As the Republican presidential race has narrowed to a contest between two candidates the Republican elites despise, each one with a razor-thin path to the nomination, the conversation among party figures in Washington has rapidly shifted from the desperate to the absurd. They talk of an “open convention” in Cleveland, where party leaders could parachute in a third, more favored candidate and render the entire GOP primary process null and void.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, one focus of such talk, ruled himself out at a press conference on Tuesday. “I do not want, nor will I accept, the Republican nomination,” he said. “[…] I simply believe that if you want to be the nominee — to be the president — you should actually run for it. I chose not to. Therefore, I should not be considered. Period.”
Ryan’s rebuke of this chatter showed a wisdom and respect for the voters not shared by much of the Washington political class, many of whom still dream of some Prince Charming galloping into the convention hall on a white horse to save the day. It is odd to hear high-priced political consultants spouting childlike fantasies. But that is a sign of just how desperate the times are for Republican elites, who see control of the party slipping from their grasp.
Time to Realign with the Times
This is a period of realignment for the Republican coalition. Adapting to that realignment requires Republicans to recognize the real concerns that underlie the turmoil, to reconsider the GOP’s policy agenda, and to reevaluate what we thought we knew about the country. But the Republican Party will only be in the position to do that if it ignores the fanciful plans of party elites, whose disrespect for the voters is blinding them to reality.
Imposing a new candidate in Cleveland—a “fresh face,” in Karl Rove’s telling—would represent nothing less than an act of suicide on the part of the Republican Party. It would vindicate the wildest accusations of those who view the Republican establishment as inherently corrupt and craven, lacking any modicum of respect for their voters. It would insult the millions of Americans who have turned out to vote for Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz—an offense that would leave moderates, Independents, and the conservative base disgusted with their party to an unprecedented degree. It would shatter the party’s legitimacy.
Republicans should let the primary process play out as it always has, where the candidates for the nomination are those who run the race. Trump and Cruz are likely to enter the Republican convention with the lion’s share of delegates. Should Trump fail to reach the required number, the process could play out over multiple ballots. But it is the candidates for president who ought to be considered by the delegates on the floor, not a “white knight” chosen in a backroom deal and leveraged into the nomination by a motion from the chair.
You Have to Run to Win
In the 160-year history of the Republican Party, the expectation has always been that running for president is an important factor in determining whether you receive consideration by convention delegates to be the nominee. There have been 10 contested GOP conventions since the party was formed in 1856, which produced six presidents. In all but one of these cases—in 1880, the longest convention in history, when 35 ballots could not produce a victor—the eventual winner had actively run for president and won significant delegate percentages before the convention.
That the Republican elites would even consider inserting into the nomination contest a candidate who has not won a single delegate from a single primary or caucus shows how much disrespect they have for their voters. It is no accident that the two candidates who have based their candidacies on their “outsider” status and willingness to blow up the Washington establishment have won nearly two-thirds of the popular vote so far. There are probably many reasons for their success, but clearly one is the voters’ extreme disgust with their party’s elites.
If the Republican establishment were to nominate a candidate in Cleveland who hasn’t won a single vote, let alone worked for one in the course of this primary, it would amount to a declaration of war against the party’s own voters. We should not think they are above such a mistake. Indeed, the establishment’s incompetence has brought it to this point. Forcing the nomination of some white knight would only prove that their incompetence is a terminal disease.