off. The GOP â€˜rules committeeâ€™ might even change the rules before the convention to make such a scenario more likely. Paul Ryan, as Romneyâ€™s running mate in 2012, the current House Speaker and the Chair of the Convention itself would be in a strong position to capitalise if Trump falls short of the magic 1237 delegate target.
So the argument goes. But Iâ€™m not buying it.
Paul Ryan himself has repeatedly denied that he seeks or would accept the nomination if it was offered to him. He said something similar before becoming Speaker of course but this is different.
To assume a Ryan nomination is possible we have to allow ourselves to believe that after 6 months of voters going to the polls â€“ overwhelmingly backing Donald Trump and Ted Cruz in the process â€“ that somehow someone that didnâ€™t even run can emerge the winner. At some point convincing Trump and Cruz delegates to change rules that require a candidate to have won at least 8 states to become the nominee. Technically this might be possible but politically it would be a disaster. There would be uproar and rightly so. Any self-respecting democrat (in the conventional sense) would be appalled.
If Paul Ryan has presidential aspirations â€“ and it would be reasonable to assume that he does â€“ this would be the worst possible way to win the nomination. The RNC chair Reince Priebus seems to agree and has said that the nominee will be someone â€˜who is runningâ€™.Â Surely the most sensible approach to an already difficult situation. This mean however that it really is â€˜Cruz or bustâ€™ for #NeverTrump supporters.
â€˜Cruz or bustâ€™
Ted Cruz is the only candidate that is anywhere near Donald Trump in the delegate count and will likely be the only other candidate to have also won 8 states. The signs are that he is playing the delegate recruitment game very well and that he is likely to win in Wisconsin too.
This brings us back to the importance of Wisconsin. If Cruz can win big there (taking all or most of the 42 delegates available) then the next two weeks of media coverage will be dominated by Trumpâ€™s struggles and the mechanics of a contested convention.Â This wonâ€™t mean that Trump loses New York two weeks on Tuesday.Â However, if he falls below 50% of the vote there he would no longer take all of the 95 delegates available. Then the dynamics of the race really will have changed.
Of course there are a lot of â€˜ifsâ€™ there.Â It is possible that Wisconsin is not the disaster for Trump that the #NeverTrump supporters hope for and that he wins big in New York too. It is also not clear that the GOP establishment is ready to fall behind Ted Cruz either. However, if the GOP nominee is not Donald Trump then Cruz is the only alternative. A deal that sees supporters of Rubio and Kasich unite behind Cruz to defeat Trump is a long shot but possible. A scenario that sees Paul Ryan seek the nomination would be a self-defeating disaster the GOP might never recover from.
Keiran Pedley is an elections and polling expert at GfK. He tweets about polling and politics at @keiranpedley