With each passing day, a contested convention becomes more and more likely for the Republican Party. As Opportunity Lives editor John Hart astutely points out, Donald Trump’s electoral prospects are collapsing by the minute, and he’s failed to generate momentum as the field has waned.
That’s because many of Trump’s recent wins have been by small margins, practically identical to the second place finisher in delegates in states he was supposed to win in landslides (Sen. Marco Rubio in Virginia and Sen. Ted Cruz in Louisiana, for example). And Trump has been clobbered in other states, too (by Rubio in Minnesota and Cruz in Kansas). With more than 80 percent of the earned media coverage and universal name ID, Trump’s momentum should be accelerated. Instead, it’s come to a screeching halt.
After the Nevada caucuses, the press goaded influential Republicans to accept that Trump would be the party’s nominee. To them, Trump and his followers coalesce to form the perfect representation of the GOP: an evil, bigoted billionaire pulling the strings in the backs of his two-toothed disciples. The caricature they had drawn was leaping off the page and into the voting booth, pummeling the Republican Party into a political oblivion that would guarantee a victory for presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in November, while sending the real conservative movement into permanent exile. They couldn’t contain their excitement (which is probably why they broadcast his rallies uninterrupted on television for an hour, but I digress).
Trump could certainly win the nomination, but that seems increasingly unlikely as the states tally their votes and greater numbers of Republicans are rejecting the reality television star for his most coveted role yet. If Trump maintains this trajectory, he still won’t earn the 1,237 delegates needed to clinch the nomination. Since he’s had unlimited resources and coverage, Trump’s failures to win majorities thus far are no fault but his own.
Instead of creating the conditions for this scenario to thrive, many conservatives are spending their time wrongly calling for the premature exit of their preferred candidate’s greatest rival in order to consolidate the field. But, the simple fact is that Trump probably needs to win the nomination outright in order to be the party’s nominee. He would have an enormously difficult time winning on the convention floor, because once the delegates are released after their first ballots are cast, it’s a free-for-all, and virtually no one present will have any immovable loyalty to him.
Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Orlando, Florida. | Photo: AP
Delegates are typically party insiders — just not in the pejorative sense Trump would like to use. They are the people who volunteer for their county GOP, work in politics or are elected to public office. The Trump campaign has routinely referred to these individuals — the same ones who boo him at debates — as bought-and-paid-for shills, but the reality is that they are actual party loyalists who care about which candidate gets the GOP stamp next to his or her name on the general election ballot.
This hurts Trump because he’s a guy who’s running for the Republican nomination without actually running a Republican campaign. He’s boasted about bringing non-voters to the GOP, but he’s made no real efforts to win the affection of real, live Republicans. He’s performed no “get out the vote efforts,” relying only on big rallies and constant media coverage to remind voters he’s even running for the Republican nomination.
He has very few endorsements from Republican lawmakers. He has earned the condemnation of most conservative activists and thinkers. Nearly all center-right organizations oppose him for his incoherent policy proposals and unproven principles. He dropped out of last week’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) appearance because he didn’t want to answer questions for the thousands of committed conservatives in attendance. These are things all conservative Republicans do if they want to win the party’s nomination. Trump rejects mainstream Republicans by refusing to do them.
Simply put, Trump has done absolutely nothing to ingratiate himself with the party he seeks to represent in the general election. His followers seem to think it’s such a brave thing — they relish in the opportunity to stick it to those they feel look down upon them — but by all meaningful accounts, he’s done nothing to earn the support of the Republican Party.
It’s almost like trying out for the New York Yankees without ever picking up a bat. But since Trump’s spent his time around more liberals than conservatives, it’s really more like spending years training for football and then trying out for the MLB.
So, it’s pretty galling that his supporters are already wailing that the Republican establishment plans to rob him of the nomination at the convention. The rules of the process were abundantly clear long before Trump decided he’d give it a go: win a majority of delegates and simple majorities in eight of the states or territories, and you’ll earn the nomination. If not, convention delegates are free to select whomever they’d like in Cleveland.
These procedures weren’t magically concocted to prevent Trump from winning the nomination. They’ve been there for decades. If the reality television star fails to secure the nomination before the convention in Cleveland, he is not entitled to it simply because he’s won the plurality in a few states. This is because the party is selecting its nominee, and if the public can’t settle on someone, the delegates are entrusted to pick an individual worthy of the party brand name for the general election.
With more than 80 percent of the earned media coverage and universal name ID, Trump’s momentum should be accelerated. Instead, it’s come to a screeching halt.
Since Trump always knew the rules, why didn’t he or his team make concerted efforts to actually run a Republican campaign focused on winning Republican voters? Instead, they bragged about attracting non-Republican voters to cast their ballots for him in states where the primaries were open to both Republicans and independents. But how did this help him actually win the affection of the senior citizen who phone-banks every weekend or the conservative state legislator who fights for tax reform or even a state party chairman responsible for delivering GOP wins?
Republicans have a right to choose who our nominee will be. Trump would have our seal of approval, not the other way around. If he believes that he doesn’t have to win the majority of our votes to represent us in the general election, he’s gravely mistaken, especially as the vast majority of Republicans vote for candidates who haven’t been “roasted” by a blunt-smoking Snoop Dogg on Comedy Central.
That’s why the Republican National Committee put these rules into place years ago. They knew it was unfair for a minority to usurp the will of the majority, and they needed a procedure to provide assurance that the voice of the people was represented.
More than half of Republicans say they wouldn’t vote for Trump if he were the GOP nominee. If you were a convention delegate in Cleveland, would you cast your ballot for a guy who guarantees your voters don’t turn out, or would you choose someone that most Republicans could happily support? If you’re a party loyalist, you have an obligation to do the latter. If you’re a Trump supporter, you’ll likely demand the former — probably because you don’t care about the party.
Moreover, if you don’t care about the party, why do you care if Donald Trump is its nominee? Why would you scream bloody murder if your candidate who fails to get the majority were passed over for someone the party — and most of its supporters — would rather have as its nominee?
If the people who make up the party reject Donald Trump, he hasn’t been robbed of the nomination. He just failed to win it on his own terms, and later, lost it on the party’s. Those were always the rules, and he knows that. His supporters should, too.
Ellen Carmichael is a senior writer for Opportunity Lives. Follow her on Twitter @ellencarmichael.