A curious movement is gaining steam among conservative pundits and even some GOP leaders leading up to this year’s national convention: a push to “unbind” delegates and allow them to select a nominee other than Donald Trump. It’s a last-ditch effort some have dubbed the “nuclear option.”
No formal public polling exists, but numerous reports suggest many delegates still oppose him and are actively organizing to deny him the nomination. Trump’s vulnerability grows as his popularity sinks—7 in 10 Americans see him unfavorably—and a steady drip of high-profile Republicans continue to renounce him, saying they do not intend to vote for their party’s nominee. Trump’s constant stream of embarrassing gaffes and policy flip flops add more fuel to the fire.
As a national delegate who resigned in protest over Trump’s candidacy, I admit the idea of rejecting Trump at this late hour is enticing. Moreover, the legal basis for unbinding delegates, however tenuous it may be, offers some glimmer of possibility. Nevertheless, it’s a disastrously dangerous idea.
We Can’t Afford More Division
Should delegates hand the nomination to someone who’s won fewer votes than Trump—or none at all—based on convention rule technicalities, Trump’s vocal supporters will cry out that elite party insiders denied the will of the Republican electorate.
Nominating a different candidate is virtually certain to ensure an even more divided electorate and hand the election to Hillary Clinton. Granted, many “Never Trump” activists would be fine with that result, but denying him the nomination would embolden Trump’s supporters in this election and beyond to give him or someone like him even more power, either within the GOP or through a new third party.
Trump and his supporters would not go down quietly in this election cycle if the nomination is stolen from him, and he and his supporters may even feel justified trying again four years from now. The far better path is to let him fail in a fair fight of open battle and end his political career this year. History offers plenty of lessons.
This Would Exacerbate Populists’ Fears
When Roman senators faced difficulty with Julius Caesar, who had expanded Rome’s territories and crushed enemies at home, thereby becoming perpetual dictator of the Roman Republic, many senators conspired to restore republican rule by assassinating Caesar. Statesman and orator Marcus Tullus Cicero condemned the conspiracy as unnecessary: since Julius Caesar might not return from his next military campaign in the Middle East, the Senate needed only to wait and let him die abroad. In addition, Cicero noted the conspirators were politically naive: only after killing Caesar did they realize the Roman public did not support them.
Of course, some conspirators imagined themselves as defending freedom and republican ideals; in reality, though, they sought to preserve a political system benefiting themselves and their power-laden, aristocratic families. In our own time the so-called establishment and the “Never Trump” movement seek to defend the true Republican Party ideals, but the average GOP voter sees them as Roman citizens saw their senators—elites looking out for themselves and a select few.
In ancient Rome, Julius Caesar implemented reforms aiding the lower classes, recognizing that economic benefits mattered more to the masses than nostalgia for Rome’s republican past. After his assassination, the public perceived the Senate’s conspirators not as liberators, but as destroyers. They soon accepted a new emperor, forever turning their backs on republicanism. A misguided and ignorant attempt to stop authoritarian rule actually accelerated its arrival.
Despite big differences between Caesar’s rule and Trump’s philosophy—and even bigger differences between assassination in the Theater of Pompey and convention rules changes in Cleveland—Julius Caesar’s appeal to the masses and the Senate’s naive response to it do offer valuable lessons for us today. Nearly half of Republicans disapprove of Trump, but he did enough to secure the nomination. Rather than use trickery to deny him the nomination, Republican “Never Trump” delegates should let him proceed and avoid repeating the Roman Senate’s mistakes.
The best result for Republicans opposed to Trump is to swallow the bitter pill of his nomination and let him crash and burn on his own, as he is on pace to do remarkably well. From the ashes Never Trumpers can hope to rebuild a stronger and wiser Republican Party.