Imagine it’s the day after the GOP convention, and across America voters who’ve spent months dreading the horror of a Hillary versus Trump election wake up to discover the GOP ticket is…Condi/Perry 2016!
Imagine the relief, the joy, the “holy crap, how did we escape?” elation the GOP electorate would feel over a Trump-free future. Now ask yourself: Are once-panicked Republicans really going to give a rip about Rule 40-b?
I only picked Condi/Perry to make a point, not show a preference. It could be Ryan/Haley or Walker/Scott (Tim, senator of South Carolina) or, if you’re a old-time comics fan, Mitt and Jeff! (as in Romney and Sessions).
What people dismissing Karl Rove’s “clean slate” concept are missing is the old adage that nothing is good or bad except by comparison. Compared to “GOP nominee Donald Trump,” everything sounds good. Or at least not as bad.
Trump Equals Losing Big
How can anyone reject the idea of the convention delegates hammering out a compromise ticket when the leading alternative sounds like this: “I know 70 percent of Americans hate the guy, a third of our party has pledged to stay home, and he’s going to lose in a 45-state landslide in November while simultaneously destroying our entire party—but we have to nominate Trump. He got 1,100 delegates!” What could the GOP possibly do that’s any crazier than that?
If polls show Trump losing head-to-head against Hillary in every state except Idaho and Mississippi, is dumping this congressional-majority-killing, electoral suicide-bomber really the crazy idea? Only if GOP stands for “Gone Off Pharmaceuticals.”
As The Weekly Standard’s house numbers cruncher Jay Cost points out: “The Republican National Convention has one purpose and one purpose only: To nominate a candidate who can win the White House. Period.”
In 1920, Ohio Governor Warren G. Harding started the convention with a woeful 65½ (Yes, half. Don’t ask me) delegates. After 10 ballots, he came out on top at the convention—and for Republicans in November. James Garfield came to the 1880 convention with zero delegates. But when the front-runners faded, a record-setting thirty-sixth ballot made him the nominee. He won the White House, too.
One-Third of Republican Voters Ain’t a Majority
Some Trump supporters call this undermining democracy. They’ve got it backwards. Delegates only pick the ticket if the democratic process fails first. If Trump gets a majority of the delegates, he’s the nominee. Fine.
But just as “The Constitution is not a suicide pact,” the convention isn’t a poisoned-Kool-Aid party. If Trump tops out at 1,100 delegates, there is absolutely no duty on the convention to saddle their party with a guaranteed loser. So if the voters can’t pick a consensus candidate, it’s the job of the convention to find one. And if that doesn’t include Trump, Cruz, or Kasich, well….
Chris Cillizza at the Washington Post calls this sort of thinking among my fellow #NeverTrumpers “magical realism.” “In an election wholly defined by the Republican base’s dislike and distrust for the party’s leaders, how can you realistically expect that same base to capitulate to an establishment-favorite candidate who may not have even competed in the primary and caucus process?” I would agree with Cillizza completely if not for two words: Donald Trump. He emits political gravitational waves, bending reality itself.
Will some Trump supporters abandon the GOP entirely if he’s not on the ticket? Probably. But there’s no reason to lose the entire 35 percent or so who’ve supported him, or even more than a small percentage of them. The key is for a “clean slate” to be picked, well, cleanly.
How It Would Happen
Cost says it would have to happen like this: There’s a first ballot and nobody gets 1,237. The media cover the story of Trump working furiously to pick up the delegates he needs. There’s the drama of another ballot and…he fails again. The attention turns to Ted Cruz. Again, nonstop media frenzy, another ballot and….nope. A third ballot and Cruz gets closer, a fourth and he’s closer still. But he never quite gets to 1,237.
Then Cruz’s numbers start to slip. Maybe Kasich has a mini-surge, but he doesn’t get to 1,237 either. Again and again, over several days of balloting, none of the three “official” candidates can pull together a majority.
That’s when it happens. Nobody says “this was stolen” or “they rigged the rules.” People simply realize that none of these candidates can get a majority of the GOP behind them. So we wipe the slate clean.
The convention votes to change the rules and put additional names into nomination. A ticket will be put together made up of people Republicans like—or at least, don’t loathe—and who represent all the factions of the GOP. And Republicans will find themselves in a competitive race for the White House and a legit chance to beat Hillary Clinton.
If that day comes, do you really think anyone’s going to be whining about Rule 40-b?